Sharon Tate's sister speaks out for 1st time since Leslie Van Houten's release

Debra Tate has long opposed releasing Manson followers from prison.

July 15, 2023, 6:05 AM

Debra Tate, the sister of slain actress Sharon Tate, has publicly pleaded for years to keep members of the Manson family cult behind bars despite their eligibility to petition for parole.

That includes Leslie Van Houten, who was released on parole Tuesday after spending 53 years in prison for the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

According to her attorney, Van Houten is now in a "transitional living facility." She was released to parole supervision and "will have a three-year maximum parole term with a parole discharge review occurring after one year," the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.

While Manson didn't commit the killings himself, he commanded his followers to do so. Manson died in prison in 2017.

Now, Debra Tate is speaking out for the first time since Van Houten's release in an exclusive interview with "Nightline."

Debra Tate, sister of slain actress Sharon Tate, is shown during an interview with "Nightline."
ABC News

"Is she a nice girl? No. Is she an animal? I think she was then, and I fear that she still is," Debra Tate said.

Van Houten was 19 when she participated in the Aug. 10, 1969, murders of Leno LaBianca, a wealthy grocer, and his wife, Rosemary LaBianca, at their Los Angeles home. The LaBiancas were both stabbed to death and the word "war" was carved on Leno LaBianca's stomach – which authorities said were all under the orders of cult leader Charles Manson. Van Houten was convicted of the murders in 1971.

"I prayed until I was gritting my teeth that in every kiss or every smile or every pleasurable action that [Van Houten] might have during freedom, she gets a flashback of the screams, the grunts, the blood," Debra Tate said.

The LaBianca murders occurred one day after Manson followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others in the California home Tate shared with her husband, filmmaker Roman Polanski. Sharon Tate was 26 and pregnant at the time of her murder. Van Houten did not participate in the Tate killings.

Leslie Van Houten attends her parole hearing at the California Institution for Women Sept. 6, 2017 in Corona, Calif.
Stan Lim/AP, FILE

Van Houten was convicted and sentenced to death for the LaBianca murders in 1971, but her sentence was later reduced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after capital punishment was outlawed in the state.

Van Houten was up for parole more than 20 times before her release earlier this week. California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his predecessor previously blocked her parole four times.

At her 19th parole hearing, Van Houten said, "As a rehabilitated woman, I would like to state that the insight I have gained is not meant to excuse any of my acts."

Debra Tate says the killing of her beloved sister had a profound effect on her life.

"My dad retired from the military. He went out on his own quest to find the killers. My college money got absorbed into things. It affected everything I did. It had catastrophic direct effects," Debra Tate said.

Debra Tate has appeared at every parole hearing for every Manson family member since the murders occurred.

"We're talking about one of the most murderous cults in America. Is it worth giving that a free pass? There are a lot of people that I would give a free pass, but these people are not amongst them," Debra Tate said.

In a statement to "Nightline," Cory LaBianca, the victims' daughter, said, "[Van Houten's] release may be considered legal, but to me and my family, it is ethically and morally wrong."