Manson Family Member Leslie Van Houten Gets Parole Reinstated By Board After Newsom Blocked It; Judge Says She “Has Shown Extraordinary Rehabilitative Efforts, Insight, Remorse”

In a split ruling today, a state appeals court panel reinstated a grant of parole for former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, overturning an earlier decision by Gov. Gavin Newsom to block her release.

Tuesday’s decision does not automatically mean Van Houten will be released. The state could still appeal the ruling to the California Supreme Court. Neither the governor’s office nor the state Attorney General’s Office immediately returned a message seeking comment.

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 more than 50 years ago.

The Manson killings shook Los Angeles and defined a generation. The story of the Manson family has inspired countless shows and films, including, most recently, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Victoria Pedretti played a character called “Lulu” in the film, a moniker which, in real life, was one of Van Houten’s nicknames.

Some of Van Houten’s parole hearings aired on Court TV and attracted nationwide media attention. Director John Waters has advocated for Van Houten’s parole and visited her in prison. In 2009, he wrote a first-person, five-part series titled “Leslie Van Houten: A Friendship” for Huffington Post.

In the 2-1 ruling 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 request in May 2020 to release Van Houten, who was then 70, on bail or her own recognizance was denied due to her high risk of contracting Covid.

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.

There have, of course, been many screen portrayals of the Manson Family’s crimes and trial, many of which feature Van Houten as a character played by many different actresses.

Van Houten was first played by actress Cathey Paine in the 1976 made-for-TV film Helter Skelter, based on the bestselling 1974 book by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. In a 2004 remake, she was played by Catherine Wadkins .

The 2009 picture Leslie, My Name Is Evil is partially based on Van Houten’s early life and stars Kristen Hager as Van Houten. In 2003, Amy Yates played her in the film The Manson Family. In NBC’s high-profile 2015 fictional series Aquarius, Emma Dumont portrays a character named Emma, who is loosely based on Van Houten. Tania Raymonde portrayed Van Houten in the 2016 film Manson Girls. Later that same year, Greer Grammer portrayed Van Houten in Leslie Libman’s film Manson’s Lost Girls. In 2018, Gabrielle Klobucar took the role in the made-for-TV documentary Inside the Manson Cult: The Lost Tapes. Also in 2018, English actress Hannah Murray played Van Houten in a feature titled Charlie Says.