Manson follower Susan Atkins loses 13th attempt at freedom -- and it may be her last
Thirteen times, Manson family member Susan Atkins has asked to be released from prison. And 13 times, the parole board has denied her request.
The latest denial came Wednesday, when the state parole board voted unanimously to deny one of Charles Manson’s fiercest followers her request for “compassionate release” so she could die at home.
Dying of cancer, this might have been her last attempt at freedom, which has met with strong resistance.
“As sad as Mrs. Atkins looks today, it pales against the crime scene photos,” said Patrick Sequeira, an L.A. County deputy district attorney who has opposed the release of the Manson killers at several hearings.Atkins, 61, has only months to live, doctors say. The issue of mercy has long dogged Atkins. Nearly 40 years ago, actress Sharon Tate begged the knife-wielding killer to spare her life and that of her unborn child. “She asked me to let her baby live,” Atkins told parole officials in 1993. “I told her I didn’t have mercy for her.”
On Wednesday night, the parole board, meeting at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, had little mercy for Atkins, who slept on a gurney for much of a hearing that began in the early afternoon.
It was the same result as last year when, despite the presence of a number of supporters and the approval of the prosecutor who put her behind bars, the 12-member California Board of Parole unanimously voted to deny Atkins’ release.
She is serving a life sentence for the slaying of Tate, 26, who was 8 1/2 months' pregnant, and musician Gary Hinman.She has served 38 years in prison, longer than any other female in the state. The victims’ relatives and supporters opposed Atkins’ release, saying she showed no mercy on Aug. 9, 1969, when she and other Manson followers entered a hilltop Benedict Canyon home and murdered the five people.
A former topless dancer who used to sing in her church choir, Atkins was one of Manson’s most loyal disciples.
After fatally stabbing Tate, prosecutors said, Atkins tasted the actress’ blood and used it to write “PIG” on the front door of the home.
During her trial, which took more than nine months, Atkins seemed to show no remorse and maintained utter devotion to Manson, whom she called “Jesus Christ,” “the devil” and “the soul.”
During sentencing, she taunted the court, saying, “You’d best lock your doors and watch your own kids.”
Atkins is now considered a model prisoner known for helping others. She has been married to an Orange County attorney for 21 years.
In recent years, she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. One of her legs has been amputated and the other is paralyzed, authorities said.
Some of her supporters have argued that releasing Atkins would save the state substantial amounts of money in medical and prison expenses.
Former Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi said it was time for the state to show Atkins mercy. He told The Times last year 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.”
“She’s already paid substantially for her crime, close to 40 years behind bars. She has terminal cancer. The mercy she was asking for is so minuscule. She’s about to die. It’s not like we’re going to see her down at Disneyland,” said Bugliosi, who wrote the best-selling book “Helter Skelter.”
Atkins was first denied parole in 1976. She will be eligible to go before the parole board again in 2012, but doctors say it’s unlikely she’ll live that long. As she lay on a gurney, death seemed to be on Atkins’ mind. She read from Psalm 23 with her husband, James Whitehouse.
But family members of those killed by Atkins and other members of the Manson clan said she should die behind bars.
“I will pray for her soul when she draws her last breath,” said Debra Tate, the sister of Sharon Tate.
During a parole board hearing last year in Sacramento, supporters of Atkins spoke for more than 90 minutes, offering glowing testimonials of her transformation into a decent human being. But even though they were outnumbered then, family and friends of the Manson victims offered haunting portraits of the pain left in the wake of the killings, and of Atkins’ unmerciful response to Tate as she pleaded with the killer.
-- Richard Winton, Hector Becerra and special correspondent Ann Ellis reporting from Chowchilla
Photo: Convicted murderer Susan Atkins lies on a gurney during a parole hearing as her husband holds her hand. Credit: Ben Margot