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The Pioneer

After 50 years, Manson murderer has earned freedom

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After 50 years, Manson murderer has earned freedom

Photo Courtesy of Powelli

Photo Courtesy of Powelli

Photo Courtesy of Powelli

Kali Persall,
Managing Editor

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Manson “family” member Leslie Van Houten, now 66 years old, was just 19 years old when she brutally murdered Rosemarie LaBianca, wife of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca, by stabbing her in the lower back 16 times.

While serving a life sentence at the California Institution for Women in Corona, Van Houten was recommended for parole at a hearing on April 14.

The first cut into Rosemarie was at the collarbone and bent the knife, recalled Van Houten in a 1994 interview with Larry King. Her husband was also stabbed to death in the adjoining room and the word “war” was carved into his stomach, a notorious Manson cult signature, whose killings were symbolic and executed with the intent to start a race war.

Throughout her sentence, Van Houten has been recommended and subsequently denied parole 19 times, but many fear that the 20th time will be the charm. Ultimately, the decision is up to Gov. Jerry Brown, who will issue a judgement later this month, but despite her gory resume, I believe Van Houten should be freed.

It’s been almost 50 years since her conviction and Van Houten now approaches age 70. According to the parole board, she is a model prisoner. During her sentence, she has obtained both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature and humanities, according to the parole hearing transcript. She also tutors other inmates in Intercultural Communications and facilitates a number of inmate programs, including the Victim Offender Education Program. The program helps inmates understand what led them to commit crimes like murder, and to come to terms with the responsibility they have toward the victim and other lives affected.

Van Houten has undergone rigorous counseling and her attorney Richard Pfeiffer told the LA Times that 18 psychiatrists have deemed her fit for parole, reports The Washington Post.

“I feel very badly that I created that much fear in their lives that they would want me to remain incarcerated forever,” Van Houten said at the parole hearing in response to opposition to her release.

In every sense, Van Houten has expressed an initiative to better herself and take responsibility for her actions. She is not a threat to society and it is pointless to keep her imprisoned.

But simply because of the startling brutality of the case and her association with the horrendous Manson cult, Van Houten’s latest trial has unleashed a public outcry against her release.

Understandably, many recoil at the thought of a convicted murderer roaming the streets or sharing a park bench with their children.

But If you believe the parole board’s determination that Van Houten has been rehabilitated, what it really boils down to is the human desire to see justice served. What must a person who has committed a horrendous crime do for the public to agree that they are capable of being rehabilitated? If the incarceration system has done this successfully, parole should be a viable option.

However to many, especially the families of victims, this is inconceivable.

Corey LaBianca, daughter of the victims, publicly spoke out against the parole board’s recommendation to free Van Houten.

“The least we can do, for someone who commits a crime against another human being, is to keep them in jail,” she told the LA Times in a phone interview. “Maybe Leslie Van Houten has been a model prisoner,” she added, “But you know what, we still suffer our loss.”

In the 1960s, cult leader and radical Armageddon prophetic Charles Manson began collecting followers. Many were young, vulnerable women who perpetuated his delusional beliefs that he was a God-appointed savior of mankind.

The cult moved around California and briefly settled in San Francisco, before relocating to the San Fernando Valley, where the group shocked the country with its brutality.

The LaBianca murders were a horrific reminder of human capacity for cruelty, but they weren’t an isolated incident. The murder was just one in a string of slayings carried out by the infamous Manson cult in Southern California in the 1960s, including the stabbing of famous actress Sharon Tate, wife of movie director Roman Polanski, and her unborn baby.

Nearly 50 years have passed, yet the images of the threatening and cryptic messages proclaiming “Death to Pigs” and “Helter Skelter” (after the famous Beatles song) notoriously scrawled in blood across the walls are no less horrifying today than they were then.

Van Houten, along with Manson and a handful of other “family members” were originally sentenced to the death penalty. However, the California Supreme Court overturned capital punishment in 1972 because it was ruled unconstitutional, and 107 death row inmates were resentenced to life in prison with possibility of parole, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It was reinstated just five years later, an uncanny stroke of luck for the convicted Manson family members.

It costs up to $59 million dollars per year to house prisoners in California, estimates the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

While Manson, 81, the mastermind behind numerous murders, serves out a life sentence at the Corcoran State Prison in the bleak San Joaquin Valley of Southern California, former high school homecoming princess Van Houten was only involved in the LaBianca killings and is considered by many to be the least dangerous of the group.

There is no contesting that the crimes she committed are unforgivable. Not only did Van Houten partake in murdering innocent people, but she did it unquestioningly, and no amount of good behavior can bring back the LaBiancas.

However, there comes a point in time where it isn’t feasible or necessary to house prisoners who don’t pose any threat to society.

“Life without parole ignores the obvious fact that over time some prisoners no longer pose a threat to harm others,” reports the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition in a research study. “They can be released on parole without endangering public safety and can constructively contribute to the welfare of the entire community. Merely warehousing human beings until they die is not a solution to criminal justice issues: not socially, not morally, not criminologically and certainly not fiscally.”

If released, she plans to live at the Roxie Rose Transitional Home, located in San Bernardino County, before transitioning to a quiet life close to the people who love her.

If we don’t free Van Houten, it will be for no other reason than emotion blinding us to rational thinking. She has served her time and proven herself worthy of parole. If we’re so quick to deny a human being a second-chance, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate our own morals.

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After 50 years, Manson murderer has earned freedom