Monday, March 1, 2021

Weighing the Value of Life Versus the Value of a Life Sentence: Part II


"Never mistake law for justice. Justice is an ideal, and law is a tool."

- L.E. Modesitt Jr.

"The Consequences of our actions take hold of us, quite indifferent to our claim that meanwhile we have improved."

- Frederich Nietzche

Below is an updated revisit to one of the first posts I ever did for this blog. California has recently announced a minor change in the parole system which, some think, could affect a couple of the prisoners associated with the TLB case. I thought this would be an appropriate time to take another look at why I believe none of them will ever be released....

Some say Susan Atkins deserved to be paroled and maybe that's so. At the time of her death in 2009, Susan had been California's longest serving female inmate. Susan had become a Born-again Christian and turned her life over to God. Susan did great work over the years helping to mentor other prisoners, and once was able to prevent one from committing suicide. Susan participated in almost every prison self-help and educational program that was available, and even earned an Associate Degree. In all her years behind bars, Susan had only received less than half-dozen minor write-ups. In addition to Susan's impressive post incarceration record, in 2008 she was diagnosed with Brain Cancer. She was granted a "Compassionate Release" hearing at which she could not raise her head, or even stay awake. Susan was partially paralyzed, had trouble even speaking, and could not have possibly posed a threat to anyone. Certainly, it would be merciful to let this woman go home and die among her family. 

But Susan Atkins was the textbook definition of a cold-blooded killer.  Susan giggled and laughed when recalling what happened to Sharon that August night in her taped testimony. She was proud to tell them what happened to Sharon...

"Sharon went through quite a few changes (Laughs), quite a few changes."  

Susan helped to kill Sharon and then used her blood as ink. Susan danced, and laughed her way through the trial with the other girls, and acted as if the entire episode was one big joke. All in front of grieving families and friends of her victims. Susan showed no remorse. None. Susan looked down at a pregnant Sharon, who had just watched her closest friends get slaughtered and was about to lose both her life, and the life of her unborn baby, and told her she had "No Mercy" for her.

Q- Did you do anything to Sharon Tate at that point?

A- I went over and grabbed her by the hand, and put my arm around her neck. She looked at me and begged to let me have her sit down and I was told, before we even got there, no matter what they beg don't give them any leeway. Anyway, I went over and put her down on the couch and looked into her face knowing that anything that I would say, I was saying to myself, in a sense reassuring myself. I looked at her and said, "Woman I have no mercy for you."

-Susan Atkins Grand jury Testimony 12/5/1969

How do we explain showing mercy to Susan Atkins to the Tate Family? 

Some say Patricia Krenwinkel deserves to be paroled and maybe that's so. When Susan died, Pat became the longest serving female inmate in the California system, and has remained so to this day. If you think Susan's post incarceration record was impressive, just wait until you hear Pat's. Pat has maintained a nearly prefect prison disciplinary record. Almost literally nothing as far as write-ups in all these years. She has received a Bachelors Degree, and participated in Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous for Decades, She teaches in prison, works with animals, and has always been considered the one who has shown the most remorse. 

But aside from Tex, Pat was the primary butcher in the TLB murders. They could not have happened without Pat. Pat participated in murder on BOTH nights. After killing the Labianca's in their own house, Pat put a carving fork in Leno's stomach after he was already dead, and then used Leno's blood to write messages on the wall. Between Abagail and Rosemary, Pat stabbed one or the other almost 70 times. Pat also admitted in her parole hearings that she was not under the influence of drugs on either night. She did this with a clear head. Something pretty scary inside of Pat has the potential to come out:

Presiding Member De Leon - Yes, any inaccuracies or corrections or whatever?

Inmate Krenwinkle - All right. With Abagail Folger, I chased her outside onto the lawn and I stabbed Abagail Folger.  How many times? I couldn't tell you. But, at the time I left her body then, I went an called Tex who went over to the body then and stabbed it too. And as far as the Labianca house, when I was in the bedroom with Miss Labianca, I stabbed Miss Labianca a couple times at which she fell to the floor and again, I went and Tex came back in. Because at the time, the weapon I had would not work. I mean, it was not established. So I went and I called Tex and he went into the bedroom then. And I am trying to remember, there was something else. I did not write "War" on the man's stomach. I did take the blood of his stomach and I did put the fork in his stomach and I wrote the words on the wall.

How do we release a woman who was one the primary perpetrators of one of the most heinous crimes in the history of the Country, stabbed multiple people to death, wrote messages with their blood, and when asked once in a parole hearing who she felt she had harmed the most answered, "Herself" ???

