Charles Manson Follower Leslie Van Houten's Role in 1969 Killings

Board recommends parole for Leslie Van Houten, 19 at the time of the murders.

ByABC News
April 15, 2016, 11:30 AM

— -- Former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, now 66, was "numb" when she learned a panel recommended her for parole on Thursday, nearly 50 years after her involvement in the Charles Manson-led murders of a California couple, her attorney said.

But parole isn't guaranteed -- the decision next goes to an administrative review, and if its upheld it goes to California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has final say.

Here's a look back at Van Houten's role in the notorious 1969 killings that landed her behind bars.

Van Houten, the youngest Manson follower, was a homecoming queen from a middle-class family who sang in the church choir. But she has told parole panels she was traumatized by her parents' divorce when she was 14 and a pregnancy soon after that.

She told ABC News' Diane Sawyer in 1994, "I think that the violence in us is somehow nurtured and brought out. ... It didn't happen overnight. He [Manson] spent a lot of time taking middle-class girls and remolding them."

Van Houten was 19 when her time in Manson's cult turned deadly and she participated in the Aug. 10, 1969, murders of Leno LaBianca, a wealthy grocer, and his wife, Rosemary LaBianca.

She did not participate in the "Manson family" murders of Sharon Tate and four others on Aug. 9. The series of murders were the beginning of a race war ignited by Manson. He called it "Helter Skelter."

Van Houten told ABC News in 1994, "The minute we walked in the [LaBiancas'] house, it became clear that this was not what I had imagined. You know, before that, it had always been an abstract kind of thing. And when it was the real thing, I was absolutely torn in half."

Van Houten said she and cult member Patricia Krenwinkel "took Mrs. LaBianca into the bedroom. And the sounds of Mr. La Bianca dying came into the bedroom -- horrible, guttural sounds. She started calling out to him and yelling for him. And at that moment, for a brief moment, I realized, you know, these are people that love each other."

Van Houten has said she helped secure a pillow over Rosemary LaBianca's head and held her down while another person stabbed her.

"And then Tex [cult member Charles "Tex" Watson] turned me around and handed me the knife," she told ABC News. "And he said, 'Do something, because Manson had told him to make sure that all of us got our hands dirty. And I stabbed Mrs. LaBianca in the lower back about 16 times."

The LaBiancas were both stabbed to death and the word "war" was carved on Leno La Bianca's stomach.

Van Houten told ABC News, "I take responsibility for my part, and part of my responsibility was helping create him. ... Being a follower does not excuse."

"The older I get, the harder it is," Van Houten said. "Mrs. LaBianca was younger than I am now. I took away all that life."

Leno LaBianca's nephew Louis Smaldino has asked the California panel to not release Van Houten from prison, calling the Manson family "terrorists, albeit homegrown."

"They're long before their time. What we're seeing today, these people were back in the 60s," he said.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey disagreed with the board's decision to recommend Van Houten for parole, saying in a statement to ABC News the DA's office "will evaluate how we plan to proceed."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.