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Thread: Commuting sentences due to illness

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    Miss B Hav'n's Avatar
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    Commuting sentences due to illness

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    Sparked by the Susan Atkins case -- what do you think about commuting sentences of convicted criminals due to the development of an illness?

    On an infamous summer night in 1969, young followers of Charles Manson entered a Benedict Canyon mansion and murdered five people gathered on the compound.

    Actress Sharon Tate, 8 1/2 months pregnant with the son of director Roman Polanski, begged one of the knife-wielding killers to spare her life. The attacker was Susan Atkins, and her response was cold and unequivocal.
    She asked me to let her baby live," Atkins told parole officials in 1993. "I told her I didn't have mercy for her."

    Almost 40 years later, it's Atkins who is asking for mercy.

    Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and confined to state prison on a life sentence, the 59-year-old is asking to be released from state prison on "compassionate" grounds.

    By most accounts, Atkins, a former topless dancer who used to sing in her church choir, was one of Manson's fiercest disciples. After stabbing and killing Tate, prosecutors said Atkins tasted the actress' blood and used it to write "PIG" on the front door. During her trial, which took more than nine months, Atkins showed no remorse and maintained utter devotion to Manson, whom she called "Jesus Christ," "the devil" and "the soul." During sentencing, she taunted the court by saying, "You'd best lock your doors and watch your own kids."

    Atkins was convicted of killing Tate and also of stabbing musician Gary Hinman to death two weeks before the Tate murder. The night after the Tate murders, members of the so-called Manson family -- but not Atkins -- broke into a home in the hills of Silver Lake, killing Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

    Behind bars, Atkins has been a model prisoner who for the last 21 years has been married to an Orange County attorney who represented her at her last parole hearing. She has been in state prison for 37 years, longer than any other female inmate.

    Debra Tate, the actress' sister and only surviving relative, strongly opposes the release of Atkins or any members of the Manson family.

    "They are serial killers and they were convicted to die and they need to stay incarcerated," she said. "People don't just become cured from being sociopaths. There's no deprogramming, no pills, no drugs that make that go away."

    Margaret DiMaria, the sister of Jay Sebring, a hairdresser who was killed at the Benedict Canyon home, agreed.

    "It is most unfortunate that Ms. Atkins now suffers a terminal illness. However, in the eyes of the law and in memory of her victims, I fail to see how one thing correlates to the other," DiMaria and her son Anthony said in a statement Friday. "She repeatedly committed crimes requiring evil premeditation and executed them in a cavalier manner that afforded her victims no mercy. The sentence Ms. Atkins now serves should not be mitigated because fate has struck this blow."

    But Atkins' petition has won some guarded support from unlikely quarters, including Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor who successfully sought the death penalty for Atkins.

    "Under these unique circumstances, told she has only about six months to live . . . . I don't have any objection to her being released," he said. "She has paid substantially, though not completely, for her horrendous crimes. Paying completely would mean imposing the death penalty."

    Atkins' death sentence was automatically commuted to a life term after the state Supreme Court overturned capital punishment in 1972. But cancer has become another kind of death sentence, Bugliosi said, noting that she has already had a leg amputated.

    Bugliosi said his decision to support Atkins' release wasn't easy.

    "She told me out of her own mouth that Sharon Tate begged for her life, 'Please let me live, so I can have my baby,' " Bugliosi recalled. "And she said, 'I don't have mercy for you. . . . You're going to die.' And now, she wants mercy?"

    Her request for a compassionate release has already been approved by the California Institution for Women in Corona, where she was housed from April 23, 1971, to March 18 of this year, when she was admitted to a local hospital. But it must also be approved by the state parole board, which will take up the case in coming months.

    If the board approves her release -- and that's far from a sure bet -- a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge would have to sign off on it. Since 1991, about a third of compassionate release requests have been granted, though in recent years the numbers have been smaller.

    The rampage by the Manson family in 1969 left eight people dead and Los Angeles shaken, and by many accounts it ended the "flower power" era of the '60s.

    "The murders forced L.A.'s counterculturalists to confront the possibility that not everyone with long hair under 30 was their brother," author Michael Walker wrote in his book "Laurel Canyon."

    Manson and his followers lived a cult-like existence at the remote Spahn Ranch near Chatsworth, a lifestyle marked by violence, drugs and sex. Manson, a failed musician, called himself and his followers "Slippies" who would masquerade as peace-loving hippies. Manson and his mobile commune, made up mostly of young women, traveled to Big Sur, Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico, among other places.

    On Aug. 9, 1969, Manson waited back at the ranch while Atkins, Charles "Tex" Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel went to Benedict Canyon.

    Officials later said Manson knew of the house on Cielo Drive because he once tried unsuccessfully to get its former resident, music producer Terry Melcher, interested in making his record.

    Besides Tate, four others were stabbed and shot to death: Sebring, 35; Voytek Frykowski, 32, a friend of Polanski, who was out of the country; Abigail Folger, 25, a coffee heiress; and Steven Parent, 18, a friend of the caretaker.

    The next night, Manson rode along with family members and tied up the LaBiancas, then left Watson, Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten to commit the murders.

    Atkins married twice while in prison, in 1981 to a self-proclaimed Texas millionaire who had been married 35 times before. The marriage ended when he decided to take another wife. In 1987, she married James W. Whitehouse, the Orange County attorney who represented her at the last few parole hearings.

    On Friday, Whitehouse said that even if Atkins were released, she would likely remain hospitalized.

    "If the compassionate release is granted, she's not going any place," he said. "Unless there's a miracle, she may never leave the hospital."

    Whitehouse said Atkins, a born-again Christian, has been involved in activities to help other inmates, including Alcoholics Anonymous programs.

    Patrick Sequeira, a deputy district attorney who has opposed the release of the Manson killers at several probation hearings, said it's too early for his office to make a decision on her release.

    "It's not unusual for inmates to, quote, find religion when in prison," he said.

    "Manson's people sort of saw him as a visionary, religious figure. . . . It's not necessarily a far stretch if you're committed to a set of beliefs, to then change to another set of beliefs."
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    LittleMsSunshine's Avatar
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    #2
    Why does she deserve a comfortable death? She certainly didn't allow her victim or her unborn child to have one.

    NO sympathy here. I hope she dies in prison.
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    #3
    I don't support it at all. Having a terminal illness is horrible - but it doesn't change what you have done. I don't understand why person A would deserve compassion over person B if they both commit the same crime but person A has the misfortune to develop an illness. The fact of the matter is that she was sentenced to death (well, life w/the reversal of the death penalty) and the cancer is going to the be the end of her natural life which is what the sentence she is serving is.
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    #4
    It is a horrible death but face it, so was the stabbing she did. No way. If they let her out...that is horrible!@!!!!!
    "Obstinacy is a fault of temperament. Stubbornness and Intolerance of contradiction result from a special kind of Egotism, which elevates above everything else the pleasure of its own autonomous intellect, to which others must bow.: Carl von Clausewitz
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    #5
    I think she deserves to die in jail.
    She may be reformed and found Jesus, but she still needs to pay for her crime.
    I think she should have had the death penalty, but since that isn't an option, she needs to stay in jail until she dies.
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    #6
    She had no mercy on Sharon Tate and her unborn child . I know she has changed that is what age for the most part does to all of us . Makes us wiser , at least I would think so but her actions of her youth had consquences .

    She needs to pay them .
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    #7
    absolutely NO MERCY. sorrrry bitch.
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    #8
    No sympathy.

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