Manson follower Leslie Van Houten released from California prison

FILE PHOTO: Leslie Van Houten listens during her parole hearing in Corona, California, June 28, 2002. A Californ..

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) - Leslie Van Houten, once part of the "Manson family" that carried out Charles Manson's orders in a killing spree that terrorized Los Angeles in 1969, was released from prison on parole on Tuesday after 53 years, her lawyer said.

Her release had been expected after California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday announced he would give up trying to deny parole for Van Houten, 73, who was serving a life sentence.

In May a California appeals court overruled Newsom and found Van Houten was entitled to parole. The governor could have petitioned the California Supreme Court to review the case but opted against that because "efforts to further appeal are unlikely to succeed," a spokesperson said.

Van Houten is the first from the Manson family to receive parole stemming from convictions related to seven murders on consecutive nights in August 1969, her attorney Nancy Tetreault said. Van Houten left a prison in the southern California town of Corona on Tuesday and moved into a halfway house in a confidential location where she will stay for a year, Tetreault said.

"She was a model prisoner from the day she entered prison," Tetreault said. "She's been involved in therapy for 40 years. She just she's really a different person."

Van Houten was 19 when the murders were committed, making her the youngest of Manson's devotees.

The parole board recommended Van Houten for early release five times since 2016, but she was denied three times by Newsom and twice by his predecessor, fellow Democrat Jerry Brown.

Manson died in prison in 2017 at age 83, having become one of the 20th Century's most notorious criminals. He directed his mostly young and female followers to murder seven people, including actress Sharon Tate, in August 1969 in what prosecutors said was part of a plan to incite a race war.

Van Houten was convicted of fatally stabbing grocery owner Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, in their Los Angeles home on Aug. 10, 1969. The words "Death to Pigs" and "Healter Skelter" - a misspelled reference to a Beatles song - were found scrawled in the victims' blood on the walls and refrigerator.

The previous night, members of Manson's cult broke into the Los Angeles hillside home that Tate shared with her husband, filmmaker Roman Polanski, who was away in Europe at the time.

Tate, who was 26 and eight months pregnant, was slain along with four friends of the celebrity couple.

(Reporting Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California; Editing by David Gregorio)