Some say Leslie Van Houten deserves to be paroled and maybe that's so. If there was ever a case to be made that one of the Manson Killer's was young, impressionable, and influenced by Charlie and the others to the point that it was really not all of their fault- Leslie Van Houten would be the one to make it for. The youngest of the killers, and also the one who had the least personal physical involvement, Leslie was the one who everyone thought had the best chance at parole eventually. Leslie actually was out on parole for a spell between trials. Leslie proved she could be a functioning and productive member of society when given an opportunity to do so.  Leslie has a record almost as clean as Pat's. Leslie has also earned a Bachelors Degree, and has participated in every self-help program available. Lulu even helped to teach other prisoners' how to read, and study to get degrees themselves. Leslie was interviewed on TV during a special early on after she was transferred off of death row. She was shown in a classroom smiling and speaking out in front of the class in one scene. The prison seemed more like a camp in the video.  In another scene, she was interviewed, and very confidently explained to the interviewer the California sentencing matrix guidelines. She told the interviewer she would be up for parole in 7 years, and would be doing about 7 to 15 years for her crime. That was the average time for a person who had a similar "Commitment offense." Then the parole hearings started. The other Killers who were at Cielo or Waverly, and Bobby and Charlie,  would regularly get the longest possible denials (5 years) allowed at the time. Leslie would regularly get two or three year denials. At one point, Leslie got a 1 year denial, and the board told her it was a "Reward" for her solid efforts.  Leslie has a very impressive post incarceration record for sure. 

But Leslie Van Houten was quite aware of what was going to happen the night she went to the Labianca's and ASKED in. Leslie participated in the torture of a woman who was begging for her life while listening to her husband being murdered in the next room, and then went in the kitchen and made a snack from the refrigerator. Please never forget Leslie knew how this would end up and she WANTED to be part of it:

Presiding commissioner Ferguson- "So she told you all of that including that it seemed wrong and was hard to do. And you felt left out and wanted to be included the next time? Is that correct?"

Inmate Van Houten- "Yes. Early at my going to the ranch, Pat was the one who kept an eye on me. And she was kind of like, I guess placed like a big sister to me. And I was devoted to her. And I knew that she had crossed the line on her commitment to beginning the race war. And it was important to me that I cross that line too. So I wanted to go. I wanted to show my commitment to this belief system."

Presiding commissioner Ferguson- "But she told you that is seemed wrong. Didn't what she told you about her behavior and her actions influence you that it was - this may be wrong?"

Inmate Van Houten - "No. whether it felt that way or not it had to be done."
Leslie said the above not when she was still young, and under the thrall of the group. Leslie said the above at her parole hearing in 2013. Less than 10 years ago. What example do we set by freeing the one member of the Manson Family who actually ASKED to be part of these brutal murders ???

Some say Bruce Davis deserves to be paroled, and maybe that's so. Hell, Bruce didn't even participate in the TLB crimes. Bruce has also found God, and, in fact, helped to convert Susan Atkins to religion as well. Bruce hasn't had any marks against him in prison since around 1980. That is a very long time. I mentioned earlier that a 1 year denial used to be the Parole Board's way of  telling the inmate they are doing a good job and getting close to a date to be paroled. Bruce got 23 consecutive 1 year denials at one point. That must be some kind of record. Bruce was able to earn a Doctoral Degree in Philosphy of Religion, which Bruce has helped to minister others in the prison. Bruce has married, had kids, and tried to live an honest life behind bars. Bruce is obviously a guy who has done his best to turn his life around.  

But Bruce is a wild card. We will probably never really know all that Bruce knows. Bruce was present for Gary, and did nothing to stop it. Bruce not only did nothing to stop Shorty from being killed- he participated in killing him: 

"We were at the ranch early in the morning. Manson came down, said, "Were going to kill Shorty." I said, "What for?" "Well he's a snitch." Charlie is there, Bill Bass is there. He says "You guys take him down the hill to get some car parts, and kill him on the way down the hill."  I was in the car when Steve Grogan hit Shorty with the pipe wrench. Charles Watson stabbed him. I was in the back seat, with Grogan."

" They took Shorty out, they had to go down a hill to a place. I stayed in the car for quite a while but what ... then I went down the hill later on and then that's when I cut Shorty with the knife, after he was... well, I don't know if he was dead or not. He didn't bleed when I cut him on the shoulder."

