SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The self-described right-hand man of cult leader Charles Manson, who was convicted of orchestrating the Tate-LaBianca slayings 42 years ago, was denied parole from a California prison Wednesday for the 16th time.
Charles "Tex" Watson, 65, was ordered to continue serving his life sentence after a hearing at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, in the Sierra foothills 50 miles southeast of Sacramento.
A two-member panel of the California Board of Parole Hearings ruled that he cannot seek a new parole hearing for another five years, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It was his 16th denial, she said, contrary to information previously provided by corrections officials that it was his 14th parole hearing.
Four relatives of Watson's victims asked that his parole be denied for killing actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant, and four others at her Beverly Hills home on Aug. 9, 1969. The next night, he helped kill grocery owners Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.
"There's no question these were some of the most horrific crimes in California history in terms of the brutality, the multiple stab wounds, the gunshots, the large number of victims over a two-day period," Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Sequeira said. "For a group of people to just slaughter strangers in hopes of igniting a race war is extremely horrifying."
Watson's attorney, Cheryl Montgomery, did not return repeated telephone messages.
Watson read a statement but did not answer questions from the parole officials during the nearly five-hour hearing, Sequeira said, leaving them without enough information to decide if he is ready to be released.
"Basically the prison panel found they could not measure his true remorse or his measure of understanding of what caused him to become involved in these gruesome murders," Sequeira said. "I think he lacks insight and understanding, I think he lacks true remorse. I think he has remorse for his being in prison all these years."
Sequeira said he believes Watson still is a public safety risk because "he's a man who is at the center of the Manson family. He was aware of all the crimes that all the Manson family members were involved in."
Watson married and divorced in prison and has four children from conjugal visits, but his family did not respond to a request for comment that was left through the website that promotes Watson's prison ministry, . http://www.aboundinglove.org
The website says he was raised in Copeville, Texas, north of Dallas, and headed to California in 1967 after dropping out of college. A brief biographical sketch on the site said Watson believed Manson "offered utopia, but in reality, he had a destructive world view, which Charles ended up believing in and acting upon. His participation in the 1969 Manson murders is a part of history that he deeply regrets."
A book he wrote while in prison is titled, "Manson's Right-Hand Man Speaks Out!" In the past, Watson has argued that he is a changed man who has been a model prisoner and no longer is a danger to the public.
He did not attend his last parole hearing in 2006 but was portrayed in a psychiatric evaluation at the time as "a very devout fundamentalist Christian ... a young, naive and gullible man (who) got into drugs and bizarre company without appreciating the deviance of the company he was keeping."
Anthony DiMaria, a nephew of victim Jay Sebring, contested that view of Watson and other Manson disciples.
"They've often been portrayed as these victims of Manson, and they are killers. They're mass murderers," DiMaria said in a telephone interview before the hearing.
He attended the hearing with his mother and sister.
Debra Tate also spoke on behalf of her late sister, Sharon, who at the time was married to film director Roman Polanski.
Tate said she was disappointed that Watson can seek parole again in five years.
"I was hoping for more than that, especially given the evidence that was laid out on the table," she said afterward. "I was hoping for a minimum of seven."
If he is truly repentant, Watson should provide what information he can on other crimes committed by the Manson family even if he wasn't directly involved, she said.
Watson was convicted in a separate trial after Manson and three female followers were found guilty of the seven murders. Their death sentences were commuted to life when the U.S. Supreme Court briefly outlawed the death penalty in 1972.
DiMaria said his mother has considered it her mission to speak out on behalf of her brother.
"I know that our family, myself included, feel no hatred, anger or vengeance toward them. We actually go out of love for the victims, and we also go out of justice. This is calculated, cold-blooded mass murder in which bodies were desecrated," DiMaria said. "We want to bring the memories of the victims into the room as the commissioners deliberate on whether to parole the inmate."