Leslie Van Houten, Charles Manson Cult Member, Endorsed For Parole

Van Houten has been serving a life sentence for murders that Manson directed his followers to commit.

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (Reuters) - Leslie Van Houten, who as a follower of cult leader Charles Manson took part in one of the most notorious mass murders of the 20th century, on Thursday was recommended for parole, a first step towards freedom after more than four decades in prison.

Van Houten, 66, has been serving a life sentence for the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, who were stabbed to death in their Los Angeles home on Aug. 9, 1969.

Manson, now 81 and serving a life sentence, directed his mostly young, female followers to murder seven people in what prosecutors said was part of a plan to incite a race war between whites and blacks.

A two-member panel of California's Board of Parole Hearings recommended parole for Van Houten after a hearing with her at the state prison in Corona, California, where she is serving her sentence.

The ruling is subject to an administrative review by attorneys for the board before going to Governor Jerry Brown. Brown can uphold the recommendation, overturn it or order further hearings.

Van Houten was found guilty of the LaBianca murders in 1971 and sentenced to death but that conviction and sentence were overturned on appeal. She was retried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1978.

The La Biancas were stabbed to death, after which the killers used their blood to write "Rise," "Death to Pigs" and "Healter-Skelter", a misspelled reference to a Beatles song, on the walls and a refrigerator door.

Also among the victims of the Manson Family was actress Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of filmmaker Roman Polanski. She was stabbed 16 times by cult members.

Four other people were stabbed or shot to death at Tate's home that night by the Manson followers, who scrawled the word "Pig" in blood on the front door before leaving. Van Houten was not involved in the Tate murders.

Manson is serving a life sentence at Corcoran State Prison in California for the seven Tate-LaBianca killings and the murder of another man, Gary Hinman, in July 1969.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, which prosecuted Van Houten, had no immediate comment on the ruling.

(Reporting by Sara Catania and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Howard Goller)