Susan Atkins to stay in prison
AP reports that the state parole board today ruled against letting
the terminally ill former Manson family member out of prison during
the final months of her life, as the editorial board urged last
month. The board struck a careful balance between its official
opposition to the death penalty and its belief that Atkins should
"Our system of justice attempts three noble aims: punishment,
protection of society and deterrence (some would add rehabilitation).
Atkins poses no physical threat to society. Her sentence and time in
prison undoubtedly have sent a deterrent message to any would-be
Mansonite still lurking out there. And she may well have been
rehabilitated: While serving her sentence, Atkins has written a book,
explored religions, taught classes. Has she been punished? Yes, of
course; 37 years is not trivial. But Atkins gravely wounded our
collective peace, and society has the right, even the obligation, to
exact vengeance. For some criminals, including Atkins, the crime is
so great that the price should be imprisonment until death."
The editorial also noted that the board once broke its anti-execution
stance by urging the death penalty be imposed on Oklahoma City bomber
Timothy McVeigh. For more on the editorial board's death penalty
stance, check out this Cold Copy, which takes up everyone from Ethel
and Julius Rosenberg to Stanley "Tookie" Williams.
Release denied for dying Charles Manson follower
By DON THOMPSON
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) Nearly 40 years ago, Susan Atkins was a
leading character in one of the most horrific chapters in California history.
On Tuesday, the former follower of Charles Manson sought to end her
story on her own terms: by being allowed to go home. The state parole
board denied that request.
Atkins, convicted in the slayings of actress Sharon Tate and others
in 1969, is dying of brain cancer and asked that she be granted
compassionate release from prison. She wants to spend her final
months surrounded by family and friends, not prison guards.
"Susan has served a life sentence," Virginia Seals, Atkins'
sister-in-law, said in arguing that the state's longest-serving
female inmate be freed. "This is about her death."
In a unanimous decision, the California Board of Parole Hearings
denied the request Tuesday. Her lawyer said he has filed a separate
motion in Los Angeles County Superior Court seeking his client's
Los Angeles County prosecutor Patrick Sequeira said the board made
the right decision. He informed Sharon Tate's sister, Debra Tate, and
two other family members of the victims.
"They are both relieved and pleased with the decision," Sequeira
said. "It obviously doesn't take away the pain for them."
Through 90 minutes of testimony in a packed hearing room, the two
sides of California justice played out against the backdrop of one of
the nation's most infamous crimes.
Atkins has been serving her punishment for the slayings, but did she
a 60-year-old woman who has spent nearly her entire adult life in
prison deserve a brief, final show of compassion from the state?
Prosecutors and surviving members of the victims' families were
emphatic that Atkins did not.
Anthony Di Maria, the nephew of Jay Sebring, who was killed along
with Tate, said the families were left with scars that have never healed.
"Ms. Atkins can die with dignity," Di Maria told the parole board.
"You'll hear nothing from the nine people in their graves who died
horrendous deaths at the hands of Susan Atkins."
Atkins, Manson and two other cult members, Patricia Krenwinkel and
Leslie Van Houten, were tried for the August 1969 cult killings of
Tate, Sebring, Voytek Frykowski, Abigail Folger and Steven Parent, as
well as Leno and Rosemary La Bianca a night later. Tate, the wife of
filmmaker Roman Polanski, was 8 1/2 months pregnant.
The Manson cult also was involved in another slaying about a
week-and-a-half earlier. Manson and the two other women remain in state prison.
Atkins was the one who stabbed Tate to death, saying she killed her
to silence the actress's pleas to spare her unborn baby. After the
slaying, Atkins tasted Tate's blood and used it to write the word
"Pig" on the victim's door. She claimed she was on LSD at the time of
the murders, but did not apologize until a parole hearing years later.
Atkins' doctors and officials at the women's prison in Corona made
the request for her compassionate release in March because of her
Her husband, James Whitehouse, had argued that his wife was so
debilitated that she could not even sit up in bed. He told the parole
board there was no longer a reason to keep her incarcerated.
"She literally can't snap her fingers," he said. "She can put
sentences together three or four times a day, but that's the extent of it."
Atkins, in a hospital near the Southern California prison where she
was housed for nearly 40 years, did not attend Tuesday's hearing.
Atkins has spent 37 years in the California Institution for Women,
where she has been held longer than any other female inmate in state
history, arriving five days before Krenwinkel.
She was transferred to the hospital in March.
Manson, Murder and Mercy
by Mathew N. Schmalz
July 1, 2008
Justice or mercy? That is the pressing question in what seems to be a
coda in the story of the 1969 Manson family murders. At issue is the
request by Susan Atkins, now 60, for compassionate release from
prison on the grounds of terminal illness.
Apart from Charles Manson himself, Atkins was the public face of the
Manson family during the Tate-LaBianca murder trial. She had bragged
about mercilessly stabbing the pregnant Sharon Tate and laughed when
details of the murders were presented in court. When she received a
death sentence, the verdict seemed particularly appropriate. When her
punishment was later changed to life imprisonment with possibility
parole, it seemed to be a gross distortion of the justice process. If
there was an example of unmerited mercy in the criminal justice
system, surely this was it.
