"They were brainwashed in a cult," Simon Fraser University professor Karlene Faith said.
Faith has been friends with Van Houten for years after getting to know her as a student at the prison in the 1970s and made Van Houten the subject of her 2001 book, "The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten: Life Beyond the Cult."
Faith wasn't at Tuesday's hearing but had written a letter of support on her behalf. She said Van Houten and Krenwinkel deserved parole but was skeptical that the parole board would ever agree to it.
"I think they're simply afraid politically to be the one to let her out," she said, calling Van Houten "inspiring."
Also in Van Houten's camp is noted Hollywood director John Waters, who devoted a portion of his recently released book, "Role Models," to Van Houten.
Waters, long fascinated by Manson murders, met Van Houten in the 1980s, while researching a piece for Rolling Stone magazine and struck up a friendship that has lasted for 15 years. They talk and write regularly and he sees her once or twice a year. He also had written to the parole board on her behalf.
Faith, who still keeps in regular contact with Van Houten through letters and phone calls, pointed out that her friend formally denounced Manson and her crimes back in 1974 and feels "very, very deep remorse."
"She will not ever be freed from that," Faith said. "That is her eternal punishment."
Paul Van Houten, 91, still writes to his daughter, once a pretty California homecoming princess, every week. Like Faith, he considers Van Houten's continued imprisonment to be a political issue.
"I think she's spent 15 years longer than she should have," he said. "There's nothing wrong with Leslie."
Debra Tate questions just how repentant Van Houten really is.
"The only time they show true emotion is when they are denied," she said. "In this case, she is still denying or minimizing her involvement. There is no minimizing the involvement."
Imprisoned with Krenwinkel in the California Institution for Women, Van Houten is one of the longest-serving female inmates in the state. She and Krenwinkel have been designated as "Golden Girls," members of a 200-plus group of aging inmates that get special consideration, such as getting a spot at the front of the line for food so they don't have to stand as long.
But Van Houten is in good health and is very active in the prison community, prison Lt. Felix Figueroa said.
She wakes for breakfast around 6 a.m. and is not due back in her double cell until 9 p.m., passing the time in between with educational programs, work assignments and recreation.
In her nearly four decades in state custody, prison officials said, Van Houten has worked as a teacher's aide, porter, clerk, culinary worker and a groundskeeper for the prison's Native American sweat lodge.
During their 1970 murder trial, Van Houten, Atkins and Krenwinkel made headlines for their utter devotion to the man they loved. Van Houten would later say she thought Manson was Jesus Christ.
They followed his lead in carving swastikas on their foreheads and shaving their heads in solidarity. And they shocked the courtoom with their outbursts and fits of giggling during testimony.