Listen to a Spero News Interview Podcast with John Mancino about this case and his work to keep violent offenders behind bars:
Speaking to Spero News, John Mancino described efforts that he and fellow citizens have made since the 1960s to challenge state authorities over keeping convicted felons in prison and thus control crime. The conversation came just as a California probation committee is considering the release of Leslie Van Houten who, as a member of Charles Manson’s 1960s cult, was originally sentenced to death on November 3, 1971 for two counts of first-degree murder for the August 10, 1969 homicides of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca. She was also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the August 9, 1969 deaths of Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Parent, Sharon Tate Polanski, and Thomas Jay Sebring. She was the youngest of the Charlie Manson followers.
Leno LaBianca and Rosemary LaBianca
Mancino lamented how it has only been through petition efforts and political pressure on government officials that violent criminals have been kept locked up. He recalled that he was involved in efforts to deny parole to Sirhan Sirhan, Robert F. Kennedy’s murder, and in a petition drive to deny parole to Gregory Powell, who was convicted in the infamous killing of a police officer in 1963 known as the Onionfield Murder. It was during the latter campaign that the mother of Sharon Tate contacted him, he said, that he then sought to gather signatures to deny parole to those involved in the actress’s death.
Leslie Van Houten, 2016.
Mancino told Spero News that Tate’s mother told him that 950 letters had been received in support of releasing convicted murderer Van Houten on parole. In response, he began collecting what were eventually 80,000 signatures and hundreds of letters from across the United States urging the California parole board to keep Van Houten in prison.
“Now we’ve got a parole board, for the second time,” said Mancino, “that has recommended for releasing another Manson Family follower. First was Steven 'Clem' Grogan, who was implicated in the “Shorty” Shea – the rancher – killing, and now Leslie Van Houten.” Mancino has worked closely over several decades with members of the Tate family over the various parole requests made by the Manson Family killers.
Leslie Van Houten, 1969.
Of the Tate family, Mancino said “They shouldn’t have to do the work of government. That’s what’s so outrageous to me. I hadn’t been touched at the time by violence, but I thought, boy, if I ever was, I certainly wouldn’t want to depend on my government protecting my family.” Saying that he is further outraged now, Mancino said that violent crime has spiked. “Here we are again, some two decades later, and we’re seeing the same thing all over again. We’re seeing violent crime increase again, relaxed prison sentences, actually removing people from state prisons and sending them into the streets because there is no room in the county jails, and the public is being used as guinea pigs.”
Mancino blamed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for “forcing the governments in the western part of this country,” and California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for releasing “thousands upon thousands of inmates, hardened criminals,” with the argument that prisons are overcrowded. “To heck with that,” said Mancino. “I’d rather see the prisons and jails overcrowded with prisoners than seeing our neighborhood crowded with them.” Unless Gov. Brown reverses the parole board’s decision, said Mancino, Leslie Van Houten could be released. “She already 66 years old,” said Mancino. “Who’s going to hire her in any kind of employment with her background, and what’s she going to do if she can’t find work? How’s she going to feed herself? What’s she going to do? Get a hold of a gun, rob somebody at gunpoint? Shoot somebody if they try to fight back? This whole thing is totally absurd.”
Sharon Tate Polansky
Van Houten was convicted of conspiring to murder Sharon Tate’s murder of August 9, 1969. Tate's sister told “Good Morning America” today that the Manson Family member is a “monster” who is “still capable of great brutality.” Debra Tate told show moderator Robin Roberts, “I sit as far away from her as you and I are now. You can feel the vibe.” The 63-year-old surviving sister, Debra Tate, was on hand at the five-hour hearing last week in California that led to the recommendation for parole. “They are still sociopathic individuals and capable of great brutality,” Tate said of Van Houten and other Manson Family members. “The heinous crimes that were committed in the past, in 1969, will repeat themselves again. I am quite sure.”
Van Houten was a drug-user and at 19 years old was the youngest Manson follower when she participated in the murder of the LaBianca couple. The married couple was stabbed multiple times until they died in the incident that came on the day after the Tate murder. Mancino told Spero News that the public does not seem to understand the pain that the family members of victims of violent crimes feel when offenders are released from prison.