LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California appeals court said Tuesday that Leslie Van Houten, who participated in two killings at the direction of cult leader Charles Manson in 1969, should be released from prison on parole.
The appellate court's ruling reverses an earlier decision by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who rejected parole for Van Houten in 2020. She has been recommended for parole five times since 2016. All of those recommendations were rejected by either Newsom or former Gov. Jerry Brown.
Newsom could request that California Attorney General Rob Bonta petition the state Supreme Court to stop her release. Bonta's office referred questions to Newsom's office, which didn't respond to queries about possible next steps.
Van Houten, now in her 70s, is serving a life sentence for helping Manson and other followers kill Leno LaBianca, a grocer in Los Angeles, and his wife, Rosemary.
Newsom has said that Van Houten still poses a danger to society. In rejecting her parole, he said she offered an inconsistent and inadequate explanation for her involvement with Manson at the time of the killings.
The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles ruled 2-1 to reverse Newsom's decision, writing there is "no evidence to support the Governor's conclusions" about Van Houten's fitness for parole.
The judges took issue with Newsom's claim that Van Houten did not adequately explain how she fell under Manson's influence. At her parole hearings, she discussed at length how her parents' divorce, her drug and alcohol abuse, and a forced illegal abortion led her down a path that left her vulnerable to him.
They also argued against Newsom's suggestion that her past violent acts were a cause for future concern were she to be released.
"Van Houten has shown extraordinary rehabilitative efforts, insight, remorse, realistic parole plans, support from family and friends, favorable institutional reports, and, at the time of the Governor's decision, had received four successive grants of parole," the judges wrote. "Although the Governor states Van Houten's historical factors ‘remain salient,' he identifies nothing in the record indicating Van Houten has not successfully addressed those factors through many years of therapy, substance abuse programming, and other efforts."