Leslie Van Houten, sentenced to life in prison for her role in the sensational "Manson Family" murders, faces a California parole board Tuesday -- her 19th attempt at gaining freedom. She's seen as the most likely of Charles Manson's murderous bunch to be released from prison someday.
Van Houten was 19 years old when she accompanied Manson and several others to the Los Angeles house of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca on August 10, 1969. The group savagely killed the couple. Van Houten admitted at her trial that she stabbed Rosemary La Bianca more than a dozen times after she was already dead.
Van Houten -- who was not involved in the infamous Sharon Tate murder the previous night -- was convicted and sentenced to death in 1971. But that sentence was commuted to life in prison the following year when the California Supreme Court invalidated all death penalty sentences for crimes committed before 1972.
Now 60, Van Houten is said to be a model prisoner. She has had no disciplinary problems in her 40 years behind bars. She has been active in counseling and tutoring other prisoners, and is working towards a master's degree in Humanities.
Her new lawyer, Brandie Devall, told the Associated Press that she has recent precedent on her side. Most significant is the case of Sandra Lawrence, a convicted murderer who was paroled after 23 years in prison after a court ruled that to refuse parole, there must be evidence that a prisoner is currently a danger to public safety. The court said the board could not base a refusal only on the details of the crime committed by the inmate long ago.
"There is no evidence of current dangerousness," Devall said of Van Houten.
Devall said another case deals with inmates who are between 16 and 20 years old at the time of their crimes and holds that they are more likely to be rehabilitated.
There is of course much opposition to Van Houten's possible release. One person lobbying against it is Debra Tate, Sharon's Tate's sister. She said the only reason Van Houten has been such a "model prisoner" is because she is in a controlled environment.
"Is a tiger dangerous if it gets out of its cage? We proved that at the L.A. zoo," Tate said. "In the cage they are fine. You cannot let them out."
Even if the board on Tuesday recommends parole, it would still have to go to the entire state parole board to review the decision. Then it would be submitted to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for a final ruling.
Van Houten has been up for parole every two years. If she gets rejected again, it's not clear when she would get another chance. Under a new law, the board can set the length of time between parole hearings at 3, 5, 7, 10 or 15 years.