Eye for an Eye? Manson and The Parole Controversy

All of the Manson Family members who were involved in the brutal  Tate/LaBianca murders have hoped repeatedly for parole, some as early as 1976. It may seem presumptuous to many people today that Manson’s main cult killers should think that they could have a chance at parole in only 7 years, but at this time in American jurisprudence and administration the big emphasis was on rehabilitation. Today it is on punishment and deterrence.  The attitude then was not on eye for an eye. It was on reconditioning.

Murderers from this period, and those who committed other heinous crimes, have long achieved parole. For example, Lionel Williams who murdered Sal Mineo in 1976 was paroled by the 1990s, having done less than 20 years for stabbing to death the famous actor.


Susan Atkins making her pitch in 1976. She reaffirmed she is a born again Christian and a new woman. She is no longer on drugs. LSD was partly responsible. Tex Watson killed everybody anyway.

The last example is very apt. It was a thug killing, a knifing in front of Mineo’s Hollywood apartment. In many ways it was little different than Bobby Beausoleil’s murder of Gary Hinman. That was basically a knifing for drug extortion or revenge.  Charles Manson came along and helped the hard-arming and provided the inspiration to blame the Black Panthers by telling Beausoleil to leave their mark on the wall. But the motive wasn’t terror or cult ritual. Hinman wouldn’t give money to Beausoleil. It was a thug killing in response.


Bobby “Cupid” Beausoleil wasn’t a part of the infamous mass butchering on the nights of terror (August 8-9, 1969). He was already locked up for the murder of Hinman. Beausoleil’s crime was an individual one. Thug motive, thug style . . . until Charles Manson suggested the bloody handprint. To this day Beausoleil insists that he is still in prison merely because of his passing association with Manson despite the fact he did not consider himself a member of “The Family” and he was not a part of Helter Skelter.

This post attempts to probe the truth of this. Are the Manson Family members, those still in prison, there because they are the victims more of the sensational coverage of their crimes rather than because of the substance of them?

The standard of justice is easily encapsulated in the Biblical maxim “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This does not license personal revenge as it was later corrupted to imply. These were instructions given to the judges. Leviticus 24: “And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast. And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him;
Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.”

The punishment shall fit the crime. One does not take 2 eyes for an eye, nor 2 teeth for a tooth.  The maxim both proscribes the punishment and limits it. The exact same thing is embodied in the Statue of Justice. She holds the scales to balance them and has the sword to execute judgment. It is eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. It is the standard of every civilized nation.


To equate . . .

It is a part of human nature to understand “fair.” That is all the French word “Justice” means, though in older English we used the better word  Equity. To equate.

It was the divine power of the King alone to grant mercy. When the Republic was founded, and the office of King abolished, the powers of the King had to be dispersed throughout the ministers of the Republic. The legislatures made the laws, the Judiciary enforced them, and the Executive carried them out. Despite the separation of the executive, legislative and judiciary, Mercy was invested in the President. As Mercy is independent of all law, so it was fitting that the executive, independent of the process of justice, have that power. Without justification, without reason, without explanation, the President can pardon whom he will. A pardon cannot be questioned. You may not like it. But it cannot be questioned.

You do not have that power. Like any parole board member, you must decide on a number of factors and weigh the scales. I ask each of you to do the same here.

In the case of the Manson Family murderers absolute justice was ordered to be meted out. They were to die. For the lives they took, their lives were to be taken. But by a glitch the death penalty was overturned and commuted to life in prison. Thus there was no absolute justice done. We are, in essence, robbed of our ability to assess the current status of the Manson Family killers based on absolute justice. We must rather base their cases on the parole process as it is frequently conducted in other criminal cases of equal crimes. In other words, we must assess on a curve.

That raises the contention about Bobby Beausoleil. Has he been dealt justice, at least according to the curve we have been left? He murdered Gary Hinman in July 1969. It was a single knifing. There is no one else in prison to this day 46 years later who is there because of a single murder. All have been paroled, and if they committed other crimes after that they have been returned to prison for those. Beausoleil remains in prison for a single murder 46 years ago; all his parole requests thereafter denied.


Fashionable killers– Van Houten,  Atkins, Krenwinkel.

Leslie Van Houten

She went on the second night of the murders and participated in the LaBianca murders. From varied testimony it seems probable she only stabbed Rosemary La Bianca after she was dead. She assisted in holding her down while Pat Krenwinkel murdered her. Thus she is clearly morally, legally and in substance accessory to murder. Like Bobby Beausoleil, it is a single murder. She was convicted of accessory in all murders, however. She remains in prison today.

Pat Krenwinkel

She went on both nights and was involved in murdering Abagail Folgers and Rosemary La Bianca. She was accessory to all the Tate/LaBianca murders. She remains in prison to this day.

Bruce Davis

Charles Manson’s unlikely lieutenant was involved only as an accessory in the Gary Hinman murder and in the later Shorty Shea murder on Spahn Ranch. He was convicted of both and is still serving his prison sentence. He was convicted of the Shea murder without Shea’s body even having been found and proven to be a murder victim.


Tex Watson

Undeniably Charles Manson’s head butcher. He essentially killed all the Family victims or was accessory to them. Despite having no such psychopathic record, he seems to have ably and efficiently killed, in such a gory manner not even seen in professional killings.

