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Parole For Manson Cultist?

It was a crime that shocked America. In August of 1969, followers of cult leader Charles Manson went on a rampage in Los Angeles that left seven people dead.

It began at the home of filmmaker Roman Polanski. Five were killed, including Polanski's wife, actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant. The next night, businessman Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were brutally murdered by members of the same cult.

Four were sentenced to death, including Manson himself. Their sentences were later commuted to life.

Leslie Van Houten, now 50, was sentenced for the LaBianca murders and has 12 times been rejected for parole, despite being a model prisoner for almost 30 years.

Wednesday, at the California Institute for Women in Frontera, she was to ask again for parole in the hope of becoming the first of the four to taste freedom. The hearing was postponed after Van Houten complained about the presence of media cameras and a Web site that sells videotapes of her hearings.

Some argue she has been rehabilitated and should be paroled. Others disagree, including the man who prosecuted her, Vincent Bugliosi.

CBS This Morning's Thalia Assuras interviewed Bugliosi to find out his views on the matter.

Bugliosi: People seem to think she's been rehabilitated, and she may be. I don't know. But it seems to me that when someone participates in a particularly brutal, heinous murder, as these murders were, I mean, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were stabbed 67 times and they were begging for their lives.

There must be something in the deepest recesses of their souls, their gut, that enabled them do what they did; something that we don't have because we wouldn't do something like this. And therefore, irrespective of what appears on the surface, to release this type of person on a vulnerable society is to take a risk we shouldn't take.

Leslie Van Houten told her psychiatrist, in 1971, they loved the world and its people. When he said, how could you have murdered someone? She proceeded to tell him, "That's something inside of me too."

But even assuming for the sake of argument, and we don't know if this is true, that she has been rehabilitated, who said when you're rehabilitated this entitles you to be set free? There is a more important reason why we keep people behind bars. That's to bring about justice.

If she were to get out now, that means she wuld be serving 30 years for two murders, only 15 years for each murder. I think if justice means anything in America that's not enough.

Assuras: What do you think the parole board is going to do? Will it be influenced by the media attention, the fact that thoughts have changed in terms of capital punishment? These sentences were commuted to life.

Bugliosi: You pointed out earlier, these people were sentenced to death. I told a jury if that were not a proper case for the imposition of the death penalty no case would be. I think Leslie Van Houten and her co-defendants would be very, very happy that the death penalty had not been imposed upon them. And they are happy that they're presently alive.

Now they want to take it a step further and are asking to be set free, which I think is asking too much. I don't know what the parole board will do. I think for what these people did, they should spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

Assuras: Let's suppose that Leslie Van Houten does get her freedom. What will that mean to the others still in prison?

Bugliosi: If anyone gets set free, it will be she because she was not involved in the first night of the murders. She would be the first one of anyone to get out.

We shouldn't forget about the particular murders. Leslie Van Houten told another member of her family after these murders that stabbing Rosemary LaBianca was fun and the more she stabbed her, the more she enjoyed it. This is the type of person I think should spend the rest of her life behind bars.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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