Dying Manson Murderer Denied Release

"Atrocious" nature of Susan Atkins' crimes cited by California officials.

September 1, 2009, 12:41 PM

Sept. 2, 2009— -- Charles Manson follower and convicted mass murderer Susan Atkins has been denied parole, Lt. Bart Fortner, a spokesman at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, Calif., told ABCNews.com.

The hearing officials cited the "atrocious" and "dispassionate" nature of the murders committed in 1969.

Atkins, 61, is riddled with cancer, paralyzed over most of her body and has had her left leg amputated. She requested the early release so she could die outside of prison.

The one-time member of the Manson Family was wheeled in to the hearing room on a gurney dressed in a hospital-style gown, her face bloated and her head covered by a purple and pink knitted cap. The cross she once carved into her forehead as a sign of loyalty to Manson was no longer visible.

Her husband and attorney James Whitehouse helped her through a reading of Psalm 23, pausing for her to feebly chime in every few words.

She managed to give him a few weak attempts at a smile.

The room was very quiet when the decision was announced. "No gasps or intakes of breath," said Fortner.

But the family members of her victims still had harsh words for Atkins, reminding the panel that she was a cold-blooded killer who had not once apologized to any of them for the lives she took in such a brutal, gruesome fashion.

"There has never been any hate in my for these people," said Debra Tate, a sister of murdered actress Sharon Tate, said while imploring the panel to deny Atkins' parole. "I am incapable of hating."

Tate noted that in denying her family an apology and seeking parole, Atkins has denied the Tate family a chance at freedom from her crimes.

Atkins can apply again for release in three years.

Since her conviction, Atkins has been denied parole 12 times. Doctors have said she is now close to death.

The two other female Manson murderers, Leslie van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel are up for parole next year.

She is the longest-serving female inmate currently incarcerated in California, entering the system on April 23, 1971 -- five days before Krenwinkel.

Family members of her victims pleaded with California officials to keep the one-time Manson acolyte follower behind bars.

Debra Tate and Anthony DiMaria, a nephew of hairstylist Jay Sebring, were among those who testified at the hearing at the Central California Women's Facility, according to Sandi Gibbons of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

Charles Manson is next up for parole in May 2012. Manson murderer Charles "Tex" Watson Watson is up in November 2011.

Atkins Had "No Mercy"

Atkins hardly looks the part of the cold-blooded murderer, but she has been described as one of the more vicious of the "Manson women."

If parole had been granted, it would have been an act of mercy that she so notoriously denied her most famous victim – an 8-months pregnant actress Sharon Tate, who was murdered in her Los Angeles home on Aug. 9, 1969 alongside Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski. Teenager Steven Parent was also murdered that night in Tate's driveway for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In one of the most chilling moments of the Manson Family's crime spree was Atkins' account of how the actress pleaded for mercy for her unborn child.

"She asked me to let her baby live," Atkins said at a parole hearing 16 years ago. "I told her I didn't have mercy for her."

Cult-leader Manson, buddy Charles "Tex" Watson and two of his infamous "Manson women" -- Patricia Krenwinkel and Atkins -- were sentenced to death for the Tate murders and the slaying of grocery store executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary on Aug. 10, 1969. A third woman, Leslie van Houten, was convicted along with the others and sentenced to death on two counts of murder for her role in the LaBianca murders.

Their sentences were later commuted to life in prison when California temporarily abolished the death penalty in 1972.

Sharon Tate's husband at the time, movie director Roman Polanski, declined to comment on the possibility of Atkins' release.

Anthony DiMaria, nephew of Jay Sebring, a hairstylist to the stars who died as he tried to protect Tate and her unborn child, said he will once again make the trek from Las Vegas to California in hopes of keeping his uncle's murderers out of society.

"She's more than a Manson follower," he said of Atkins. "She's a mass murderer."

Paroling Atkins because she is dying of cancer -- a disease he called "fate" -- would send the wrong message, especially given Manson's dark following as some kind of anti-hero, DiMaria told ABCNews.com.

"Like it or not she and these crimes have had a huge impact, obviously on our family but also culturally," he said.

Atkins has spent most of the last 38 years at the California Institution for Women in Corona, Calif., the same facility that houses Krenwinkel and van Houten. She was moved to Chowchilla last year after being hospitalized.

Terry Thornton of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Atkins has been an active inmate with a "well-documented record" of volunteerism and participation in events and groups dealing with personal growth, religion, substance abuse, self-help and fundraising.

