One of the followers of Charles Manson has been released from prison after more than 50 years.
Leslie Van Houten was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder for her involvement in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in 1969. Although she and three other Manson followers were initially sentenced to death, California commuted their sentences to life in prison after the state abolished the death penalty.
Van Houten was released from prison in California on July 11 and is now on parole supervision.
“Van Houten will have a three-year maximum parole term with a parole discharge review occurring after one year,” said a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, per Fox News.
Van Houten was 19 years old when she joined the Manson Family, a group of people led by Charles Manson.
Mason and his followers lived on a ranch in the Panamint Mountains. Manson ruled the group with strict rules “on communal life, including mandatory group sex and drug use,” per The Washington Post. He also told his followers that he was the second coming of Jesus Christ and spoke to them about a race war he titled “Helter Skelter.”
Manson’s followers were responsible for the death of seven people in August 1969 including actress Sharon Tate, who was pregnant at the time.
Van Houten admitted to holding down Rosemary LaBianca while someone else stabbed her and continued to stab the victim after her death. Rosemary LaBianca was stabbed, in total, 41 times.
While in prison, Van Houten earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. She is expected to spend the first year of her parole living in a halfway house.
“She had a long job of detaching herself from the cult mentality and accepting responsibility for her crimes” Nancy Tetreault, Van Houten’s lawyer, told the BBC. “It took her a long time. She had decades of therapy. So she felt guilt and deep remorse.”
Van Houten was previously denied parole on five occasions by former governors of California. During parole hearings, she expressed regret and said she had let Manson overpower her “individual thinking.” Most recently, an appellate court overturned current California Governor Gavin Newsom’s rejection of her parole bid on May 30.
Newsom, who had said Van Houten had been inconsistent in her explanation of her participation in the murders and still posed a danger to society, announced on July 8 that he would not block Van Houten’s parole as he had done in the past.
“More than 50 years after the Manson cult committed these brutal offenses, the victims’ families still feel the impact, as do all Californians,” a spokesperson for the governor said in a statement to The Guardian. “The governor is disappointed by the court of appeals’ decision to release Ms. Van Houten but will not pursue further action as efforts to further appeal are unlikely to succeed.”
Van Houten, currently 73 years old, was the youngest member of the Manson family at the time of the attacks. She is the first Manson family member convicted of the murders to be released on parole.
Manson died in prison in 2017.