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Parole Hearing for Leslie Van Houten

Aired June 28, 2002 - 13:54   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: New we want to take you out to California, as promised, for that parole hearing of Van Houten, one of the Charles Manson family members. Let's listen in.

LESLIE VAN HOUTEN: ...and Susan Atkins (ph) and Pat (ph) and probably Texas in the back seat, too. I don't remember if (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then you finally arrived at the LaBianca's, and who went in first?

HOUTEN: Manson.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you stay in the car?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When he came out, what did he say?

HOUTEN: He looked in the window and told Pat Crenwinkle and I to get out, and Tex Watson.

I am going to be honest with you. I'm not really sure, like did Tex go in with him first, or whatever. I just remember that he looked in and told us to get out. And he talked to Tex. And he said to make sure everyone did something.

And I don't remember if I heard it or if I have read it so many times over the years, that he asked that the people not be frightened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you went into the home, where were Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca?

HOUTEN: Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca were on the sofa.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just sitting there?

HOUTEN: Tied up.


HOUTEN: Their hands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then what happened? Tex said for Pat and I to take Mrs. LaBianca into the bedroom, and Pat went into the kitchen, and I believe I was with her when we went into the kitchen, and she got some kitchen knives.

But I don't remember if she handed me a knife or not, because I used both hands in the bedroom when I tried to hold Mrs. LaBianca down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you held her down, that's when Mrs. Crenwinkle attempted to stab her, or did stab her in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as we read earlier?


And then I couldn't hold Mrs. LaBianca down, and I went to the bedroom door, and I called out for Tex, and I told Tex that we couldn't kill her. And Tex went into the bedroom, and Pat Crenwinkle left the bedroom, and I stood in the hallway and -- at the bedroom door, and I stared out into the hallway.

And Tex turned me around and handed me a knife, and he said, "Do something."

And she was laying on the bedroom floor dead. Or, I assumed dead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you check her to see if she was breathing?

HOUTEN: No, I did not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And during the course of that, of the stabbing of Mrs. LaBianca, that initial stabbing, where was Mr. LaBianca. Do you know?

HOUTEN: He was in the living room and Tex was already killing him, or he was already dead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you heard noises, as I recall, coming from the living room?

HOUTEN: Yes, I did. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you assumed that's what was happening?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And those noises were moans or...

HOUTEN: They were the sounds of him dying. The gurgling sounds of him dying, and Mrs. LaBianca heard them and I heard them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then after you were told to do something, did you, in turn then, stab Mrs. LaBianca?

HOUTEN: Yes, I did, in the lower torso, approximately 14 to 16 times. I didn't know at that time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you remember doing that?

HOUTEN: Yes, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And after that, what happened?

HOUTEN: I told Pat that I had touched the lamp, and I began wiping off fingerprints in the bedroom. And I wiped off fingerprints for as long as I could.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just, in the bedroom or did you go in other places in the house?

HOUTEN: No, I stayed in the bedroom until we left. And Tex was in, taking a shower.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At some point, you went looking for a change of clothes, is that correct?

HOUTEN: Yes. We had been told to take a change of clothes. And I had no blood on me, and Tex needed the pants that I had brought for -- or that I had on. I don't remember -- I don't remember the details of this.


HOUTEN: But I know that when I spoke to Marvin Part, who was my attorney right after the crime, and when I testified eight years later, in 1978, I told the truth as best as I remembered, so, if I say something contrary, it's not that I'm trying to change something.

It's 33 year and I don't remember some of the conversations, but Tex ended up wearing the jeans that I think I had on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, so you went through the closet or dresser?

VAN HOUTEN: Yes, I did. I went through her closet and I found a pair of shorts and put them on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then did you leave after that? Or, I guess instead the question should be how long after that did you leave? Were you in the house for a matter of minutes or...

VAN HOUTEN: At times hard to tell. Long enough for Tex to take a shower.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And during the course of that time you were wiping fingerprints, changing clothes?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anything else? Any other activities that you conducted in the house?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what else did you observe in the house?

