It’s 2 pm Pacific time and for the last hour google’s 6th most popular search was for “Leslie Van Houten”.
And who is she? She’s the Charles Manson follower who at the age of 19 participated in the drug-fuelled and race-motivated slaughter referred to by Manson as “helter skelter”.
Van Houten is now 60 years old and has been before the California Parole Board 19 times seeking her release from prison. She has been a model inmate and a leader and educator in the prison system. But forty years later, the crimes she committed have overshadowed well-known principles for parole release.
Just as in Canada, parole is a supervised discharge of the offender which can be revoked if the offender breaches any of the parole conditions. The paramount consideration in granting parole is the safety of the public.
Supporters of Ms. Van Houten and her new legal counsel are determined to make her 20th application for parole the one that succeeds and it well may. A recent California court decision in respect of a convicted murderer named Sandra Lawrence may just turn the tide. The Lawrence case says that to deny parole there must be evidence that the offender is a risk to the public. Further, the court confirms that the nature of the crime should not be a reason to deny parole.
Another new California ruling establishes the principle that persons who commit crimes between the ages of 16 and 20 must be deemed to be good candidates for rehabilitation.
I could never be accused of being soft on crime, but I believe it is time to free Van Houten. As a naive young woman she fell for a charismatic monster, ingested drugs and joined a depraved cult. She is no longer that person.