Thursday, June 24, 2004
High Court Spurns Leslie Van Houten’s Bid for Release
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday declined to review a Court of Appeal ruling upholding the denial of parole to convicted killer Leslie Van Houten.
Justices voted 6-0 at yesterday’s conference to deny a petition for review by Van Houten, a follower of Charles Manson. Justice Janice Rogers Brown, who worked on parole issues while legal affairs secretary to then-Gov. Pete Wilson, recused herself.
A San Bernardino Superior Court judge had ordered the state Board of Prison Terms to reconsider its finding that Van Houten remains unsuitable for release after 35 years in custody, but the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed in March.
Retired Judge Bob N. Krug, assigned by the chief justice, applied the wrong standard when he held that the board had failed to balance the heinousness of Van Houten’s crimes against her subsequent efforts at rehabilitation, the Fourth District’s Div. Two ruled.
Van Houten, Manson, and three other members of “The Family,” Manson’s collection of ‘60s counter-culture advocates who sought to create a race war in America with the expectation of rising to leadership in its aftermath, are serving life sentences for multiple murders.
Van Houten’s original conviction and sentence of death was overturned because her attorney disappeared in mid-trial. Her second trial ended with a hung jury, and the third trial resulted in concurrent life terms.
The defendant, 19 at the time of the killings, admitted her involvement in the August 1969 murders of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca in their Cielo Drive home. One day earlier, actress Sharon Tate and four others were murdered at the home Tate rented with her husband, director Roman Polanski, who was in Europe at the time.
Van Houten was convicted of the La Bianca murders. She was not present during the Tate murders but was convicted of conspiracy to commit them.
Rosemary La Bianca was stabbed a total of 42 times, and Van Houten said at various times that she had herself stabbed the woman 14 or 16 times. Another Family member testified at Van Houten’s trial that the defendant admitted stabbing La Bianca after she was already dead and said “the more she did it the more fun it was.”
Van Houten became eligible for parole in 1978, but has been turned down by the board 13 times. She filed her petition for habeas corpus after being turned down in 2000, arguing that the board failed to give consideration to evidence that she has received consistently positive evaluations, has participated in self-improvement, service, education, and religious programs, and has a place to live and a job waiting if she is released.
Krug agreed. While Van Houten had committed horrible crimes, failing to weigh the positive factors, he said, effectively converted Van Houten’s term into “a sentence of life without parole, a sentence unauthorized by law.”
But Presiding Justice Manuel Ramirez, writing for the Court of Appeal, said that the courts must uphold the board’s exercise of its discretion to find an inmate unsuitable for parole as long as there is “some evidence” to support it. And that evidence can come solely from a review of the circumstances of the crime, Ramirez said.
The record of Van Houten’s 13 parole hearings, the jurist concluded, supports the board’s findings that the murders were “cruel and callous”; that they had an “inexplicable or very trivial” motive; that the La Biancas’ bodies were mutilated; and that Van Houten and the others sought to create unrest by making the killing appear racially motivated “by writing comments on the walls to make it look as if blacks had committed this crime in order to perpetuate the helter skelter as it was described by Charles Manson.”
In other conference action, the justices unanimously agreed to decide whether an Indian tribe may be forced to comply with laws requiring the reporting of election campaign and lobbying expenditures.
The court granted the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ petition for review of a March 3 ruling by the Third District Court of Appeal. The divided Third District panel held that tribal immunity is a common law doctrine, rather than of constitutional dimension, and that the state has a constitutional interest in political finance disclosure that outweighs any competing interest of the tribe.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company