Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten has walked out of a California prison after serving more than 50 years of a life sentence for her participation in two infamous murders.
Van Houten “was released to parole supervision,” the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.
She left the California Institution for Women in Corona, east of Los Angeles, early on Tuesday and was driven to transitional housing, her lawyer Nancy Tetreault said.
“She’s still trying to get used to the idea that this real,” Tetreault told The Associated Press.
Days earlier Governor Gavin Newsom announced he would not fight a state appeals court ruling that Van Houten should be granted parole. He said it was unlikely the state Supreme Court would consider an appeal.
Van Houten, now in her 70s, received a life sentence for helping Manson‘s followers carry out the August 1969 killings of Leno LaBianca, a grocer in Los Angeles, and his wife, Rosemary.
The LaBiancas were killed in their home, and their blood was smeared on the walls afterward. Van Houten later described holding Rosemary LaBianca down with a pillowcase over her head as others stabbed her.
Then, ordered by Manson follower Charles “Tex” Watson to “do something,” Van Houten said, she picked up a knife and stabbed the woman more than a dozen times.
The slayings happened the day after Manson followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others. Van Houten, who was 19 at the time, did not participate in the Tate killings.
Van Houten is expected to spend about a year at a halfway house, learning basic skills such as how to drive a car, go to the grocery store and get a debit card, according to her lawyer.
“She has to learn to use to use the internet. She has to learn to buy things without cash,” Tetreault said. “It’s a very different world than when she went in.”
Van Houten, who will likely be on parole for about three years, hopes to get a job as soon as possible, Tetreault said. She earned a bachelors and a masters degree in counselling while in prison and worked as a tutor for other incarcerated people.
Van Houten was found suitable for parole after a July 2020 hearing, but her release was blocked by Newsom, who maintained she was still a threat to society.
She filed an appeal with a trial court, which rejected it, and then turned to the appellate courts. The Second District Court of Appeal in May reversed Newsom’s rejection of her parole.
Newsom was disappointed by the appeals court decision, his office said.
“More than 50 years after the Manson cult committed these brutal killings, the victims’ families still feel the impact,” the governor’s office said in a July 7 statement.
In all, Van Houten had been recommended for parole five times since 2016. All of those recommendations were denied by either Newsom or former governor Jerry Brown.
Cory LaBianca, Leno LaBianca’s daughter, said last week that her family was heartbroken by the possibility that Van Houten could be released.
Van Houten, a former high school cheerleader and homecoming princess, saw her life spiral out of control at 14 following her parents’ divorce. She turned to drugs and became pregnant but said her mother forced her to abort the fetus and bury it in the family’s backyard.
Van Houten met Manson at an old movie ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles where he had established his so-called family of followers.
Manson died in prison in 2017 of natural causes aged 83 after nearly half a century behind bars.