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Crime & Courts

Gray haired Leslie Van Houten, a Charles Manson follower, loses 19th bid for parole

The aging inmate, her face wrinkled with time and her gray hair drawn in a bun, listened as her lawyer argued that the Leslie Van Houten seated before the parole board is a changed woman from the young Charles Manson follower who participated in two savage murders 41 years ago.

"People can and do change," attorney Brandie Devall said.

But the two-member panel was unswayed Tuesday, and Van Houten was denied a parole date for a 19th time and told to come back to the board in three years.

Van Houten, who last appeared before a parole board in 2007, showed no response to the decision and was taken back to her cell.

The only words the 60-year-old spoke during the hearing at the California Institution for Women were from a prepared statement apologizing to the family of her victims. She also gave the family members a private letter.

"I apologize for the pain I caused," she said.

Van Houten also spoke of the shame she feels for joining other Manson Family members in stabbing Leno and Rosemary La Bianca to death in August 1969.

Manson's followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others the previous night. Together, the killings are one of the most notorious murder cases of the 20th Century and they continue to rivet public attention 41 years later.

Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Patrick Sequeira on Tuesday focused on the details of the deadly summer of 1969 when Manson and his followers set out to foment a race war with a senseless killing spree.

Van Houten was convicted of murder and conspiracy for her role in the La Bianca slayings. She did not participate in the Tate killings but went along the next night when the La Biancas were slain in their home.

During the penalty phase of her trial, she confessed to joining in stabbing Mrs. La Bianca after she was dead.

Parole Board Chairman Robert Doyle read into the record testimony of a Manson family member who once said that Van Houten expressed disappointment at not having been included in the Tate murders.

Van Houten, the youngest of the defendants, has long been seen as the most likely to win parole one day. She has been commended for her behavior behind bars — a model prisoner who participates in self help groups, tutors other prisoners and has earned college degrees.

"There is nothing in the record that suggests her dangerousness," Devall said. "You have a record before you of reform and rehabilitation."

Devall also asked the panel to consider Van Houten's age — 19 — when she joined in the La Bianca killings. She said Van Houten came under the influence of Manson, "who had a knack for finding lost young people and manipulating them."

But there were Manson followers who didn't participate in the murders, Sequeira said.

"The real question that arises is who does this? Who joins this group after hearing the news of what happened at the Tate residence the night before?" he asked.

Arguing for continued incarceration, Sequeira said: "There's just something about this woman, something about her that led her to cross a very heavy line and become involved in these brutal, savage murders."

Devall responded that current case law suggests the panel should look at "who the person is sitting before you today," and not base its entire decision on the crimes.

Doyle said the law she cited allows exceptions for terrorist and hate crimes.

At the conclusion of the emotional three-hour hearing, Doyle said Van Houten wasn't yet suitable for parole because she had failed to gain complete insight into her crime and its motivation.

"She does not look at herself to see what made her capable of this activity," he said.

However, he said concerns for public safety were insufficient to give her a 10- or 15-year denial. He scheduled another hearing in three years.

Devall said she will most likely appeal Tuesday's ruling.

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