Sharon Tate's murderer could be released from prison soon
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10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, June 12, 2008
The Manson family girl who helped stab Sharon Tate 16 times almost 40 years ago, refusing the pregnant actress' pleas for mercy, could soon be freed from prison.
Terminally ill Susan Atkins is being considered for "compassionate release," said state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton.
The Corrections Department is reviewing the request, and, ultimately, a state sentencing court would have the final say, Thornton said. It is a process that could take more than a month.
Atkins, 60, is being held at the California Institution for Women near Corona while being treated at a local hospital. State officials have declined to disclose the nature of her illness.
"I don't want to seem like a heartless creature, but in all my years, I never considered this could happen," said Debra Tate, the actress' sister and only surviving relative. "This is a serial killer and what kind of mercy did she show her victims? When you torture someone, you have no compassion. How do you ask others to give it to you? It is her duty, in order to pay for her crimes, to die in prison."
James W. Whitehouse, Atkins' husband and attorney, did not return calls for comment Thursday.
Compassionate releases are rare -- only 16 percent of requests in 2007 were granted.
Under state law, terminally ill inmates can be considered for early release so they can die with and at the expense of loved ones. Dying inmates must meet certain criteria, Thornton said. They must have six months or less to live and must not to be a threat to society, she said. They must also have committed family members willing and able to care for them.
In 2007, requests were submitted for 60 dying inmates, and prison officials recommended only 29 of those be freed, said Thornton. Of those 29, the state recommended 20 be released, she said. In the end, sentencing court judges approved the release of 10 terminally ill prisoners.
A diagnosis and evaluation of Atkins was conducted by prison officials, who concluded she met the requirements, Thornton said. If the Corrections Department recommends compassionate release, the Board of Parole would review the request and could recommend it to a sentencing court. The Board of Parole is next scheduled to meet July 15, the soonest the board could review the matter, said Thornton.
Once the request reaches the court, it would have 10 days to rule.
On Aug. 8, 1969, Atkins took part in the cult killings of five people at the Benedict Canyon home of Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski.
Tate was 8 ½ months pregnant and begged for her child's life, Atkins confessed at a 1993 parole hearing.
"I told her I didn't have mercy for her," Atkins told the parole board. Atkins and another man stabbed Tate 16 times in the chest and back, and Atkins wrote on the wall in Tate's blood.
Atkins' 1971 conviction in connection with eight murders drew a death sentence, which later was commuted to a term of life in prison during a moratorium on the death penalty.
Atkins has been denied parole 12 times, said Thornton.
"She has been disciplinary free for most of her incarceration," Thornton said. Over 37 years in prison, she has worked as a laundress, teacher and clerk. She has taught pilates, written a book and been involved in religions of several faiths, said corrections officials.
"Of all the women currently incarcerated in California, she has been in prison the longest," Thornton said.
Haunted by the brutality of her sister's death, Tate said she struggled to find compassion for the convicted killer.
"She showed no compassion. She told my sister as she slit her throat that she didn't (care) for her or her unborn baby," Tate said.
"If I could, I would say to her that I would pray for forgiveness on her soul at her moment of death when she has paid her debt to society. At that point, I'll show compassion and pray for her soul."