It’s immoral to release Leslie Van Houten from prison

Some acts are so evil that, while God may forgive the killer’s eventual remorse and repentance, the perpetrator should never receive the gift of liberty.

In August 1969, Charles Manson’s followers went on an insanely bloody murder spree, stabbing seven people to death, one of whom was eight-and-a-half months pregnant. The killers received the death sentence, which was commuted to life in prison thanks to the Supreme Court. Now, California has released one of those killers. This is a morally evil act, although it seems to be in keeping with everything California is doing lately.

If you are unaware of the details of the Tate-LaBianca, you can read them here. I’ll focus on Leslie Van Houten who has left prison.

Leslie Van Houten came from a middle-class family in a Los Angeles suburb. The family was church-going, so Van Houten had been exposed to core moral precepts, chief amongst which was “Thou shalt not murder.” However, her parents divorced when she was a teenager, and she quickly fell victim to the 1960s drug culture. When she became pregnant, her mother forced an abortion on her, and one must wonder whether that made her think that “Thou shalt not murder” was a suggestion rather than a moral mandate.

When Van Houten was 19, she fell under the sway of Charles Manson, aided by large amounts of LSD and sex. (Manson was reputedly a master of the latter.)

At the trial of the Manson defendants, the prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, argued that Manson had come up with a theory that he called “Helter Skelter.” He told his followers that there was going to be a racial conflict that would be triggered by blacks leaving the ghettos to murder rich, white people in Los Angeles and that the murders would be done with incredible brutality. His family would wait out the war at the isolated Spahn ranch. When the blacks won the war, having killed all white Americans, the Manson clan would emerge from the ranch and rule the blacks, who would have exhausted their killing frenzy.

However, blacks in Los Angeles refused to get with Manson’s scenario. Therefore, Manson instructed his followers to go into the Los Angeles hills and commit the same type of crime he theorized that the blacks would have—incredibly violent and bloody—to trigger the war.

In thrall to Manson’s vision and instructions, several of his followers went to a home in Benedict Canyon where they slaughtered Sharon Tate (8.5 months pregnant), Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, and Steven Earl Parent. Slaughter is not too strong a word. The killers’ point was to use maximum violence.

The next night, the killers—including Leslie Van Houten—went to the LaBianca home, where they again committed the murders in the most brutal way possible. Van Houten was an active participant. She held Rosemary LaBianca captive in one room while other Manson family members stabbed Leno LaBianca to death in another room as his wife heard his screams and death rattles. Then, Van Houten stabbed Rosemary at least around 16 times.

Van Houten originally got the death penalty but, when the Supreme Court claimed it was unconstitutional (despite the Constitution explicitly acknowledging it as a criminal penalty), her sentence was commuted to life. Then, an appellate decision overturned her conviction, granting her a retrial, which ended with a mistrial. Her third trial saw her convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to seven years to life with the possibility of parole. Van Houten served 53 years and was just paroled:

Former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten was released from prison on Tuesday after serving 53 years behind bars, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

According to her attorney, Van Houten is now in a “transitional living facility.”

She was released to parole supervision and “will have a three-year maximum parole term with a parole discharge review occurring after one year,” the department said.

Her release comes after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that he wouldn’t ask the state’s Supreme Court to block her parole.

The theory is that Van Houten’s been rehabilitated and is no longer a threat. But the reality is that some crimes are so terrible that neither of those factors should affect the erasure of the killer’s life. If Van Houten truly had diminished responsibility because of drugs and cultism, she shouldn’t have been convicted at all. But if she was culpable enough to get convicted, the crimes in which she participated were so heinous, one shouldn’t be able to say, “Well, enough time has passed…”

The fact that Van Houten may have been “reformed” in prison or shown remorse and repentance doesn’t matter. That’s for the good of her soul. For the good of society, while she didn’t pay with her life for the crime, she should pay with her liberty…all of her liberty.

I’m a bit draconian about this, having watched Forensic Files, which shows how forensic techniques capture murderers. What’s irritating is seeing admitted murderers who did horrible things to people getting 50 years or life with the possibility of parole. There is more than one purpose to the penal laws. While rehabilitation may be a goal, of equal importance is the need for crimes to be punished commensurate with the evil of the crime. The value of life has no meaning if people who do exceptionally evil acts are allowed to go free. I understand the arguments against the death penalty because we are not God, but truly evil people should no longer walk among us.

Incidentally, many of the worst killers willingly accept plea bargains with long prison terms that allow them to avoid the death penalty. Like so many killers, they don’t want to die, and they hold out hope of political and legal changes getting them out of prison. But gosh darn it, they shouldn’t be set free. They’ve violated the social compact and no longer deserve liberty.