Leslie Van Houten was a teenager in August 1969 when she participated in the horrific killing of a married couple in their Los Angeles home at the behest of cult leader Charles Manson. In 1971, Van Houten received the death sentence for the murder of Leno LaBianca, a wealthy businessman, and his wife, Rosemary. But that was commuted to life in prison the following year when the California Supreme Court overturned the state’s death penalty law.
On Tuesday, after 53 years in prison, Van Houten, 73, was released on parole. This came after a California Second District Court of Appeals judge reversed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to block her parole. Van Houten was recommended for parole five times since 2016, but former Gov. Jerry Brown and Newsom rejected all of those recommendations.
Van Houten is the only one of Manson’s followers involved in the murder who was let out of prison after Newsom announced last week that he would not appeal to the California Supreme Court. Northeastern Global News spoke to Daniel Medwed, university distinguished professor of law and criminal justice, about Van Houten’s release and why murderers can be paroled in some cases. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.