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    As the 43rd anniversary of the Manson murders passed with summer, the horrific details of this tragedy are relayed with increasing banality. In the press and at their parole hearings, the Manson family killers, Bruce Davis, Charles “Tex” Watson, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel’s legal rights and accomplishments now overshadow the violence of their crimes and all that was lost for their victims: Gary Hinman, Donald Shea, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, Steven Parent, Woytek Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, and Sharon Tate, who were shot, stabbed, and bludgeoned to death by the Manson family in the summer of 1969.

    As Jay Sebring’s sister noted at Susan Atkins’ (who died in 2009) parole hearing, “She’s got all these things she’s done, all these committees, all these organizations, all these degrees…but the bottom line is, she’s just as much a murderer today as she was thirty-six years ago because my brother is just as dead as he was thirty-six years ago.”

    Prior to 1982, when Sharon Tate’s mother, Doris, began her campaign for victims’ equal rights, none existed for victims or the survivors of murder victims. As the campaign the Victims’ Bill of Rights, ramped up, Doris reached out to victims’ family members across California.  The universal complaint was that they felt neglected or even abused by the judicial system—in one instance a judge told the mother of a victim, “Ma’am, your daughter lost all her rights the day she was murdered.”

    After hearing the judge’s comment, Doris waged a war against the judicial system and politicians across the country until she became one of the most powerful victims’ rights advocates in history. Shortly before Doris died from a brain tumor in 1992, George H.W. Bush appointed her as one of his “1000 Points of Light” for her positive impact on humanity. Relentless in her pursuit to help others, Doris never lost sight of her biggest battle—keeping her daughter Sharon’s killers from receiving a parole date.

    Over the course of a decade, Doris’ primary argument for the killer’s continued incarceration was that they had yet to fully accept responsibility for their actions and, therefore contrary to what is widely believed, these murderers are no more rehabilitated today than the day they entered the prison system.

    Sure, each of them at some point has said, “I accept full responsibility for what I did.” The problem is that they follow this statement with the contrasting conjunction, “but”.

    Watson has said, “I accept full responsibility for my crimes, but if there had never been a Charlie Manson these crimes would have never been committed.”

    Krenwinkel, who often can’t be bothered to remember her victims’ names at parole hearings, has said, “I take complete responsibility for my actions, but I was being controlled by the drugs… and I was being manipulated by Manson.”

    Van Houten maintains, “I stabbed Mrs. LaBianca, but she was already dead”.

    Van Houten once said, “It’s hard for me sometimes to accept the fact that people choose to believe that I absolutely cannot change. That I was something at nineteen, and what I am at thirty-three is irrelevant because the life of the one they loved ended when I was nineteen. And though I understand it, it’s very difficult because life goes on. And I go on.”

    Perhaps for Van Houten life does go on. But on the night she helped to place pillow cases over the heads Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, cinched their necks with lamp cords and then stabbed them 61 times, life abruptly ended for them and forever altered the lives of their loved ones.

    Charles Manson’s chief lieutenant Bruce Davis was convicted for the murders of Gary Hinman and Donald Shea. In Davis’ case, he has changed his story with the regularity of a seesaw, but to date he has yet to fully come to terms with his responsibility for the murders.

    In 2011, a Parole Board made the recommendation to release Davis. In Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reversal of the Board’s decision he summarized his overall thoughts by writing: I am concerned that although Davis says he accepts responsibility and despite his participation in therapy and other programs in prison, he has still failed to obtain insight into his actions in the life offenses, because Davis has consistently claimed that he played a minor role in the commission of these murders…{it is} my determination that Davis continues to pose a current, unreasonable risk to public safety because Davis cannot ensure that he will not commit similar crimes in the future if he does not completely understand and accept full responsibility for his offenses… ”.

    In spite of Schwarzenegger’s commentary, on October 4th, 2012, a Parole Board made its second recommendation to release Davis with the summation, “While your behavior was atrocious, your crimes did occur 43 years ago.”

    I’ve heard the argument, “these crimes occurred 43 years ago, it’s time to release them” numerous times, not just for Davis, but for all the Manson family killers. And, it sounds plausible—until I do the math. In Davis’ case (as well as Van Houten’s) he has two murder convictions. So that’s actually only 21.5 years for each victim. Most first-degree murder sentences in California—especially with the extenuating circumstances present in Davis’ case—are 25 years to life.

