Charles Manson Follower Denied Parole Over 'Unreasonable Danger' She Poses

Leslie Van Houten, a Charles Manson follower who has been serving a life sentence for the 1969 murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, had a parole recommendation blocked on Tuesday by Governor Gavin Newsom.

This is the fifth time a California governor has denied 72-year-old Van Houten's release, the Associated Press reported. In his parole review, Newsom said she "currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time."

Though five parole board panels have recommended Van Houten's release since 2016, insisting she was remorseful and not a danger to society, Newsom has continued to reject them, according to the AP. Van Houten's attorney, Rich Pfeiffer, has accused the governor of trying to protect "his political future" in denying her parole, but Newsom said she continues to be a threat.

Van Houten was 19 years old when she and other members of Manson's cult participated in the fatal stabbings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Pfeiffer told the AP that since her imprisonment, her disciplinary record has been spotless.

However, though Newsom acknowledged that Van Houten has shown "increased maturity and rehabilitation" by earning degrees, going to therapy and taking self-help classes, he also said she has "gaps in insight" that make her a threat to public safety.

In a phone call with Newsweek, Pfeiffer said Van Houten is disappointed with the decision and will move forward with her legal options to again attempt to reverse the decision. He added that Van Houten told him "not to bash Newsom."

"Here he is continually denying parole for her, and she says, 'Don't bash him,'" he said. "So she's a better person than I am."

Pfeiffer said he will file a writ in the trial court for this decision and one in the court of appeals for the last time Newsom decided not to grant Van Houten parole. He said he hopes somebody will eventually grant the request.

"I just hope a judge or somebody—it's not going to be a politician because they have too much to lose—has the courage to do what's right," he said. "That's all I can hope for."

In a 1994 interview with ABC News, Van Houten described walking into the LaBiancas' house, saying, "It became clear that this was not what I had imagined." She said she and other cult members stabbed Rosemary LaBianca, adding that Leno LaBianca was being killed in a separate room and she could hear the sounds of him dying.

"[Rosemary LaBianca] started calling out to him and yelling for him," Van Houten said. "And at that moment, for a brief moment, I realized, you know, these are people that love each other."

Both of the LaBiancas were stabbed to death, and the word "war" was carved onto Leno LaBianca's stomach, the ABC News report added. The day before the LaBianca murders, a group of other Manson followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others, though Van Houten was not involved in those killings.

"I take responsibility for my part, and part of my responsibility was helping create him...being a follower does not excuse," Van Houten said in the 1994 interview. "The older I get, the harder it is. Mrs. LaBianca was younger than I am now. I took away all that life."

Pfeiffer told the AP he plans to appeal Newsom's decision in court, arguing that Van Houten has proven she's a good person "through her actions for half a century."

In November 2020, Newsom similarly blocked Van Houten's release after a state parole board had recommended parole for her.

Update 03/30/22 2:50 p.m. ET: This story was updated with quotes from attorney Rich Pfeiffer.

Leslie Van Houten Denied Parole
Leslie Van Houten, who is serving a life sentence for the killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, was denied parole. Above, this undated photo shows the three female defendants in the Tate-LaBianca murders, (left to right) Van Houten, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, returning to their cells. Getty Images