VAN HOUTEN: On the way out when we were leaving and I passed through the living room I saw that there was writing on the wall and when we ran out of the kitchen I saw that there was writing on the refrigerator.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you didn't see that happen?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And did you take anything else out of the home or are use anything else?

VAN HOUTEN: On the way out we stopped at the refrigerator and took cheese and chocolate milk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That you took with you?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then did you hitchhike back to the ranch?

VAN HOUTEN: Yes. We stayed and hid in the bushes in the area until dawn and then we hitchhiked back to the ranch.


Anything else to tell us about the committed offense?

VAN HOUTEN: Other than, other than I'm deeply ashamed of it, that living with the acts of that night is difficult, that I take very seriously not just the murders in the house, but that how I made myself so available to someone like Manson.

That over the years I've come to understand how what I did affected more people than I ever would have imagined. I take very seriously what happened and I in no way, because of the circumstance or my particular involvement, I carry full responsibility for what occurred.

But I have lived with that in a very real way, that I guess it's important to me that you understand that it's not something I just deal with when I come to the hearings, that each day I wake up I know why I'm waking up where I am and I've done my best to carry myself and live my life in a way that other people aren't harmed. And that's part of what I have felt is one of the only ways I can make up for the loss of life.

It's, one of the hardest things in dealing with having contributed to murder is that there's no restitution. There's no making it right.

And I have lived my life feeling very deeply ashamed for the beliefs I adhered to by following Manson and his small-minded prejudicial ways and that I contributed by never questioning him.

I have always tried to speak openly and honestly about what happened in the house. I'm very sorry for what happened and I just hope that my file and my life reflect that I take very seriously the responsibility of not just what I did, but what I do on a daily basis with the people that I come in contact with.

And I don't -- my heart aches with words. There don't seem to be any that really can convey living with the amount of pain caused. I don't know what else to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's see, let me talk about an area that we didn't touch on, and that was after you got back to the ranch, you burned clothing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What clothing did you burn?

VAN HOUTEN: The shorts.


VAN HOUTEN: I, it seems like I burnt other things, but I can't remember what they were, things that would have tied us to the house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a period of time, then, after that when you moved a couple of times, when you moved around? You went to the desert, you went a couple of places?

VAN HOUTEN: Yes. Manson got Pat and I out of the ranch area shortly after the murders and he told us to go stay at a place called Fountain of the World, which was an abandoned religious site in Box Canyon. And we stayed there for I don't know how long, and then we ended up in the desert.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And why did you leave the ranch?

VAN HOUTEN: Because he told us to. On hindsight, I think it was because it was our belief that we were all in it together and that what one of us did everyone did. And suddenly he didn't want us talking about it. And I think he wanted us away from the others who hadn't participated. That's my own putting it together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your own conclusion?

VAN HOUTEN: Years later, yes.


Now, you said just a moment ago that you contributed to murder. Did you murder Mrs. LaBianca? Did you kill Mrs. LaBianca or contribute to her death?

VAN HOUTEN: I feel I contributed to her death. It's difficult to answer that because the autopsy reports have shown that it was Tex that wielded the fatal wounds, but I contributed and I attempted to hold her down for Pat. I called to Tex because we couldn't kill her. You know, it's, morally I feel as though I did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And were you certain that she was dead when you then stabbed her?

VAN HOUTEN: I felt she was. I didn't think in terms of absolutes at that time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Also, Miss Webb (ph) added the statement from the appellate court opinion regarding Mr. Manson's plan of this helter skelter. And regardless of whose plan it was initially, as late as in the '70s, you made a statement, I know, to one of the counselors that you and your crime partners carried out this to perpetuate this racial war that you believed would happen and that you would ultimately be the surviving victors.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was that what you believed?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And somehow these murders would cause this race war to begin and how would you -- did you -- were you in a position where you thought out the end of it? Did you...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... think how you were going to become the victors?

