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California rejects Van Houten parole plea

Leslie Van Houten in June 2000.  

SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- Leslie Van Houten, serving a life term in prison for her role in a gruesome 1969 killing spree by followers of Charles Manson, was denied parole Friday by a California board.

In its decision, the California Board of Prison Terms said simply that Van Houten was unsuitable for parole. Friday's appearance was Van Houten's 14th unsuccessful application for parole.

The decision came late in the afternoon, after pleas by Van Houten earlier in the day for her freedom.

"My heart aches and there seems to be no way to convey the amount of pain I caused," Van Houten said. "I don't know what else to say."

In explaining its decision, the panel said Van Houten needed more therapy "to further understand the enormity of her crime."

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Van Houten appeared gracious but said no such programs exist for what the parole board was recommending.

Van Houten is serving life in prison for her role in two killing sprees in 1969. She was 19 at the time of the killings, has faced the parole board 13 times since 1978 -- and been turned down every time. Her most recent rejection was in June 2000.

Friday's hearing was thought to be Van Houten's best chance yet of winning release, in part because a judge earlier this month strongly admonished the board for flatly turning Van Houten down every time based solely on the crime, without taking into account her accomplishments in prison.

Superior Court Judge Bob Krug said Van Houten, now 52, has proven to be a model prisoner in the 30 years since her incarceration, completing all available prison programs and assisting other inmates with these programs, a fact he said the board doesn't dispute. She has earned two college degrees and maintained a clean disciplinary record in prison.

In essence, the judge said, Van Houten is serving "a sentence of life without parole, a sentence unauthorized by law." California does not permit life sentences without the possibility of parole.

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 Van Houten stabbed Rosemary between 14-16 times in the back, although Van Houten has maintained Rosemary was already dead when she began stabbing her.

Van Houten was convicted for her role in the 1969 murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.  

Van Houten also was convicted of conspiracy in the butchering of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others at Tate's Beverly Hills home.

Charles Manson and three other followers, Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, were convicted and sentenced to death for their part in the Tate-La Bianca murders. The sentences were later commuted to life when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in the 1970s. All five remain behind bars.

The gruesome slayings received widespread media attention and generated strong emotions. Van Houten's attorney acknowledged such, saying there is "an aura that has kept Leslie Van Houten trapped in the public's mind."

None of Manson's followers have ever been paroled.

In his ruling earlier this month, Krug said the heinous nature of the crimes was the "sole basis on which the board based its decision in denying" parole for Van Houten. He ordered the board to report back to him within 60 days to show "some evidence" why Van Houten should not be released and what she must do to rehabilitate herself to gain parole.

Van Houten's initial conviction was overturned on the grounds that she received an inadequate defense; her lawyer disappeared and was found dead during her trial, and she was assigned a replacement. Her second trial ended in a hung jury. A third trial ended in a conviction.




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