CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Former Manson family member Leslie Van Houten released from California prison, official says

Jul 12, 2023, 5:00 AM

FILE - Leslie Van Houten attends her parole hearing at the California Institution for Women Sept. 6...

FILE - Leslie Van Houten attends her parole hearing at the California Institution for Women Sept. 6, 2017, in Corona, Calif. Van Houten has been released from a California prison after serving 53 years for two infamous murders. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Tuesday, July 11, 2023, that Van Houten "was released to parole supervision." Her release comes days after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would not fight a state appeals court ruling that Van Houten should be granted parole. (Stan Lim/Los Angeles Daily News via AP, Pool, File)

(Stan Lim/Los Angeles Daily News via AP, Pool, File)

(CNN) — Leslie Van Houten, a former Charles Manson follower and convicted murderer, was released from a California prison on Tuesday, a prison spokesperson told CNN.

Van Houten was released to parole supervision, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Mary Xjimenez said in a statement. She will have a three-year maximum parole term with a parole discharge review occurring after one year, Xjimenez said.

Van Houten, now in her 70s, was 19 when she met Manson and joined the murderous cult that came to be called the “Manson family.”

Prior to her release on Tuesday, she was serving concurrent sentences of seven years to life after she was convicted in 1971 for her role in the killings of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, at their Los Angeles home.

CNN has reached out to Van Houten’s attorney for comment.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office on Friday announced it would not challenge a state appellate court’s panel ruling in May that opened the possibility of parole for Van Houten, clearing the path to her release.

“More than 50 years after the Manson cult committed these brutal offenses, the victims’ families still feel the impact, as do all Californians. Governor Newsom reversed Ms. Van Houten’s parole grant three times since taking office and defended against her challenges of those decisions in court,” Erin Mellon, a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement Friday.

“The Governor is disappointed by the Court of Appeal’s decision to release Ms. Van Houten but will not pursue further action as efforts to further appeal are unlikely to succeed. The California Supreme Court accepts appeals in very few cases, and generally does not select cases based on this type of fact-specific determination,” the statement added.

Van Houten and her team were “thrilled” with the announcement, Nancy Tetreault, Van Houten’s attorney, told CNN Friday.

Following 53 years in custody, Van Houten will participate in a transitional housing program to help her with employment training, teach her how to get a job and support herself, Tetreault told CNN last week.

“If you think about it, she’s never used an ATM, never had a cell phone,” said Tetreault. The attorney told CNN she and her client have discussed the likelihood of her being overwhelmed as she transitions back to routine daily activities, such as going to the supermarket.

Following her conviction, Van Houten was sentenced to death, but the death penalty was overturned after California abolished capital punishment, and her sentence was commuted to life in prison. She first became eligible for parole in 1977 and a California parole board panel first recommended her release in 2016 after she made 22 appearances before the board, CNN reported.

That decision, however, was blocked five times by the state’s governors – twice by former Gov. Jerry Brown, who cited the horrific nature of the murders and Van Houten’s eager participation, and three times by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In 1994, Van Houten described her part in the killings in a prison interview with CNN’s Larry King.

“I went in and Mrs. LaBianca was laying on the floor and I stabbed her,” said Van Houten, who was 19 at the time of the murders. “In the lower back, around 16 times.”

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Former Manson family member Leslie Van Houten released from California prison, official says