VAN HOUTEN: No. That was, that was Manson's, you know, I believed that he was Jesus Christ and it was his view and belief that all of this would happen. And part of his thing was not to, not to have individual thinking and don't ask questions and I bought into it lock, stock and barrel. So I never, I never asked him how is that going to happen. I took it at face value.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These were his ideas and beliefs, but you then believed them yourself?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have any other questions right now, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was there something you wish to add right now? (UNINTELLIGIBLE).



There will probably be other questions later, but let's move on.

The record is a little difficult to follow, but I know at the last hearing we talked about your background in terms of any prior arrests. And apparently there had been a couple of arrests for grand theft auto, for auto theft?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many were there?

VAN HOUTEN: I don't, two or three.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two or three. And were you ever convicted of any of them?

VAN HOUTEN: No. Usually it was a sweep of the ranch and then they would take maybe 10 or 12 of us to the jail and then maybe six people would be arraigned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Did you have any other arrests prior to that?

VAN HOUTEN: No. But I had one other arrest that dealt with a credit card that I also wasn't arraigned on. I was with someone that was signing the credit card.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. And that -- actually, it was charged as a burglary?

VAN HOUTEN: Yes, because it was a stolen credit card.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any other arrests?

VAN HOUTEN: In Inure County (ph) I think I had an A.D. in concealing stolen property. It ultimately led to this crime. I have not a clear recollection of it. But prior to arriving at Spann's ranch (ph) I had no arrests.


Let's go to your background. We're told that you're the second of two natural children born to your parents, Paul and Jane?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then your parents apparently adopted after that two orphans.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your parents divorced when you were about 14 years old and you continued to live with your mother in Monrovia after the divorce, going to high school, ultimately graduating from Monrovia -- it's Monrovia High School?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we're told that you were active during high school in and outside of school, including homecoming queen, class secretary. You also were involved with Joe Stoddard's Campfire Girls and Bluebirds (ph). I think Bluebirds was a little earlier. And also you then at some point moved in with your father. Is that accurate, when you went to live with your father?

VAN HOUTEN: After high school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was after high school?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you lived with your father and his wife then?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For a period of time. And went on to Stuyer's Business College (ph). Spent about a year there.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We also have information about your, about age 15 when you became pregnant and had a miscarriage.

VAN HOUTEN: Yes, that's at 17.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that -- you were 17 years old?

VAN HOUTEN: Yes. I know the documents say 15 and I'm not sure how that happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Then you also became acquainted with Bobby Beaujolais (ph) at some point, had a common law relationship for about five months. Was it during that five months that you traveled around, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

VAN HOUTEN: Um-hmm. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And was that how you were introduced to...

WHITFIELD: You've been listening to the parole hearing as it is happening out of Corona, California, of a very soft-spoken Leslie Van Houten. She is a member of the so-called Manson family. She is talking to the Parole Board about the offenses that she carried out, the murders of a couple the LaBianca couple, as well as she was involved in the murders of actress and model Sharon Tate back in 1969.

She says it's very difficult to recall 33 years ago exactly what took place and why, except that she admits that she was following the mindset of Charles Manson and she is appealing to the direct questioning from the Parole members.

Our Charles Feldman is there in Corona, California. He's following it, as well.

And, Charles, we're seeing some very direct questions coming from the Parole members. Do we know whether a decision would actually be rendered today or how long will this question and answer period carry out? CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, the question and answer period will probably last maybe another hour or so. And, yes, a decision is expected to be reached today, but it won't be the end of this whole matter because there will be a 120 day period for a review and then if, for example, the Parole Board turns her down or agrees to let her out, it will ultimately end up on the desk of California Governor Gray Davis.

And then there's also the question of whether or not a judge who intervened in this case could in some fashion overturn the governor's decision, something that has never happened before in this state.

WHITFIELD: We're going to go right back to the hearing now and listen in a little bit more, Charles. And I'll get back to you in a moment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you used any drugs?

