Leslie Van Houten, a former follower of cult leader Charles Manson, was released from prison on Tuesday after serving 53 years for her participation in an infamous double-murder in Los Angeles, California in 1969. Van Houten’s lawyer, Nancy Tetreault, stated, “She’s really thrilled, but she’s been in prison for 53 years and turns 74 next month, so this is a huge change.” Tetreault also mentioned that her client had focused on reform during her time behind bars, undergoing 40 years of therapy and 30 years of rehabilitative programming.
Van Houten’s involvement in one of the most notorious killing sprees in recent US history began when she fell under the influence of Charles Manson and joined his group, later known as the ‘Manson Family’. The crimes she committed led to feelings of crushing guilt, which she had to confront during her incarceration. At the age of 19, she was sentenced to life in prison for assisting in the murders of Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary.
The killings were part of a larger spree orchestrated by Manson, which included the murders of actress Sharon Tate and four others at Tate’s Los Angeles residence. However, Van Houten had no direct involvement in the Tate murders.
Following her release, Van Houten will be under parole supervision and is expected to spend approximately a year in transitional housing. Despite opposition from California Governor Gavin Newsom and his predecessor Jerry Brown, Van Houten’s parole was approved by officials. Over the years, she attended 21 parole hearings, and this was the fifth time since 2016 that she was recommended for release.
Governor Newsom expressed disappointment with the parole board’s decision but decided not to appeal as it was unlikely to succeed. Leno LaBianca’s daughter, Cory LaBianca, shared her heartbreak over Van Houten’s release. However, Van Houten’s lawyer believes that her rehabilitation and release will serve as an inspiration to other inmates serving long sentences, showing that parole and a chance at a decent life are possible.
Tetreault acknowledged that Van Houten will face challenges reintegrating into society after spending more than half a century in prison. She admitted that her client lacks knowledge about using technology such as computers and cell phones, as well as essential life skills like navigating a supermarket or making electronic transactions.
It is worth noting that Charles Manson, the mastermind behind the Manson Family murders, died in prison in 2017 at the age of 83.
Leslie Van Houten’s release generated mixed reactions, with some people emphasizing the importance of rehabilitation and second chances, while others expressed concern and sorrow for the victims’ families. Regardless, Van Houten’s release marks a significant transition in her life, as she navigates life outside of prison after over five decades behind bars.