- Bruce Davis 2012 Parole Hearing Testimony

Bruce was there when Zero committed "suicide" with a loaded gun, and was the only other person present to have touched the gun. That admission sort of led to another. They found no fingerprints on the gun, and as Bruce admitted to touching it, we can assume it was wiped clean. Why? When Joel Pugh also happened to commit suicide, Bruce just happened to be in the same foreign country at the same time. Bruce had a strange habit of being in close proximity to a lot of dying people. in 1973 the police looked into him as a suspect in the murders of Doreen Gaul and James Sharp. He had dated girls living in the same Scientology pad as Doreen. Bruce was even considered a Zodiac Killer suspect for half a minute. Bruce got around, Bruce served as "Comptroller" for the Family, and certainly would have known about almost all of their cashflow and secrets. But Bruce boldly told the authorities he had no reason to cooperate or ask for immunity in other crimes when he already had two life sentences to serve out. Bruce is the one person outside of Charlie who really might have been able to answer some of our unanswered questions. Bruce is also the one person outside of Tex who really might have been dangerous if released, and that is really scary because he has come the closest of all of them to actually being released.

How can we feel safe knowing the shadiest, and sneakiest, of the Manson killers is walking among us? 

Some say Bobby Beausoleil deserves to be paroled and maybe that's so. Even in my own opinion, Bobby probably had the most potential to have a productive life outside of jail. I think Bobby would have gone the way of Clem had he been released. Bobby had the talent, smarts, and personality to make it in society. What he was able to accomplish behind bars is astonishing. Bobby created his own equipment out of scraps. Bobby was able to organize an entire band, and release music. Bobby even did a movie soundtrack while behind bars. Bobby had a website where he promoted his music and art. On that site he had a Q/A forum where, when answering questions, Bobby engaged with his readers and came off as intelligent and articulate. 

But Bobby is a lying fraud. Bobby Beausoleil today is trying to portray himself as the classis case of  "na├»ve young kid gets caught up in wrong crowd and makes one tragic mistake." But this was not just a forgettable innocent mistake. Bobby killed a harmless guy who called him a friend. A guy who had helped him in the past. Bobby went to this man's house and was happily welcomed in. Then he tried to rob the guy. When that went nowhere, he tortured the guy over two days. He let him slowly bleed to death, and listened to him beg for his life. Then Bobby left him to be eaten by maggots:

Deputy Guenther-  "What did Bobby tell you he went back to the house for?"

Ms. Brunner- "He tried to erase that paw-print on the wall."

Deputy Guenther- "And how many days later did he go back to the house?"

Ms. Brunner -  "Two or three days after Sunday, Tuesday or Wednesday." 

Deputy Guenther - "Alright. Did he describe to you what the house looked like or smelled like or anything like that?"

Ms. Brunner - "He told me it smelled terrible. He could hear the maggots."

Deputy Guenther - "Hear the maggots what?"

Ms. Brunner - "In Gary. Eating Gary."

- Mary Brunner interrogation statement 12/4/1969


Bobby still lies about why he did this to this day. I have read a lot of testimony from court hearings and parole hearings over the years, and Bobby is the only one involved who mentions going to Gary's over a drug burn. Bobby himself has changed his reason for killing Gary once or twice. I think he feels that this new story is the most reasonable for a parole board, and the one that makes him most human. But what Bobby did was not human. Bobby has been flagged from time to time in prison for breaking minor rules, and has produced art in jail that is not as holy as his parole hearing speeches would lead you to believe he leads his life these days. Yes,  Bobby still lets the rebel attitude shine through on occasion. Here is what Bobby once said personally before he decided the best way to get free was to distance from Charlie and the Family:

"I am at war with everyone in this courtroom. It's nothing personal but the world has been gattling at my brothers and sisters and as long as they are ripping off our world, our friends and our children, you better pray I never get out."

Do we really need to send a guy out into society who once warned us all what would happen if we did?

Some say Tex Watson deserves to be paroled and maybe that's so. Tex has made the very best of his situation. Tex has turned his life over to the Lord in a way more complete than any of the others. Tex runs his own ministry and has spent many years counseling, and helping, others. Tex has stayed pretty  free of incidents during his incarceration, and has served as an example to many. Tex earned a Bachelors Degree in Business Management. Tex got married while in prison, and has become father to several children. To listen to Tex today, is to listen to a model of civility and compassion. Tex has shown remorse over the years for his actions, and even had the support of a family member of one of the victim's for a time (Suzan Laberge). Tex had every reason to stay out of trouble if given a second chance. 

