Law review: Leslie Van Houten- Charles Manson cult leader follower- released on parole (Opinion)

Jim Porter, Columnist

All of us remember cult leader Charles Manson and some of us remember one of his cult followers Leslie Van Houten, who participated in the killing of Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary in Los Angeles. That was a day after other members of the Manson Family brutally murdered Sharon Tate Polanski and four others.


On August 9, 1969, Manson, Van Houten at age 19, and other members of the Manson Family drove around Los Angeles for four hours selecting possible victims to murder. The alleged purpose of the Manson murders was to start a race war between blacks and whites in America. Manson hoped his brutal murders would be blamed on blacks thus starting a race war.

The murders frightened the citizens of Los Angeles and made the national news. Manson himself died in prison on November 19, 2017.

A jury convicted Van Houten in 1971 of first degree murder which was reversed because Van Houten’s attorney had disappeared during the trial. She was retried and the jury deadlocked, she was then convicted by a third jury. The trial court imposed concurrent life sentences with the possibility of parole.


The Board of Parole Hearings found Van Houten suitable for parole in 2016, 2017, and 2019. Governor Newson reversed the 2019 parole ruling which Van Houten challenged in court. The Second Appellate District Court of Appeal reviewed Van Houten’s history coming from a broken family (her parents divorced), a forced illegal abortion and her drug and alcohol abuse including LSD which she was on during the killings. All of which Van Houten claimed led her down a path that left her vulnerable to Manson.

The court of appeal wrote: “Van Houten has showed 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 court of appeal ultimately ruled in favor of Van Houten’s release from prison citing a California Supreme Court Case that only allows a governor to overrule a parole ruling if “an inmate continues to pose an unreasonable risk to public safety.” The Parole Board found Van Houten posed no risk to public safety and the court of appeal agreed, notwithstanding the heinous nature of her crime, finding no evidence to support the Governor’s conclusions about Van Houten’s fitness for parole.

My take is there is no upside to a governor who likely will be a candidate for President of the United States, to parole a member of the heinous Manson Family.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta interestingly did not file a petition to the California Supreme Court to stop her release. Leslie Van Houten was paroled on July 12, 2023. 

Jim Porter is a retired attorney from the Porter Simon law firm. Porter Simon has offices in Truckee, California and Reno, Nevada. These are Jim’s personal opinions. Jim may be reached at Like Porter Simon on Facebook. ©2023

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.