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A yearslong saga over whether Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten deserves to be freed from prison took another sharp turn Wednesday as an appeals court questioned its jurisdiction in the case.

Van Houten’s attorney told a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal that his client is remorseful and takes responsibility for her crimes. A state prosecutor said the 69-year-old has placed too much blame on Manson.

Van Houten was 19 when she and fellow members of Manson’s cult fatally stabbed Los Angeles grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, in 1969. The killings took place a day after other so-called Manson family members killed actress Sharon Tate and four others in crimes that shocked the world.

Van Houten, who is serving a life sentence, was not involved in the other killings.

A parole board has recommended that Van Houten be released three times since 2016, finding that she’s no longer a threat to society. Former Gov. Jerry Brown blocked the first two recommendations, and the third is heading to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Separately from Newsom’s decision, the appeals court is reviewing a lower judge’s order that blocked Van Houten’s release last year.

The parallel matters had the judges wondering whether they still would have jurisdiction to rule if Newsom denies Van Houten parole.

Her attorney, Rich Pfeiffer, told them they have a duty to issue a ruling, adding that no elected politician will ever agree to Van Houten’s parole because of the infamy of the case.

“If the courts don’t release Miss Van Houten, she’s never going to be released,” Pfeiffer said. “The courts are empowered to make difficult decisions, and sometimes unpopular decisions, to be able to enforce the law. That’s what courts are there for. Otherwise it turns into mob rule.”

Deputy Attorney General Jill VanderBorght said the issue should rest with whatever Newsom decides. She said Pfeiffer’s argument that Van Houten is unlikely to get released without a court decision was irrelevant.


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