But Tex was the Quarterback of the TLB crimes. What Tex did on those two nights has shocked the Nation for over 50 years. It was the actions Tex committed that created the legend Charlie lived. Every scary thing that people say and write about the Myth that is Charles Manson, was inspired by the reality of Tex Watson. There is a special place in Hell for guys like this to burn. Charlie was one thing. A smart person could see Charlie coming. Tex was the guy sitting next to you in algebra class. They guy you never thought about twice. It is easy to see a guy like Charlie for what he is. Tex, on the other hand, is the guy you never thought about twice. To me that is so much scarier...

"As we staggered out onto the front porch, he kept screaming, "Help me. Oh my God, Help me."  I stabbed him over and over, blindly, the whole world spinning and turning as red as the blood that was smearing and smattering everywhere. Finally I shot him twice, and he slumped on the stone porch."

"I ran across the grass as Katie tackled her. Suddenly she stopped fighting. Looking up at me as she lay on her back, she whispered without emotion, "I give up, you've got me."  It was as of  the knife and my hand were one, Plunging up and down. I felt nothing.

- Charles Tex Watson (Will You die For Me)

Do we really need one of the most dangerous animals in the history of our Country moving in across the street?

Some say Charles Manson deserved to be paroled and maybe that's so. Charlie was not present at the Tate or Labiancas house when the murder's occurred. Charlie had spent decades in prison for murders others committed. At the end, Charlie was an old man who just wanted to go back to the desert and play his guitar. Charlie was always smart enough not to get his own hands dirty, if possible, and shouldn't be held accountable all of his life for the crimes others concocted and committed just because he was vaguely aware they were going on. Charlie helped the environment, and protected animals and had a lot of good intentions that he could spread to the world if he had jsut been given the chance. 

But Charlie was the mastermind of these crimes. Whatever the motive, those kids were riled up and sent off by Charlie to do the things that we still try to understand today. Between the stealing, the rapes, the beatings, the murder of Shorty, and the shooting of Crowe, Charlie earned his ending regardless of TLB. Charles Manson was the face of Evil to a generation of people. 

How would we have gotten our children to sleep at night if we had let loose the " Most Evil Man on the Planet" ???

"It was fun tearing up the Tate house, o.k. You should have seen it. People were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. (Defendant is laughing)"

Charles "Tex' Watson speaking to court appointed Doctor.

In the over 10 years since I originally came up with the idea for this post I hope I have gained experience and wisdom. I have met some of the people close to the Family. I have met some people who correspond with them in jail. I have also softened with age lol.  I am not the same ole' firecracker who is ready to engage with every blogger who comes along for days on end to defend my points. I try to be a more positive and empathetic person these days. However, I still haven't changed my ultimate position on this subject. None of the Family should ever get out. 

The scale of justice is still tilted towards the value of life when weighed against a life sentence. It has been getting closer recently, but it still slants in the right direction, even if ever so gently. I believe that age will catch the Killers before the scale completely levels out. Since I first wrote this a few of them have actually gotten the board to vote in favor of parole. Bruce has gotten the votes 4 or 5 times. Still, none of them are free. And a couple were getting close back in the day, and have recently as well. I earlier mentioned Leslie and her 1 year denial. Leslie had a huge amount of support, and momentum. A network of people. Over the years, Movie Directors have visited her and Stars have taken up her cause. Books have been written and "Friends of Leslie" organizations have been founded in support of Leslie. Combined with her minimal personal involvement, and sparkling prison record, How in the world could Leslie NOT get out? 

A couple of people are to thank for that. Lets start with Doris Tate.

In 1982 Doris heard Leslie had gathered a few hundred letters of support and was close to getting paroled. That's when our Hero got to work. Doris was able to generate 350,000 letters in opposition. Leslie got denied. Then she really went to work. Doris was one of the primary few people responsible for the passing of "Prop 8" which among other things allowed for Victim impact statements at parole hearings. This was really affective. The Denials immediately became longer. And, also thanks in large part to Doris, Denials were allowed to be longer. The Victims Families didn't have to relive it as often. Oh, and by the way, no more conjugal visits either. Doris Tate did the early work and she really kept it up as long as she could. She gave the first Victim impact statement. She was willing to sit across Tex, and look him square in the eye. She went to as many parole hearings as she could, and when she could no longer attend, her family took her place. Deb Tate in particular has been tireless in her efforts to be at the hearings and do her part to keep all of them locked up. Others mock her for this. I forever salute her. Most of society does not study this case in depth. They do not understand the family history of Deb Tate they way some of us do. The people on the board, and the general population, view Deb as a grieving sister to one of the victims. And knowing what happened to her sister, Debra's words come across as very powerful and effective. She has been an extremely helpful advocate for the cause regardless of her motivation for doing so, or anyone's personal view of her. 