Charles Manson

The “mastermind” who inspired his “kids” to go kill. He gave them various excuses– copycat crimes to get Bobby Beausoleil out of jail; or crimes that would incite white/black race war. The stimulus for starting this at this moment may have varied depending on what Family member he spoke to. But it was probably more personal. He may have been afraid of Black Panther retribution for Lotsapoppa Crowe, a black drug dealer that Manson burned for money and who threatened to wipe out Manson’s Family if he didn’t pay him back. Manson shot him, but failed to kill him. Manson was unquestionably afraid that Crowe’s supposed Black Panther associates were presently mounting revenge against him at Spahn Ranch. In any case, he “ennobled” the mission for the “kids” by telling them they were beginning the apocalypse. For his own comfort, he may have hoped for a local riot to break out in which the police would round up the Black Panthers and therewith Manson no longer had to worry about retribution.


The Guru of Gore. He instigated the murders under various pretenses. But it seems highly unlikely he believed in Helter Skelter. He told Beausoleil to make it look like the Black Panthers murdered Hinman. The “witchy” stuff left on the walls of the Tate/LaBianca murders was designed as a link to Hinman’s murder, so that all killings would look like Black Panther murders.

Of these Family members, it is unquestionable that Manson and Watson will never be paroled.  Bruce Davis already has been recommended for parole, but the Manson Murders became so popular that advocates for reform helped get a law passed that, remarkably, gave power to the governor of this state to veto a judicial decision.

This is a far different thing than the executive power to appoint a judge or to grant unconditional mercy. A judicial appointment is the appointment of a qualified person to hold a post. It is not power on a case by case basis. Mercy, once again, is totally separate from the entire judicial process. The governor, in this case Jerry Brown, did in fact overturn the parole board’s decision to let the aging and now Christian scholar out of jail. Had it not been for this change in the law, Bruce Davis would have been released.

The closest ones to obtaining a parole are probably Leslie Van Houten, since her role, compared to the others, was minor. The other you would think would be Beausoleil. As already noted, perps of single murder crimes have been paroled decades ago, as in the example above. Williams was long ago released for the fatal stabbing of Sal Mineo in 1976.

But does that matter? The publicity both Van Houten and Beausoleil have received has been equal to the others– Manson, Krenwinkel, and Watson. Nevertheless, they must have gotten hope from the parole recommendations of Bruce Davis. But now that the governor can veto such decisions, as he did with Davis, there seems little hope for Beausoleil and Van Houten. The excuse to keep Davis behind bars listed his behavior back then, not now.

Before any governor had such power, in 1985 Steve Grogan was paroled. Along with Manson, Davis and Watson, he had been  convicted of Shorty Shea’s murder. At the times he had even bragged that he had cut off Shorty Shea’s head. In 1977, he had helped lead police to Shea’s body, buried clandestinely on Spahn’s old movie ranch. The original judge had a very low opinion of Grogan’s intelligence, saying it was barely above the animals. Aside from helping the police find Shea’s body, this may have contributed to his early parole, as he was viewed as a mindless disciple of Manson’s wishes. But parole he nevertheless achieved. The only one involved in the murders to be paroled. And this is now 30 years ago.


High and tired for his mug shot– Steve Grogan alias Clem Tufts.

What is the just thing to do, given the curve we have after all these years? Should Beausoleil be paroled? The parole boards have said that he continues to profit in his music and artwork off the incident. How about Leslie Van Houten? She was a drugged-up teen who stabbed a dead victim after being warned by Tex Watson to get her hands dirty.  Pat Krenwinkel was directly involved it at least 2 of the murders and accessory to the others. What about her? Based on what other murderers from that time have been dealt, what is your answer?

Susan Atkins was especially vociferous about how LSD helped bend them to Manson’s will. The others seemed to agree. LSD and the mind control that goes with it was part of the defense of Patty Hearst when she was tried for her part in the Symbionese Liberation Army’s terrorist exploits in the 1970s. It helped get her a reduced sentence.

And most controversial of all, should not advocates of victims’ rights have been satisfied with keeping the Manson perps behind bars and not tinkering with the system? That the governor can now veto judicial decisions, individual judicial decisions, as an appellate, the lines are most definitely blurred between the judiciary and the executive. Hopefully no judge would listen to a lynch mob, but politicians are geared toward popular appeal, one way or the other.

This is perhaps the most critical question to ask, for it is not a question about an individual case but about how, because of the popularity of the murders, the actual system was completely altered to give the Executive the power of an appellate court.

So, in summary, should any of the Manson Family perps be paroled? If they should, why? If they are recommended, do you think that the governor will allow it? And, last, should the appellate power of the governor be rescinded?

For decades the Manson murders have affected California. How much is based on the actual crimes and how much on their sales and marketing?

*         *          *

For 25 years Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

2 thoughts on “Eye for an Eye? Manson and The Parole Controversy

  1. A few thoughts:
    An eye for an eye would mean the death penalty, so by serving life in prison they’ve already received mercy (I’m against the death penalty in general, but that’s a whole other debate).
    Other reporting I’ve seen about this does seem to suggest LSD is an excuse for Van Houten. Meanwhile people are talking about legalizing LSD (here on facebook at least). Having that both ways doesn’t make sense, legalizing something that’s an excuse for violent crime.
    I do agree with you that the change in law allowing the Governor’s interference is dangerous.


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