Manson Family Killer With Brain Cancer Seeks Compassionate Release

Susan Atkins talks about crimes and remorse in exclusive Diane Sawyer interview.

ByABC News via logo
June 16, 2008, 11:29 AM

June 16, 2008 — -- Susan Atkins, one of the Manson "family" members convicted in the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others, is dying of brain cancer and asking to be released from a California prison after 37 years behind bars.

Doctors have told Atkins, now 60, she has six months to live, and she and her family are asking the corrections department for a "compassionate release."

"It's ridiculous to continue to pay millions of dollars to keep her in custody when she can't even sit up in bed," says Atkins' husband, James Whitehouse.

Atkins has been incarcerated at the California Institution for Women at Corona for 37 years – longer than any other female inmate in state history and denied parole 11 times. Atkins told Diane Sawyer in a 2002 interview that she still hoped she would someday be released.

"I would like to be out some day. I hope to be out some day. And it's amazing that I still have hope. I don't know about expectations anymore," Atkins said.

"You know a person by their behavior, and my behavior in this institution speaks to the change that occurred over 30 years ago. I am not the same person that I was when I came in here."

Atkins met Charles Manson when she just 18. She left home for San Francisco as a teen and eventually moved into a commune in Haight-Ashbury, the epicenter of the hippie movement.

Amid the partying and the drugs, Atkins was searching for more and believed she found it the day Charles Manson came to visit. She became the fourth young girl to join his "family."

She says it was his brainwashing and the influence of drugs that drove her to join in the Tate-LaBianca murders, in which seven people were brutally murdered on Aug. 8 and 9 in 1969.

During the trial, Atkins and her two co-defendants, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, walked arm and arm into court, singing and smiling. Then the three of them came to court with their heads shaved and swastikas carved into their foreheads to support Manson.