Former Charles Manson follower and convicted felon Leslie Van Houten was released from a California prison on Tuesday, a prison spokesman told CNN.
Van Houten he was released on parole, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Mary Xjimenez said. Van Houten will serve a maximum term of three years, and a parole review will take place after a year, Xjimenez said.
Van Houten, now 70, was 19 when he met Manson and joined the murderous cult that came to be known as “the Manson family.”
Before her release Tuesday, she is serving concurrent sentences of seven years to life after being convicted in 1971 for her role in the slayings of supermarket manager Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, in their Los Angeles home.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced Friday that it will not appeal a state appeals court ruling in May that opened the possibility of parole for Van Houten, clearing the way for her release.
“More than 50 years after the Manson cult committed these brutal crimes, the victims’ families are still feeling the impact, as are all Californians. Governor Newsom has revoked Ms. Van Houten’s parole three times since taking office and has defended herself against challenging those decisions in court,” Erin Mellon, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Friday.
“The Governor is disappointed by the Court of Appeals’ decision to release Ms. Van Houten, but will not proceed as further appeal efforts are unlikely to succeed. The California Supreme Court takes appeals in very few cases and generally does not select cases based on this type of fact-specific determination,” Melton said.
A family member of the famous hair stylist Jay Sebring, who was KILLED of the Manson cult in 1969, said he disagreed with the governor’s office’s decision not to challenge Van Houten’s parole.
“I certainly have respect for Gov. Newsom and the attorney general,” Sebring’s grandson Anthony DiMaria told CNN’s Laura Coates Tuesday night. “But our families strongly, vehemently disagree with their decision not to appeal.”
DiMaria called Van Houten a “cold-blooded killer in one of the most notorious murders in United States history” and said her release sets a “dangerous and pernicious precedent.”
Van Houten’s attorney, Nancy Tetreault, told CNN’s John Berman Tuesday night that her client “has gone through classes to face what he did — to take responsibility for what he did,” along with “40 years of mental evaluation” to get parole.
“I understand why … family members of the victims feel emotional about it and want punishment, but that’s not the law,” Tetreault told Berman. “The law says he’s eligible for parole if he meets the standard, and the standard is that he’s no longer a danger to society.”
Tetreault said he is not trying to prove Van Houten is innocent, but rather to point out that Van Houten “should and has accepted full responsibility for the crime.”
After 53 years in prison, Van Houten will enter a transitional housing program to help her with job training, to teach her how to get a job and support herself, Tetreault told CNN last week.
“If you think about it, she’s never used an ATM, she’s never had a cell phone,” Tetreault said last week. The attorney told CNN that she and her client discussed the likelihood of her being overwhelmed as she transitions back to routine daily activities, such as going to the supermarket.
Van Houten will seek employment that builds on the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in humanities he earned while in prison, the attorney said. But for now, she’s just getting acclimated.
“She said she’s just trying to get used to not being in prison after all these decades and just acclimate to her new life outside of prison,” Tetreault said Tuesday.
Following her conviction, Van Houten was sentenced to death, but the death penalty was overturned after California abolished capital punishment, and her sentence was commuted to life in prison. She first became eligible for parole in 1977, and a California parole board committee first recommended her release in 2016 after she made 22 appearances before the board, CNN reported.
This decision, however, it was reversed five times by state governors — twice by former Gov. Jerry Brown, who cited the gruesome nature of the crimes and Van Houten’s eager participation, and three times by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
In 1994, Van Houten described her role in the prison murders interview with CNN’s Larry King.
“I went in and Ms. LaBianca was laying on the floor and I stabbed her,” said Van Houten, who was 19 at the time of the murders. “In the lower back, about 16 times.”