SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A parole panel on Wednesday recommended the release of a former follower of cult leader Charles Manson after California governors blocked four previous parole recommendations.
Bruce Davis, 74, had his 31st parole hearing at the California Men’s Colony at San Luis Obispo as he serves a life sentence for the 1969 slayings of musician Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea.
Davis was not involved in the more notorious killings of actress Sharon Tate and six others by the Manson “family” the same year.
During the half-century since the slayings, parole panels have now decided five times that Davis is no longer a public safety risk. Officials have cited his age and good behavior behind bars that includes earning a doctoral degree and ministering to other inmates.
Governors, however, have the final say on release. Gov. Jerry Brown will have about five months to consider the latest recommendation.
Brown rejected a previous recommendation last year. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also concluded that Davis remains too dangerous to be free.
Davis testified at his 2014 hearing that he attacked Shea with a knife and held a gun on Hinman while Manson cut Hinman’s face with a sword.
“I wanted to be Charlie’s favorite guy,” he said then.
Attorney Michael Beckman, who has been fighting for years for the release of Davis, said he is the most rehabilitated prisoner among the 2,000 Beckman is representing in the penal system. “There’s no one even a close second,” he said.
“Now all we have to do is get past the governor, which hasn’t happened the first four times,” Beckman said after the hearing. “I’m sort of at the end of my wits on what to do.”
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey objected to the possible release of Davis. She called the Manson-related slayings “some of the most horrific crimes in California history.”
“We believe he continues to exhibit a lack of insight and remorse and remains a public safety risk,” she said in a statement after the parole decision.
Gary Hinman’s cousin, Kay Martley, said Davis’ crime was so heinous that he should die in prison.
Hinman was tortured for three days, Martley recounted in remarks prepared for the parole hearing.
“This wasn’t a crime of passion or impulse; this was slow, calculated and cold-blooded,” she wrote.
Martley, who traveled from Hinman’s native Colorado to attend the hearing, said she was angry about the recommendation for parole.
“Just because he’s going to be 75, he’s considered a low risk even though they said he has a personality disorder that he’s going to have to work on - his narcissistic behavior, need for acceptance, his grandiosity,” she said.
Martley and Sharon Tate’s sister, Debra Tate, who also attended the hearing, said Davis twice started to rise from his chair in apparent anger and pointed at a parole commissioner when he objected to her questions.
Beckman said his client was merely reacting out of frustration to misinformation that Shea’s body had been dismembered, when he said an autopsy shows it was intact.
“He did not jump out of his chair but he did react a little defensibly and he apologized profusely several times,” Beckman said.
Tate said opponents of Davis’ parole are gathering signatures online to present to Brown.
Davis was convicted with Manson and another follower, Steve Grogan, in the twin slayings. Grogan was paroled in 1985 after he led police to Shea’s buried body. Robert Beausoleil, convicted in Hinman’s death, remains in prison.
Manson and followers Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles “Tex” Watson are imprisoned for the Tate killings. Their co-defendant, Susan Atkins, died of cancer behind bars in 2009.