This issue of unmerited mercy manifested itself in Atkins's case in a
quite different way later on. An obvious aspect of the public
discourse surrounding the Manson family murders was how it was framed
in terms of Christian understandings of evil. Prosecutor Vincent
Bugliosi described Manson as a "Mephistophelian guru" and Atkins as a
"vampyra." Given all this Satanic imagery, it seemed natural that God
could not be far behind. In 1974, Susan Atkins claimed that she heard
God's audible voice saying that her sins had been forgiven. Since
then, Susan Atkins has led an exemplary life in prison.
It is tempting to dismiss these religious claims as all too
convenient: the demonic influence of Charles Mansion is replaced by
the divine influence of God himself. In either case, any sense of
personal responsibility is lost. Moreover, Atkins has already
received considerably more mercy than did her victims. But the issue
of mercy cannot be set aside so easily.
As part of an academic project focusing on issues of religious
conversion and criminal justice, I corresponded with Susan Atkins
over a two-year period before her illness. What struck me always was
her quite sophisticated, and self-conscious, articulation of
Christian understandings of grace as "God's unmerited love."
Such religious ideas do not translate easily into the language of
criminal justice, but they are implicit in understandings of
rehabilitation and parole. The issue is that few of us really believe
that such change is possible. Besides, crimes like the Tate-LaBianca
killings are so heinous that they can never be "redeemed" even by
radical personal change. But mercy does have social relevance in that
it admits the fundamentally limited nature of any human moral calculus.
Developing a way of talking about forgiveness also has social import
if for no other reason than America has always been more comfortable
talking about retribution. The decision in the Susan Atkins case
appropriately belongs to relatives of the victims and the State of
California. My plea is for a well-articulated decision that
transforms discussion of the Manson family murders into a serious
consideration of our own often conflicted relationship to justice and mercy.
Mathew N. Schmalz is associate professor of religious studies and
director of the College Honors Program at the College of the Holy
Cross in Worcester, Mass.
One-time Manson follower now following Son of Man
By GARY HARMON
The Daily Sentinel
Monday, July 14, 2008
A man who tried to break cult leader and murderer Charles Manson out
of jail now reaches into prisons in hopes of saving souls.
Dennis Rice, who served seven years in prison as a result of his
ill-starred effort to free Manson, speaks at 7:30 tonight and
Wednesday night at The Door Christian Fellowship Church, 1141 N. 25th
St., in Grand Junction.
Rice, who became a member of Manson's infamous family, said he came
to believe Manson's hallmark murders of the riotous 1960s represented
nothing less than the Second Coming.
"A lot of the things he said made sense to me," Rice said of his
encounters, first with the news of Manson's arrest and jailing and
then with Manson himself, whom Rice visited in jail before joining his family.
Manson is incarcerated in California for nine murders. He was
sentenced to death for the August 1969 fatal stabbings of five people
in the home of actress Sharon Tate and the murders the next day of
Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Two other killings also are blamed on
Manson, whose death sentence was commuted. He is eligible for parole in 2012.
Manson's appeal, Rice said, lay in his ability to read the times and
take advantage of them.
"He was the king of the rebels," and his well-known photo from Life
Magazine remains an "icon for evil," Rice said.
Even so, getting to see Manson in jail wasn't difficult and Rice said
he quickly was sold on the message of revolution and setting the
country straight, Rice said.
Rice took his four children, then ages 2 to 10, and joined the Manson
family, and soon was part of the plot to spring the family's
eponymous leader. Rice and others were captured on Aug. 21, 1971,
after a shootout at an Army surplus store in California.
The shootout marked the breakup of the Manson family, which scattered.
Rice's children eventually were taken into state custody, then
reunited in Arizona, where he rejoined them after serving his prison sentence.
During most of his incarceration, Rice remained a loyal member of the
Manson family, until he was converted by the writings of another
Manson acolyte, Charles "Tex" Watson, who remains in prison.
Other Christians had approached him behind bars, but it wasn't until
he read of Watson's Christian testimony in a prison evangelical
magazine that he began to consider the idea he might have been wrong
about Manson and about Christianity.
"One of the hardest things was just admitting that I was wrong," he said.
Once released, he moved to Arizona and began attending a church.
Even so, it wasn't until 10 years later that he asked his children if
they would oppose him offering public testimony.
"We knew God was real when saw him change our dad," he remembers them saying.
His children are now engaged in ministry and churches, he said.
Since then, Rice launched Free Indeed Ministries, a nonprofit
Christian organization based in Tempe, Ariz., and has a Web site,
He speaks at about 150 prisons per year and will speak to inmates at
the Rifle and Delta prisons on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.
Manson, said Rice, almost certainly is aware of what his family
members are doing.
As to Manson's true beliefs, Rice said it seems now that he "just
tapped into what was going on," but he was no different from other
people in one important way.
"I just think he was deceived," Rice said. "Just like I was when I
was my own God.
"Now I see others as more important than me. That is a miracle."
E-mail Gary Harmon at Gary.Harmon@gjsentinel.com.