VAN HOUTEN: If I did I would have just smoked some marijuana. I was not on LSD at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you also drink alcohol during this time frame or...



Anything else about your background?

VAN HOUTEN: Now, technically I wasn't a homecoming queen. I was a princess.


VAN HOUTEN: It seems I feel like I have to be a little careful of all the little technical details. So, that's a small thing but...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We appreciate your accuracy. And I'm sorry, folks. I know it gets very hot in here. We don't have an air conditioner we can use.

WHITFIELD: Well, it appears they're coming to the end or close to the end of this parole hearing involving Leslie Van Houten. She is a member of the so-called Manson family.

Our Charles Feldman is there -- Charles, as they begin to wrap up their question and answer period, about what may be taking place now or soon after this?

FELDMAN: Well, what will happen now is there'll be a deliberation process and then the Parole Board will tell her the decision they've made. And as you already know, 13 times before over these many decades they've turned down her request for parole. Now they've got another opportunity to weigh in. But as I said, it's going to be up to the governor ultimately to make the decision. This is an election year, I should point out, and Governor Gray Davis is not noted for going along with some of these parole board decisions. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of the cases, I'm told, where parole has been recommended for people who have committed homicides has he gone along with the decision of the Parole Board.

So the chances of him going along with the decision of, let's say, to release her, if that's what the decision ultimately is, is probably very slim and politically probably almost non-existent for him.

WHITFIELD: Well, Charles, we heard very clearly from Leslie Van Houten just moments ago, where she appealed to the Parole Board there, saying that she was deeply ashamed of living with the acts that were carried out that night, talking about the murders of the LaBianca couple. And she says she has taken very seriously over the years the impact that that crime has made on so many families.

The focus has been on the crime itself and less on her current state of mind. What are typically the approach to parole hearings of this nature?

FELDMAN: Well, you know, in answer to your question, it depends usually on the kind of crime that was committed. Obviously this was a homicide. That's the most serious of crimes. But also the nature of this particular one was particularly repulsive. You know, I mean here was -- although she was 19 at the time, she participated with, as you said the, you know, the Charles Manson gang.

It was a period of time in California when people in Los Angeles were just fearful. Nobody knew who was going to be next. Charles Manson had this crazy scheme to start a race war. Helter skelter, he called it, based on a Beatles song.

The brutal nature of the crime is also very much on the minds of the people at the Parole Broad in deciding what to do with her. I mean she didn't just stab somebody, she stabbed somebody some 16 times. And she says she wasn't sure at the time whether Mrs. LaBianca was dead or not, but she certainly admits to having participated in the events.

She helped hold her down while one of Manson's other clan members stabbed Mrs. LaBianca with a bayonet, of all things, had a pillow over her head. Then, as I said, she stabbed her some 16 times.

Mr. LaBianca was in another room when the police found him -- and excuse me for being so graphic -- he had the word "war" engraved, carved, if you will, on his body with a fork actually sticking out of his stomach.

So this was not exactly your run of the mill homicide, and I can assure you that any parole board, in California or anywhere else, is going to look at the nature of the crime very, very carefully, as well as what rehabilitation, if any, she might have undergone through almost three decades. And, as you put it, what her current state of mind is.

WHITFIELD: All right, Charles Feldman, thank you very much.

Right now Leslie Van Houten is carrying out a life sentence. This is her 14th attempt in which to try to get parole. We're going to listen in once again on this parole hearing as it's happening in Corona, California, but first we're going to take a short break.


WHITFIELD: We're still following that story for you out in Corona, California, where so-called Charles Manson family member Leslie Van Houten is before the Parole Board. She is trying for the 14th time now, while carrying out her life sentence, to get parole. She's been denied, of course, all other times, and hopefully she is thinking, at least hopefully, that this time she just might be able to win some parole.

And, of course, we'll be keeping tabs on that for you and bringing you that information as we get it, when there are any changes in that Parole Board hearing.




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