Should Manson ‘family’ member Leslie Van Houten ever see the light of day?

On Tuesday, it will be exactly 45 years since a judge sentenced Leslie Van Houten — aka LuLu, Leslie Marie Sankston, Louella Alexandria or Leslie Owens — to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison.

Van Houten, the youngest member of a cult led by Charles Manson in the 1960s, had already been behind bars for 18 months. She was 19 when she participated in the grisly murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

In a hearing last week, a two-member panel in California recommended parole. If attorneys on the state’s Board of Parole Hearings approve the recommendation, California Gov. Jerry Brown will make a final decision about Van Houten’s release.

The one-time homecoming princess was saved from execution, as was the rest of the Manson “family,” within a year of being sentenced when the state temporarily abolished the death penalty. Van Houten’ sentence was commuted to life, and she’s apparently been a model prisoner ever since.

“Your behavior in prison speaks for itself,” commissioner Ali Zarrinnam told Van Houten during her 20th parole hearing this week. “Forty-six years and not a single serious rule violation.”

But her behavior before prison also spoke for itself, which is why a jury found Van Houten guilty and sentenced her to death. Last week, she recounted for the panel how, on August 10, 1969, she used a lamp cord to secure a pillow over the head of Rosemary LaBianca while another “family member” stabbed the woman to death.

Van Houten then picked up a knife and stabbed LaBianca in the back at least 14 times. She and the others used the dead couple’s blood to write “Rise,” “Death to Pigs” and “Healter-Skelter” — a misspelled reference to the Beatles song — on the walls of their house and refrigerator door.

At the end of an epic trial, in 1971, Van Houten and four other Manson “family” members were found guilty of killing the LaBiancas and five others in a rampage that Manson later said he’d hoped would provoke a “race war.”

“There wasn’t much honor left for anyone at the end of the monstrous affair,” journalist (and Joan Didion buddy) Barry Farrell wrote in Life magazine at the end of the trial. “The proceedings had consumed seven months, 156 court days, filled a 26,000-page and cost the County of Los Angeles $920,000.” (That’s about $5.4 million today.)

And in the end, neither Manson nor his co-defendants — Van Houten, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel — presented a defense, a circumstance that left the jury “dumbfounded,” according to Life.

In fact, none of the “deep questions” brought up by the trial had been answered, Farrell wrote: “Why had Charles Manson taken to killing when he had such a good thing going with his dune buggies and his girls? Why had the girls murdered strangers for a man who did no killing of his own? Why did the defendants giggle and sigh through the trial without attempting to save their own skins.”

In Helter Skelter, his book about the murders, Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi wrote that a psychiatrist in the case called Van Houten “a spoiled little princess.” In one of her subsequent parole hearings, Van Houten said she’d believed Manson was Jesus Christ.

When, during the trial Manson “trimmed his beard to Satanic perfection, then shaved it off, then cut his hair, then shaved his head and carved a swastika over the X on his forehead,” as Farrell put it, Van Houten, carved an X into her own forehead.

The jury wasn’t easily intimidated by Manson’s eccentricities. One member named Jean Roseland told Farrell that she’d heard all about Manson’s “magnetism and powerful eyes, but what I saw were just plain old everyday eyes.” She thought Manson was going to be a “brawny six-foot guy,” but saw in court that in reality he was “just a little shrimp.”

The men on the jury may have been more taken with Manson’s “girls.” William McBride, 25 and the jury’s only bachelor “felt that very often he and Susan Atkins ‘were almost communicating’ across the empty space between them,” Farrell wrote. Van Houten, McBride thought, “kept trying to melt him with her little-girl smile, ‘as if she were my friend.’”

The little-girl smile nearly worked. When the jury was deciding Van Houten’s fate, McBride “held out for life-imprisonment for almost a day and a half.”

But Judge Charles H. Older agreed with the rest of the jury, telling the court “not only is the death penalty appropriate, but it is almost compelled by the circumstances. I must agree with the prosecutor that if this is not a proper case for the death penalty, what should be?”

Last week, Leno LaBianca’s daughter Cory told the Los Angeles Times she would lobby the governor to deny Van Houten’s parole, hoping to keep the now 66-year-old Van Houten behind bars for the rest of her life.

“Maybe Leslie Van Houten has been a model prisoner,” she said. “But you know what? We still suffer our loss. My father will never be paroled.”