In the spring of 1982, Doris Tate, mother of slain actress Sharon Tate, came to me and asked for help in keeping the Manson family murderers in prison. Our organization, Citizens for Truth in Justice, had just successfully worked to keep both assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, and the infamous “Onion Field” murderer, Gregory Powell in prison after they had been granted parole dates.
Mrs. Tate indicated to me that she had been told by the deputy district attorney, Stephen Kay, that 900 people had signed a petition to support the release of Manson follower, Leslie Van Houten.
As our organization had done in the Sirhan and Powell cases, we conducted a petition drive to keep any and all of the Manson killers in prison. And across the next four months we gathered 80,000 petition signatures and some 60,000 letters from people around the world supporting our effort. (Those figures eventually reached 2.3 million signatures and nearly half a million letters).
Yesterday, deranged cult leader Charles Manson, 83, died while incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison in California. Immediately news reporters pounced on this story, some reporting incorrectly that Manson had originally been sentenced to seven life terms, with the possibility of parole.
Since our organization was involved extensively in the cases of these heinous murderers, I would like to take this time to correct the record.
Manson and his “family”, as well as Sirhan and Powell, had originally all been sentenced to death for their horrible crimes. However, in 1972 the state Supreme Court in California overturned capital punishment, leading to the sentences of these killers to life with the possibility of parole. (At the time life without parole only applied to kidnapping for extortion or train wrecking).
In all, 111 murderers on California’s death row saw their sentences reduced, some eventually being released.
And for those reporters who are claiming that no Manson follower has ever, or will ever be released, check the case of Steve “Clem” Grogan, the Manson follower who participated in the murders of ranch hand Donald “Shorty” Shea, Gary Hinman. Grogan was paroled in 1985, barely fifteen years after the murders.
Presently, Leslie Van Houten is awaiting a decision from California Governor, Jerry Brown, on her latest parole review.
For the second year in a row the so-called bright minds of the parole board have recommended that Van Houten be released from prison, indicating that she represents a “low” risk of future crime.
When we began our work in the early 1980s, we learned that the parole board was finding suitable for release on parole an average of 37” of the “lifers” in California prisons. Following our numerous efforts to either have a parole date rescinded or denied, that figure within two years dropped dramatically to 3 percent.
Our work was actually praised by the board’s Chief Counsel at the time, Joan Cavanaugh, as well as the vice-chairman of the board, Robert Roos, a good personal friend of mine to this day.
Most people here today were not alive when these horrific crimes were committed, making it difficult to garner the interest needed in order to remind folks of the danger these killers represent.
It is one thing to say that some of these individuals have become born-again Christians, and have even counseled other inmates while incarcerated. It is another to claim that they will never again return to violence.
In other words, there is no guarantee that these violent criminals are, in fact, rehabilitated. And to release them into society is tantamount conducting an experiment at the expense of the public at large.
While still with us, Doris Tate attended the parole hearings of the Manson gang, testifying about the risk such violent killers represent if released.
Following her passing, daughters Patty and Debra carried on the effort, something I have written several times about.
I continue to remind folks that it is outrageous that family members of the most brutally murdered loved ones are forced to do the work of government in order to keep our streets and neighborhoods free of such killers. After all, government’s most important function is that of protecting its citizens. And yet, it is here where government fails miserably.
Our organization led petition drives in nearly two dozen cases in the 1980s and 1990s, all of which were successful. Yet, here we are today once again witnessing those in government who are most responsible for the decisions to protect us from such killers, approving the release of one America’s most vicious murderers. Both outrageous and unbelievable.
I urge every Californian to contact Governor Jerry Brown’s office and demand that he reverse the decision of the parole board and keep Leslie Van Houten incarcerated. Anything to the contrary will send a message that no crime can keep one in prison forever, including a murderer once sentenced to death.
Spero News columnist John Mancino is a security professional who resides in California.