Leslie Van Houten, Manson Family Member, May Be Released From Prison After Appeals Court Ruling

The appellate decision overrules California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2022 veto

Leslie Van Houten, Charles Manson (Getty Images)
Leslie Van Houten and Charles Manson (Credit: Getty Images)

Former Manson Family member Leslie Van Houten may have a better chance of being released from prison after more than 50 years, following a ruling by a California appeals court on Tuesday. The court’s decision overrules California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who last year vetoed a recommendation by the state’s parole board that Van Houten be set free.

Van Houten was convicted in 1971 of killing Leno and Rosemary LaBianca as part of the string of murders carried out by followers of cult leader Charles Manson in August, 1969. Initially sentenced to death, she was granted 2 retrials in the late 1970s and subsequently convicted of first degree murder, receiving a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Since 2016, Van Houten has been recommended for parole five times, but each recommendation has been vetoed, the first 2 by former Gov. Jerry Brown and the others by Newsom. But in a 2-1 decision, the 2nd District court of appeals in Los Angeles overruled Newsom.

“Van Houten has shown extraordinary rehabilitative efforts, insight, remorse, realistic parole plans, support from family and friends, favorable institutional reports, and, at the time of the Governor’s decision, had received four successive grants of parole,” the majority opinion says. “Although the Governor states Van Houten’s historical factors ‘remain salient,’ he identifies nothing in the record indicating Van Houten has not successfully addressed those factors through many years of therapy, substance abuse programming, and other efforts.”

Newsom has consistently argued that Van Houten, who was 19 at the time of the killings, is still a threat to society. He has said in part that he rejected her parole because she isn’t able to provide an adequate explanation for her involvement with the Manson family and her role in the murders.

“Given the extreme nature of the crime in which she was involved, I do not believe she has sufficiently demonstrated that she has come to terms with the totality of the factors that led her to participate in the vicious Manson Family killings,” Newsom said when he vetoed her most recent parole recommendation in 2022. “Before she can be safely released, Ms. Van Houten must do more to develop her understanding of the factors that caused her to seek acceptance from such a negative, violent influence, and perpetrate extreme acts of wanton violence.”

In the meantime, Van Houten’s legal team will still have some work to do before their client could be released. Her attorney Nancy Tetreault says she expects California Attorney General Rob Bonta to request the state Supreme Court review this decision, which could take several years.