    Using the same math for Manson family killers Charles Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel, who were convicted of seven murders, to date they have served only 6.1 years for each of their victims. Is 6 years all the value we put on a human life?

    43 years becomes irrelevant when I think of what Doris said to the killers at their parole hearings, “When will I be paroled? When will Sharon be paroled? Are these seven victims and possibly more going to walk out of their graves when you get paroled?”

    Former prosecutor, Steve Kay, who opposes Davis’ release said, “Would you want to wake up and find Bruce Davis living next door?”

    Personally, I would not. So, my suggestion is that if a Parole Board or Governor Brown want to parole a convicted killer of Davis’ caliber, it’s only fitting that they be relocated as their neighbor.

    After Doris Tate passed away in 1992, one of the most heated battles to arise from the Manson family killers came from Susan Atkins, who fought for her right to a compassionate release after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

    Considering Atkins was convicted of killing 8 human beings by inflicting over 102 stab wounds and looked Sharon Tate in the eyes and said, “Look bitch, I have no mercy for you. I don’t care if you’re gonna have a baby. Get ready, ’cause you’re going to die and I don’t feel a thing about it”, I was surprised by the outpour of support to release Atkins, especially when it came from Manson family prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi when he commented, "I reject the notion out of hand…that just because Susan Atkins showed no mercy to her victims, we therefore are duty-bound to follow her inhumanity and show no mercy to her at no time, under no circumstances."

    For anyone with a heart it’s tough not to feel sympathy when prisoners’ rights advocates who support compassionate release show us pictures of old, fragile, often sick inmates and say, “It’s a terrible injustice … When you’re in prison, all you want is to be able to die with dignity … I saw a woman get down to her knees and beg for morphine … I saw one woman with throat cancer, who kept getting denied parole, fall into her own blood and die.”

    While my heart aches for any suffering human being, I forced myself to look away from the photos of the pathetic and dying Susan Atkins and remember the young and vibrant Atkins who with callous disregard unjustly murdered eight people and watched them beg for their lives, fall down into their own blood, and die without an ounce of dignity.

    On September 24, 2009, Atkins’s husband, James Whitehouse released this statement: “Susan passed away peacefully surrounded by friends and loved ones … Her last whispered word was ‘Amen.’ ”

    Well, God bless her, because that’s more than I can say for any one of her victims.

    This year the LAPD is in a court battle with Watson over recordings he made in 1969. Because the recordings allegedly contain discussions of unsolved murders committed by the Manson Family, the LAPD has reopened 12 cold case files with faith that they will defeat Watson’s appeal to conceal them.

     Does one of the most heinous killers in the annals of crime deserve more consideration than the 12 potential victims crying out for justice in this case? From his cell Watson has written a book, run a business, gotten married, and had conjugal visits that resulted in four children. When I think back to what he did—stab the pregnant Sharon Tate 16 times—and that he has been allowed to enjoy the very privilege that he denied Sharon, I can’t help but think that Watson has already beaten the rap and deserves nothing more.

    Before she died, Doris Tate said, “I’m sixty-six years old. I won’t be alive forever, but I will go to my grave intent that justice be served, and future generations will not forget Tex Watson’s evil deeds…I will fight him until the day I die—and then some.”

     Presently, California history is repeating itself to the time in 1982 when Doris began her plight. Soft on crime, soft on punishment Governor Jerry Brown is back in office and the prisons are again over-crowded to the point that the Supreme Court has mandated that 40,000 prisoners be released in the next 48 months. Brown’s solution to this is the same as it was in 1982—open the parole floodgates and release dangerous murders such as the Manson family.

    Because Doris believed in justice “for the people and by the people”, as opposed to any single jurist, I can’t help but wonder if she’s looking down wondering how much more “we the people” will allow the keepers of our judicial system to overlook “justice for all” in order to ensure the rights of convicted murderers such as the Manson family.

    I have written this commentary with much the same intent in which I wrote the book Restless Souls—to serve as a reminder of all that was lost to the victims and their families, and to carry forward Doris Tate’s voice into future generations. It is my hope that the book and commentaries such as this will serve as her “and then some”.

     

     

     

     

     

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