LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former member of Charles Manson’s murderous cult was expected to get a court hearing Thursday to evaluate the role of her young age in the killing of California couple four decades ago.
Leslie Van Houten, now 68 and serving a life sentence for the deaths, was not expected to attend the hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court.
A recent change in California law enables those who committed crimes when they were younger than 23 to seek a hearing on the role their youth may have played. The issues can later be introduced at a parole hearing to evaluate whether a prisoner is fit for release.
Van Houten was 19 when she stabbed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca to death in 1969 along with fellow cult members. The killings took place a day after other so-called Manson family members murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in crimes that shocked the world and became tabloid fodder.
Last year, a parole panel recommended Van Houten be released after she had completed college degrees and been commended for her behavior as a model prisoner. But Gov. Jerry Brown denied her parole, saying she failed to explain how she transformed from an upstanding teen to a killer.
Van Houten’s lawyer, Rich Pfeiffer, said Thursday that he expects former cult member Catherine Share and a psychological expert to testify about how Van Houten wound up joining the cult.
He said he also hopes the judge will compel prosecutors to turn over decades-old recordings of a conversation between former cult member Charles “Tex” Watson and his attorney in the hopes they may benefit Van Houten and help secure her release.
“Everyone is confused about how could someone who grew up like she did end up there,” he said. “This hearing will help explain that.”
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which opposes Van Houten’s release, declined to comment before the hearing.
Van Houten was the youngest Manson follower to take part in the killings after joining the cult in the 1960s. During her parole hearing last year, she said the murders were the start of what Manson believed was a coming race war that he dubbed “Helter Skelter,” after a Beatles song, and that he had the group prepare to fight and learn to can food so they could go underground and live in a hole in the desert.
Van Houten is scheduled for her next parole hearing Wednesday. She was convicted in 1978 of two counts of murder and conspiracy after an earlier conviction was overturned on appeal.
Manson, 82, and other followers involved in the killings are still jailed. Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel have each been denied parole multiple times, while fellow defendant Susan Atkins died in prison in 2009.
Family member Bruce Davis also was recommended for parole, but Brown blocked his release.
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