Prison officials may free Manson family's Susan Atkins due to illness
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
June 13, 2008
State corrections officials are considering a request by former Charles Manson follower and convicted murderer Susan Atkins to be released from prison because of an undisclosed terminal illness.
Atkins' initial request for "compassionate release" consideration was made last month after a doctor determined that she had less than six months to live, said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It is unclear if Atkins, 59, made the request or if it was made on her behalf by a doctor or family member.
Citing medical confidentiality laws, Thornton said she could not disclose the nature of the illness. But sources close to the case said that Atkins had suffered from brain cancer and had undergone amputation of one of her legs.
Atkins has been in state prison 37 years, longer than any other female inmate in California, Thornton said. She is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole, making her eligible for release.
Atkins and other members of Manson's cult were convicted of killing actress Sharon Tate and six other people during a bloody rampage in the Los Angeles area over two nights in 1969. Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski, was 8 1/2 months pregnant when she was killed at her hilltop home in Benedict Canyon.
Atkins was also convicted of the earlier killing of music teacher Gary Hinman.
Her request for release has already been approved by the California Institution for Women in Corona, where she was housed from April 1971 until March, when she was transferred to a local hospital for treatment.
Officials at the Corona facility concluded that Atkins should be considered for release because of her failing health and because she no longer posed a risk to others.
Several obstacles remain, however. Her bid for release must still be approved by officials at the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Thornton said. A positive recommendation would send her case to the state Board of Parole, which would conduct an investigation and issue its own findings, she said. That hearing could include public comment.
Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted Atkins, said she deserved the death penalty in 1971. But the former prosecutor said he believed now that Atkins has sincerely renounced Manson and that her 37 years in prison, along with her illness, changed things.
"She has paid substantially, though not completely, for her horrendous crimes. Paying completely would mean imposing the death penalty," Bugliosi said. "But given that she has six months to live, and the loss of her leg, I don't have an objection to her being released."
Last month, sheriff's deputies and forensic experts began searching for buried human remains at a sun-scorched ranch in Inyo County once used as a hangout by the Manson family. For decades, rumors have persisted that graves existed at the ranch.
Investigators used ground-penetrating radar, magnetometers and shovels at the Barker Ranch but did not find any human remains. They did find a .38-caliber bullet casing, but it was unclear whether it was related to Manson.