Leslie Van Houten, follower of cult leader Charles Manson, one step closer to being released from prison

Gov. Gavin Newsom's office announced Friday it will not challenge a state appellate court panel's ruling that clears the way for the release of former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten on parole.

Van Houten, now 73, is serving a potential life prison sentence for taking part in the killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in their Los Feliz home in August 1969.

"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, the governor's communications director, said in a written statement. "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."

It was not immediately clear how soon Van Houten could be released from state prison. She is behind bars at the California Institution for Women in Corona, according to records from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

In a 2-1 ruling in May by the panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal, Associate Justice Helen I. Bendix wrote, "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.

"... Under these circumstances Van Houten's unchanging historical risk factors do not provide some evidence that she is currently dangerous and unsuitable for parole," Bendix wrote, with Associate Justice Victoria Gerrard Chaney concurring in the 58-page ruling that reversed the governor's 2022 decision and reinstated the grant of parole for Van Houten.

In a dissenting opinion, Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild concluded that "the record contains some evidence Van Houten lacked insight into the commitment offense" and found that was sufficient when "coupled with the heinous nature of that crime" to "provide some evidence of current dangerousness and support the governor's decision."

Newsom had blocked parole for Van Houten in March 2022, writing that, "Given the extreme nature of the crime in which she was involved, I do not believe she has sufficiently demonstrated that she has come to terms with the totality of the factors that led her to participate in the vicious Manson Family killings. Before she can be safely released, Ms. Van Houten must do more to develop her understanding of the factors that caused her to seek acceptance from such a negative, violent influence, and perpetrate extreme acts of wanton violence."

A state parole board had recommended parole for Van Houten in November 2021, marking the fifth time for such a decision.

Four earlier parole recommendations for Van Houten were rejected by governors, including Newsom.

Van Houten was convicted of murder and conspiracy for participating with fellow Manson family members Charles "Tex" Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel in the August 1969 killings of grocer Leno LaBianca, 44, and his 38- year-old wife, Rosemary, who were each stabbed multiple times in their Los Feliz home.

The former Monrovia High School cheerleader -- who was 19 at the time - - did not participate in the Manson family's killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in a Benedict Canyon mansion the night before.

A request in May 2020 to release Van Houten, who was then 70, on bail or her own recognizance due to her high risk of contracting COVID-19 was denied.