California governor rejects parole bid for Manson family killer

Leslie Van Houten has had five parole bids rejected since 2016

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday blocked parole for Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, who is serving a life sentence for the 1969 murder of a Los Angeles couple who were stabbed to death with knives and a fork.

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Newsom's decision reversed a panel's recommendation that Van Houten, 72, be freed after spending half a century behind bars.

File photo of Leslie Van Houten from March 29, 1971. (AP Photo/File)

File photo of Leslie Van Houten from March 29, 1971. (AP Photo/File) (AP Photo/File)

She "currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time," Newsom wrote in his rejection letter. The governor acknowledged that Van Houten had "shown increased maturity and rehabilitation" in prison but added that "gaps in insight" continue to make her a risk to the public. 

File photo of Leslie Van Houten attending her parole hearing at the California Institution for Women in Corona, California in 2017. (Stan Lim/Los Angeles Daily News via AP, Pool, File)

File photo of Leslie Van Houten attending her parole hearing at the California Institution for Women in Corona, California in 2017. (Stan Lim/Los Angeles Daily News via AP, Pool, File) (Stan Lim/Los Angeles Daily News via AP, Pool, File)

Van Houten was a 19-year-old teenage runaway when she helped other cult members fatally stab Los Angeles grocery store owner Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, at Manson's direction

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The murderers used a carving fork to write the word "WAR" on Leno LaBianca's stomach as he lay dying from 26 stab wounds, according to trial testimony. The Manson acolytes then used the couple's blood to write "Death to pigs" on the walls. 

One day earlier, Manson followers, without Van Houten, had murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others at her home in Benedict Canyon.

Prison photo of serial killer Charles Manson taken in 2014. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP, File)

Prison photo of serial killer Charles Manson taken in 2014. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP, File) (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP, File)

Van Houten has had 21 parole hearings since 1982, with five panels recommending her release since 2016. Newsom and previous Gov. Jerry Brown have shot down each of her bids for freedom. 

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Van Houten's attorney, Rich Pfeiffer, said his client had a spotless prison record and accused Newsom of blocking her parole over concerns about his own "political future." He added that Van Houten was a "good person."

Manson died of natural causes in 2017 while serving a life sentence.

The Associated Press contributed to this report