A follower of Charles Manson has been recommended to be freed by a California parole panel after more than 50 years since she and other people who followed the cult leader terrified and murdered people in California.

Patricia Krenwinkel is 74 years old and has been denied parole 14 times in the past while serving out her sentence for killing pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in 1969. She also assisted in murdering Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. Prosecutors claim the crimes were part of Manson’s efforts to initiate a race war. She is still in jail at the California Institution for Women.

During her last parole hearing, Krenwinkel described how she stabbed Abigail Folger, who was the heiress to the coffee company, numerous times at Tate’s house. The following night, she said Manson and his partner, Charles “Tex” Watson, instructed her to “do something witchy,” so she stabbed LaBianca in the stomach using a fork, and then wrote “Helter Skelter,” “Rise” and “Death to Pigs” on the walls using his blood.

When Krenwinkel met Manson, she was 19 years old and working as a secretary. She met the cult leader, who was 33 years old, at a party, and in 2016 provided testimony saying she quickly left her life to go with him because she was under the impression they might have a romantic relationship. 

She said Manson physically and emotionally abused her, and sex-trafficked her out to other men. She ran away twice but was returned, was hardly ever left by herself, and was typically on drugs. 

Politics plays a new role in her parole situation, as prosecutors were not present to push back against the decision, per Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón’s new policy.

In December 2020, Gascón told deputy district attorneys that the office’s default position would be to not attend parole meetings. He also said the office “will support in writing the grant of parole for a person who has already served their mandatory minimum period of incarceration,” defined as their various eligible parole dates. 

Other laws since Krenwinkel’s last denial for parole also made it so that the parole panel had to think about the fact that she carried out the murders when she was young, and she is now a much older inmate.

Her parole was denied five years ago after claims that she was impacted by battered women’s syndrome when she assisted in the murders.

Krenwinkel’s lawyer, Keith Wattley, said although the family members of her victims shared the same challenges at the hearing as prosecutors have in prior situations, he said the parole panel was now open to following the law. 

“She’s completely transformed from the person she was when she committed this crime, which is all that it’s supposed to take to be granted parole,” he said. 

The recommendation now goes to the state parole board’s legal group to be considered before it will likely head to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) to choose in the next five months. In the past, Newsom has not granted parole recommendations for Manson followers. 

“I’m hopeful that the governor recognizes that he shouldn’t be playing political games with people’s lives,” Wattley said. “The governor would be blocking her parole not because he’s afraid of her, but because he doesn’t like her. And the law doesn’t allow that.”

Wattley also said it is his understanding that Krenwinkel has served more time in the United States than any other woman. She and other followers were originally sentenced to death, but their sentences were changed to life with the chance of parole after the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 1972. Shortly after, voters reversed that decision. 

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