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Manson Family Member Leslie Van Houten Should Be Released From Prison, Court Says

She was convicted for the 1969 LaBianca murders, which took place when she was 19.

Despite the crimes of the Manson Family taking place over 50 years ago, legal proceedings involving some of the members of his cult continue on today. Some of his followers have passed and Charles Manson himself died in prison in 2017, but others have either been released from prison or are still serving sentences. One member who remains imprisoned is Leslie Van Houten, who was sentenced to death in 1971. This sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

In the years since she was imprisoned, Van Houten has had over 20 parole hearings, and now, there's a new development in her request for release. On Tuesday, May 30, a California appeals court suggested that the 73-year-old should be released from prison on parole. This reverses a previous decision from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

But, the court's suggestion alone does not mean that Van Houten will be released after serving over 50 years. Read on to find out more about what could happen next.

READ THIS NEXT: See the Last Surviving Manson Family Members Now.

Van Houten was convicted for the LaBianca murders.

Charles Manson with police officers in 1970
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

As a member of the Manson Family, Van Houten participated in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, which took place in August 1969. The couple were killed the day after the Manson Family murdered five others, including actor Sharon Tate. At the time, Van Houten was 19 years old. During various trials in the '70s, Van Houten was convicted of two counts of murder and one court of conspiracy to commit murder. She was sentenced to death, but her sentence was automatically modified to life with parole due to a change in the law.

Van Houten has been denied release several times.

Van Houten has had over 20 parole hearings during her imprisonment, following her eligibility for parole in 1977. The parole board first recommended that she be released from prison in 2016, as reported by CNN. Since then, California Govs. Jerry Brown and Newsom have rejected the parole board's recommendation five times collectively.

Most recently, in 2022, Newsom said, "Ms. Van Houten continues to lack sufficient insight into the risk factors that led to her violent conduct in the past and the skills to protect against her becoming susceptible to similar pressures in the future." The governor also said that Van Houten had not "adequately addressed why she joined and remained in a violent cult or the triggering factors that led her to murder Mrs. LaBianca."

At the time, Van Houten said in a statement through her lawyer, "I'm disappointed and I'm going to pursue my legal avenues."

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An appeals court has now ruled that she should she be released.

As reported by the Associated Press, a California appeals court ruled on Tuesday, May 30 that Van Houten should be released from prison. This ruling reverses a 2020 decision by Newsom. Judges from the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles voted 2-1 for Van Houten's release.

"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 two judges who voted for her release wrote. "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."

As the AP reports, the dissenting judge agreed with Newsom that there is evidence that Van Houten lacks insight into the murders.

The decision could still be blocked.

The appeals court ruling does not mean that Van Houten will be immediately released from prison or perhaps released at all. According to the Associated Press, Gov. Newsom can request that California Attorney General Rob Bonta petition the California Supreme Court to stop her release. Van Houten's lawyer, Nancy Tetreault, told CNN that she expects this to happen. Tetreault also said she expects that the attorney general's office will file a motion for a stay, meaning that Van Houten will not be released while the case is in review. The lawyer said she would oppose this.

Additionally, CNN reported that if the appeals court decision does become final, Van Houten will be reviewed by the Board of Parole Hearings, who will determine if any new developments mean that she should not be released. If the board confirms that she should still be granted parole, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations would process her for release.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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