Judge: Manson killer may deserve release
Orders 'some evidence' for continued incarceration
SAN BERNARDINO, California (CNN) -- In a stinging rebuke of the California parole board, a judge said the panel's most recent rejection of parole for a member of the infamous Manson family was made "without any explanation of reason and are of no assistance to this court."
Superior Court Judge Bob Krug ordered the parole board to report back to him within 60 days to show "some evidence" why Leslie Van Houten, serving a life sentence for her role in two killing sprees in 1969, should not be released and what she must do to rehabilitate herself to gain parole.
He said Van Houten, who was 19 at the time of the crimes, has been a model citizen in the 30 years since her incarceration, completing all available prison programs and assisting other inmates with these programs.
"There is no reason given or stated by the board of any evidence in the record from which it can be determined factually why the [board] found that the gravity of the crime outweighed the other factors to be considered," Krug said in his ruling late Monday.
Krug said the heinous nature of the crimes was the "sole basis on which the board based its decision in denying" parole.
"To hold that the gravity of the offense outweighs all of the positive factors ... without some supporting reasoned factual basis is arbitrary and capricious," the judge said.
"The record and recommendations as they now stand are completely without any explanation of reason and are of no assistance to this court."
The board's decision means Van Houten is serving "a sentence of life without parole, a sentence unauthorized by law," he said.
Van Houten has faced a parole board 13 times since 1978 and been denied every time. Her most recent rejection was in June 2000, after which she appealed to a court for a hearing, claiming she has been rehabilitated and should be freed.
She is currently in a state correction facility in Corona.
Defense attorney Christie Webb said Van Houten was "grateful" for the judge's ruling and "hopeful" she might be released.
California Deputy Attorney General Heather Bushman said her office doesn't "agree with several aspects of the ruling," and that the state is considering appealing the decision.
"We disagree with the court that there was a lack of explanation from the board," Bushman said.
Van Houten was convicted for her role in the Manson family's 1969 murders of Leno LaBianca, a wealthy grocery store owner, and his wife, Rosemary.
Prosecutors said she stabbed Rosemary 14 to 16 times in the back. Van Houten was also convicted of conspiracy in actress Sharon Tate's slaying; four others were also slain in the home.
The slayings were among the most sensational of the 20th century, generating strong emotions.
According to Van Houten's attorney, the killings have created "an aura that has kept Leslie Van Houten trapped in the public's mind."
The family's leader, Charles Manson, 67, is also serving a life term for murder as are three other family members. Their death sentences and Van Houten's were commuted to life in 1972 when the death penalty was briefly outlawed in the state.
Van Houten's next parole hearing is scheduled for June 28.
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