U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Death Penalty, citing “cruel and unusual punishment”…
ALL Death Row convicts’ sentences were immediately commuted to the next available sentence, which at that time was “Life, WITH the Possibility of Parole”, simply because in 1972 there was no Life WITHOUT…
And thereafter, the seeds were sewn for endless rounds of Parole Hearings for all concerned, 1st degree killers of all kinds, including the Manson Family killers.
Many affected by this new ruling, of course, eventually gained their release, with what was considered the proper amount of time served, their behaviour while incarcerated and their demonstration of remorse and rehabilitation while serving their time.
Thirty-nine years later, “Tex” Watson, Leslie van Houten, Bobby Beausoleil, Bruce Davis, Charles Manson and Patricia Krenwinkel all continue to exercise their right to Parole Hearings, whether they attend or not (Charlie is the only one with a brain who some time ago finally figured out to give up the fight, Susan Atkins gave up her fight when she died of cancer in 2009).
And at every Hearing, regardless of the remorse shown or rehabilitation efforts demonstrated, each and every one of these killers is denied, the Board often citing the viciousness, callousness and cold-blooded calculation of the crimes.
In years past, van Houten and Davis have tried to take legal issue with the constant denials, accusing the Board of Prison Terms and the California Justice system of having them suffer unduly as “political prisoners”, being kept incarcerated as purely a revenge tactic, their right to receive a fair parole hearing denied them.
As of two days ago, January 20th, Pat Krenwinkel received the longest denial meted out yet – seven years – before she would again be eligible for another Parole Hearing, and I venture to say that when the rest of the ‘69 killing gang come up for their “right” to a Parole Hearing, the maximum 15 year denial might be felt heavy and hard for each one of them as well.
The Manson Family killers fell through the legal juris prudence cracks, as it were, being damn lucky to not have had the pill dropped on them at San Quentin decades ago, and because of the lack of a Life Without the Possibility commutation, were give the only other lower sentence that could be given…Life With…
And let’s not forget that sentence just gave them the right to HAVE Parole Hearings, not the right to parole, although, to hear it from these killers, and see the indignation on each of their faces as their possibility is continually denied, you’d think they had the God-given right to the latter.
The Board of Prison Terms has come under severe scrutiny, being accused that in their constant meting out of release denials, they have in effect stone-walled these killers, denying the validity of their Remorse and Rehabilitation, and out of some political and/or moral will, have instead obsessed on the third “R” to the purpose of imprisonment – Retribution – that no matter what these convicts said or did while paying for their crimes, no amount of the first two “R”s would allow the third “R” to be paid in full.
But, just because they received the only commutation sentence available at that time, does that sentence fit the crime, and if Life Without had been available, would they not have received said?
Of course they would have!
And if done, you, nor I, nor any of the surviving family members, nor district attorneys nor for that matter the entire populous of California would be lying awake in our beds at night wondering if this time, one of these killers would get what was possibly, legally their right but morally, definitely not.
Does that make them political prisoners now? Possibly.
Is that legally right? Probably not.
Do I, the legal-Spiegel that I am, wrestle with this quandary? Hell no.
Some acts, some behaviour can and do go beyond the law, in my opinion.
Not only did they commit one of the first cult mass killings of our time, they committed in effect an act of domestic terrorism, to attack without provocation in a stranger’s home, to the point of unwarranted execution, where, if one cannot feel a level of safety and security in one’s home, where can that be felt? And beyond the acts themselves, when caught, they continued that fear and perpetrated more psychological damage by thumbing their noses at society during the trials, being and acting anything but contrite, nor not even human for that matter, stating by their very behaviour that if let out, acts of wanton murder could and would happen again, the desire then of remorse or rehabilitation not even on their radar.
The Manson Family killers, in effect, threw away the key at accepting society’s social morays, and in doing so, forced society’s hand to throw away the key on them, legal loopholes be damned.
Do any of us regret the executions/deaths of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffery Dahmer, or Aileen Wuornos? Hardly.
And if the Manson Family killers had met their date with the gas chamber back in the 70s, would any of us have felt sympathy for them then? With the fear that pervaded North America at that time…are you kidding me?
Nope…as Tony Di Maria, the nephew of Tate-LaBianca victim Jay Sebring, said in this hearing, "If Patricia Krenwinkel has remorse, I don't see how she could walk into this room…”
In effect, if these narcissistic killers had a shred of true realization of the depth and depravity of their acts and felt real remorse thereof, they would have thanked God to have had their lives spared and quietly served their time behind bars, exercising their right to abstain from future parole hearings as a way to repay for the loss of life and to limit further psychological trauma to the surviving family members, their necessity to attend each and every one of these hearings exacting a definite physical and mental toll.
Parole Board Commissioner, Susan Melanson, in my opinion, finally addressed the issue of the possible stone-walling by simply stating the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders still “remain relevant”, and that, "This is a crime children grow up hearing about,". How I interpret these statements is that the Board has every right to keep these murderers paying for their crimes because the fear which was the most damaging by-product of these crimes is still being felt even today. That only when society’s feeling of fear for these killers ends will the crimes be paid for in full.
I am asked quite often by readers if I think any of these killers will eventually be set free and the legal-Spiegel that I am, I can do the math and see the possibility, yes, but not until each killer reaches their 70th birthday, and even then, depending on the cramped prison conditions, on the economic state of California and the long memories of it’s citizens who may wish to continue to exact political will against their release, freedom dates may still not be forthcoming.
When the fear that they have created finally comes to an end, so may their punishment for that fear.
And when we as law-abiding citizens are freed from that fear, we too will be free of our Life Without the Possibility of Peace.