June 4, 2019 / 2:49 AM / 13 days ago

California governor reverses parole board decision on Manson follower

(Reuters) - California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday reversed a parole board recommendation that the youngest of Charles Manson’s murderous “family” of followers be released early from prison.

Leslie Van Houten reacts after she was denied parole in Corona, California, June 28, 2002. REUTERS/Damian Dovarganes/Files

Newsom said in a written decision that he was concerned that Leslie Van Houten, who was 19 at the time of the killings, has the potential for future violence.

“When considering as a whole, I find the evidence shows that she currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time,” Newsom wrote.

Van Houten, 69, is serving a life in prison at the California Institute for Women in Corona for her role in the cult’s 1969 killing spree.

January’s decision by the parole board capped the latest of 22 attempts by Van Houten to persuade the panel that she be deemed suitable for release.

Newsom’s reversal marks the third time that a California governor has overruled a parole board recommendation on Van Houten. Fellow Democrat Jerry Brown twice denied the board’s recommendation that she be set free.

Manson, who died in prison in 2017, directed his mostly young and female devotees to murder seven people, including actress Sharon Tate, in August 1969 in what prosecutors said was part of a plan to incite a race war.

Although Manson, one of the 20th century’s most notorious criminals, did not personally kill any of the seven victims, he was found guilty of ordering their murders.

He was also convicted later of ordering the killings of two others during that summer - music teacher Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea.

Van Houten was convicted of fatally stabbing grocery owner Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, in their Los Angeles home on Aug. 10, 1969. The words “Death to Pigs,” and “Healter Skelter” - a misspelled reference to a Beatles song - were found scrawled in the victims’ blood on the walls and refrigerator.

The previous night, members of Manson’s cult broke into the rented Los Angeles hillside home Tate shared with her husband, filmmaker Roman Polanski. Polanski was away in Europe at the time.

But Tate, who was 26 and eight months pregnant, was slain along with four friends of the celebrity couple, including coffee heiress Abigail Folger and hairstylist Jay Sebring.

Van Houten’s 1971 conviction and death sentence were initially overturned on appeal, but she was retried, convicted and sentenced to prison in 1978.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; editing by Darren Schuettler

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