Parole panel denies compassionate release for Manson follower Susan Atkins
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
July 16, 2008
SACRAMENTO -- — A state parole panel today unanimously denied "compassionate release" for terminally-ill Manson follower Susan Atkins after hearing emotional testimony both for and against her release.
The 12-member State Board of Parole Hearing, as is customary, did not release any explanation for its decision.
Atkins, 60, played a central role in the 1969 slayings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and others in a bloody two-night rampage in the Los Angeles area. She has served 37 years in prison, longer than any other female prisoner, officials said.
Now ill with brain cancer and with one leg amputated and the other paralyzed, Atkins has only months to live, doctors have said.
The petition for Atkins' release had ignited debate about when mercy is appropriate, particularly considering the grisly crimes for which she was convicted. With the rejection by the panel, the process is effectively over, making it highly likely that she will die in custody.
Those backing her release argued unsuccessfully that the cost of keeping Atkins in prison, which is estimated at $1.4 million for medical care and security just since March, should be a factor in favor of releasing her because it would save the state substantial amounts of money.
At the hearing today, Atkins supporters spoke first to the 12-member State Board of Parole Hearing.
"She has without a doubt, she has paid her debt to society," said her niece Sharisse Atkins, 17. "You see her as a part of the Manson family I see her as a part of our family. I hope you can find it in your heart to do the right thing."
Her supporters drew attention at the hearing to former Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's support for Atkins release. In an e-mail this week to Atkins' attorney, Bugliosi wrote that it was wrong to say "just because Susan Atkins showed no mercy to her victims, we therefore are duty-bound to follow her inhumanity and show no mercy to her."
Opponents of Atkins' release disagreed. They spoke today of their memories of learning of the murders and the effects of the killings on their families.
Tate, the wife of film director Roman Polanski, was 8 1/2 months pregnant when she and four others were killed at her hilltop home in Benedict Canyon. The actress, who was stabbed to death, had begged Atkins for her for her life.
"She asked me to let her baby live," Atkins told parole officials in 1993. "I told her I didn't have mercy for her."
At today's hearing, Pam Turner, Tate's cousin, sobbed, recalling being a child "so sick with grief that I wished I too could die."
Turner said she remembers the actress' mother "howling like a wounded animal" after hearing the news of the murders.
"My aunt's pain was palpable. She once put her hands on my pregnant belly and she cried," said Turner, alluding to the fact Tate had begged for the life of her unborn child. "She didn't say what she was crying about, but I knew."
Anthony DiMaria, whose uncle, Jay Sebring, was killed at the Tate's home, brought up news reports that Atkins' husband had called it "ridiculous" to spend so much money guarding his wife, who cannot even sit up in bed.
"To sum up these murders in terms of cost efficiency trivializes the victims' lives, and the lifelong impact on the victims' families," DiMaria said.
"There's discussion of dying with dignity.... the notion of dying with dignity is not determined by circumstance, but determined by choice," he told the panel. "Mrs. Atkins should die with dignity while serving out her sentence. My uncle died with dignity in the worst possible situation."
In addition to the testimony today, the board received about 100 letters, most opposing her release.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley was among those opposing the release, saying Atkins' "horrific crimes alone warrant a denial of her request."
Suzan Hubbard, director of California's adult prisons, had previously expressed her opposition.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas also wrote the director of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation saying Atkins should remain behind bars and away from Orange County, where her husband lives.
The hearing today before the state Board of Parole Hearings is the third in a four-step process that allows inmates to seek compassionate release.
She cleared the initial steps when officials at her prison in Chino found that her case met the criteria for compassionate release review, a determination seconded by officials at corrections headquarters in Sacramento.
In addition to testimony, the board received information including Atkins' medical records, recommendations from state corrections officials and her criminal history as well as information related to her behavior while in prison and an assessment of whether her release would pose a risk to the public.
Even if the panel had decided to recommend compassionate release, Atkins would have awaited a final determination by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.