Then more recently there are the Governors. The last line of defense has held every time it has needed to. The ability of the Governors to have the final say on any of the Manson Family killers being released will not change with the new system. The government simply will not show up any longer at the hearings. That keeps the chances for anyone associated with the Manson name of ever getting out pretty much nil. (Nil is British for zero) There are many people who will tell me the injustice of selectively keeping certain people in jail for much longer than others who committed similar crimes. Others go as far as to call the killers "Political Prisoners." There are a few lawyers associated with this blog and I will leave the legality to them. I am putting my faith in the idea that if the Governor's are denying them parole, that it is within their legal authority to do so. If that is the case. Then there is nothing illegal or unjust about it. They were sentenced to life sentences for taking the lives of others. If they should serve life- that would be the justice they were promised. They are not owed less by the law because a clock ticked, or because they finally decided to play ball. Leslie does not get to decide how long her sentence will be herself, and Pat does not get to make a deal that if she behaves, she is guaranteed a second chance. Let me remind you, that for not a burp in History all of them except Bruce would be long dead. They were sentenced to death. They got a break and it was rescinded, only to be reinstated, with them luckily caught in middle. They got a second chance to live. Their victims did not. It was a technicality that saved the killers, so if it is a technicality that keeps them locked up- I still think they got the better end of the deal. Don't you?  The Killers got to live long lives. All of them had sexual visitations in jail for years. They got married, had kids, got educations. Some became Grandparents. Tex had his own office for awhile with a phone and computer in the prison chapel. A couple of them had websites and did business. They got to experienced some sort of life.

The victims did not. It all ended for them back in those few scary months in 1969. The crimes that still shock a nation today. There are just not many crimes like this. It is why we obsess over it. The Government only gets a few chances to show the largest amount of people that there are some things you just can't do. Only a few cases get this type of attention for such a long period of time. The Manson name was a badge the Family killers took on proudly. They never seemed to understand that although the X' on their foreheads would fade with time, their association with the Manson name and crimes never will. Life in jail is the consequence they must face for the choices they made. We must not try to dissect the legal definition of  how long a life sentence is supposed to last. It is called a "Life" sentence. It offers a chance or opportunity for parole. It does not guarantee it. There is a process for how that decision gets made, if/when it does. The inmates do not get to dictate that process or timeline themselves. Do we really want criminals sitting down with a calculator and working out the math when deciding on if they should do a crime? Is that  a deterrent? There are NO Guarantees in life when you break into someone's house and torture them - write in their blood - make a snack and leave, and then laugh about it in court. Within 15 years of going to jail, Leslie was already complaining she was being treated unfairly. She has been waging war on the "Unfair" system ever since. There are defenders, books, and celebrities all making excuses for her and arguing her sentence is unfair for her crime. Where was the remorse? The genuine comprehension of the hurt and pain she caused? Where was it with ANY of them. Go back and look at the quotes in this post. All were made AFTER the murders. There is laughing. There are threats. Leslie is still saying "It had to be done" 40 plus years later. Have you ever seen the crime scene photo's? Ever read the autopsy reports? What these animals did was inhuman. They beat these people, stabbed them, defiled their bodies, and painted messages with their blood. Then when brought to trial, they danced and joked around with absolutely no respect at all for the people who were suffering and mourning. Leslie was screwed because she did not "Go home" in 7 to 15 years? That would be justice to you? That is how much you value the life of the victims? That should be the end result of her life sentence? What is the value of a life sentence if you give it, and the person you gave it to believes they will be probably be home in an average of 10 years? The sentence given to Leslie, and the others, was Death and then reduced to Life. They are not entitled to anything less no matter how long they wait, or how well they behave. The Killers now want justice. The Families of the victims do as well. 

Shorty, Gary, Steven, Sharon, Jay, Abagail, Voytek, Leno, Rosemary. They can't fight for justice themselves any longer. They have not been around to do that for a very long time. The killers are counting on that, They hope that as more and more time goes by, that people will start to forget. But I cannot forget the victims. I think of the violent way their lives ended and the fear and pain they endured. I think of the way their families and friends had to watch their killers sing and dance through the courtroom halls each day, making a joke about the loss of people they loved dearly. I think of what the victims had to go through in the final minutes of their lives. I cannot stop thinking that none of them ever got a chance to live out their hopes and dreams. I always remember that none of them ever get to "Go home" again. 

Because of the vicious way they are responsible for that, I believe that Pat, Leslie, Tex, Bobby, and Bruce never will either...

- Your Favorite Saint