She's also earned over the years "above average to excellent work performance ratings," Thornton said, and has held a variety of jobs working in laundry, maintenance and the yard crew as well as positions as a teacher's aide, a clerk and a porter.

Thornton said Atkins also logged five rules violations in her 38 years in prison, the most recent in March of 1993. She did not have specifics about the violations.

She's also been married twice while behind bars. Her second husband, James Whitehouse, has become her most vocal supporter and pleaded on her behalf at Wednesday's parole hearing.

Is Manson Follower's Imminent Death Cause for Mercy?

When the parole board considered a motion for Atkins' compassionate release last summer, Whitehouse questioned the point of keeping Atkins in prison in her current condition.

"It occurred to me that compassion's not something you earn," he said in July 2008. "It's something that every single person should have merely by means of the fact that they're human beings."

Whitehouse described his wife's grim physical condition.

"At this point, when she can't sit up in bed, she literally cannot sit herself up in bed, she suffered paralysis on her right side, she's lost her left leg. Her left arm, her only appendage she can still use, is debilitated to the point that she literally can't snap her fingers," he said. "She can say yes most of the time. Sometimes she can say no. She can say random words. She can put sentences together three or four times a day, but that's the extent of it."

At the time, Atkins' had several people come and speak on her behalf, including her brother Steven Atkins and a former co-inmate. One supporter even called her "almost the perfect candidate" for compassionate release.

But their comments were followed by an outpouring of grief, anguish and anger from the relatives of her victims.

In a letter read to the board Janet Parent Prier, the sister of teenage victim Steven Parent who was shot in the Tate driveway, said Atkins "was and still is one of the most dangerous and callous murderers of the Manson girls. "

DiMaria, Sebring's nephew, also rejected the plea for compassion.

"Miss Atkins can die with dignity while serving out her sentence completely," he said. "My uncle died with dignity in the worst possible situation as he defended himself and the people he cared about as he was shot, stabbed and beaten to death by Susan Atkins and her accomplices."

And in a letter, Tate' sister Debra called Atkins "a cold blooded woman who to this day has not displayed any true remorse for her participation in the murders."

Justice for Sharon Tate and the Other Manson Victims

The Tate family has been very active in the parole process over the last 40 years. After the deaths of her parents and sister, Debra Tate has taken over the family cause and appears, either in person or through a written statement, at nearly every Manson-related parole hearing.

DiMaria said the seemingly endless string of paroles is exhausting for the victims' families, who get in touch every so often before a hearing.

"You're never really allowed to kind of let it go," he said. "You want to say all the things you feel need to be said, but it's such an impossibility."

While Atkins initially confessed to stabbing Tate herself, later accounts by other participants indicated she held Tate down while Watson killed her.

Atkins has said she was susceptible to the Manson cult, known as the Family, after a childhood marred by sexual abuse, low self-esteem, her father's drinking problems and her mother's death at a young age.

While Atkins did not speak in 2008, she told the parole hearing panel in 2005 that she hoped the family members of her victims would one day be able to heal and that she no longer asks for forgiveness because "I don't think that's possible."

Yet a short time later Atkins noted that "forgiveness and restoration and reconciliation means healing. And that's what I'm asking for today, for everybody in this room."

If Atkins is denied parole, she will not be eligible again for another 3 to 15 years, a length of time to be determined by the panel. If she is found suitable for parole it is a recommendation only, which will be later reviewed by the parole board and the governor.

Former Los Angeles prosecutor turned author Vincent Bugliosi -- who put Manson and his followers behind bars and penned "Helter Skelter," the best-selling account of the crimes -- told ABCNews.com last month that Atkins is the only one of the group that he might accept parole for.

"She's not going anywhere," he said. "The mercy we'd be giving her is so minimal."

Bugliosi said he is not an advocate for her release, but believes that Atkins' freedom would mean little opportunity for her besides death outside a prison.

"They were all sentenced to death, and that would have been the proper punishment," he said of the Manson murderers. "All of them, except Susan Atkins ... should spend the rest of their lives behind bars. They should be very happy their lives were spared and not take it to the next level."

Though not involved with the Tate-LaBianca murders, Manson follower Squeaky Fromme, who would take charge of the Family in Manson's absence, was released from federal prison last month after completing her sentence for the attempted assassination if President Gerald Ford.

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