Okay, the truth? I have no compassion for Susan Atkins. A
Atkins, of course, was a member of the Charles Manson Family, responsible for nine murders over a period of five months in 1969, including stabbing Sharon Tate sixteen times while the 26-year-old actress, 8 1/2 months pregnant, pleaded for the life of her unborn child. I know it's been nearly forty years, but it's just not in my nature to empathize with cold-blooded serial killers. After all, this isn't a maybe-she's-innocent situation. At her trial Atkins testified: "I don't know how many times I stabbed [Tate], and I don't know why I stabbed her. . . . She kept begging and pleading and begging and pleading and I got sick of listening to it, so I stabbed her. . . . I feel no guilt for what I've done. It was right then and I still believe it was right."
It wasn't until years later, in front of a parole board, that Atkins finally expressed remorse. Known within the family as Sadie Mae Glutz, Atkins was the one who scrawled the word "PIG" in blood on Tate's front door. In addition, she has pleaded guilty to the murder of music teacher Gary Hinman.
Now the wrinkle: Atkins is dying.
As I reported in an earlier WCI post, according to the Manson Family Today Web site, she's had a leg amputated and suffers from terminal brain cancer. Prison docs reportedly predict that she has less than six months to live. Atkins is the longest-serving woman inmate in California, and she's been turned down for parole eleven times. On her behalf, Atkins' husband/attorney, James Whitehouse, has filed a compassionate release request, hoping the California parole board will grant his wife the mercy she denied her victims. Whitehouse wants Atkins to live out her remaining time outside prison walls.
So what do you think: Should Susan Atkins' approaching death earn her a "Get out of Prison Free" card?
My opinion? No. Lots of folks die in prison, sadly some--based on the rash of convictions overturned by DNA--who shouldn't even be there. Why would anyone make an exception for Susan Atkins?
Debra Tate, Sharon's sister and only living relative agrees: "I don't want to seem like a heartless creature. But in all my years, I never considered this could happen. This is a serial killer, and what kind of mercy did she show her victims? When you torture someone, you have no compassion. How do you ask others to give it to you? It is her duty, in order to pay for her crimes, to die in prison."
It's actually surprising that Atkins is still alive. As you may remember, she along with Manson, Leslie Van Houten, Charles "Tex" Watson, and Patricia Krenwinkle were all sentenced to death for their roles in the Tate-La Bianca murders. They're alive today only because a 1972 Supreme Court ruling temporarily quashed the death penalty, and their sentences were commuted to life.
So there it is, my opinion and I'm standing by it. Still, and I know this sounds like a full 180, I'm not totally against the granting the "compassionate release." That is, under certain conditions.
Without extenuating circumstances, it seems unlikely that Atkins will get out. Compassionate releases are rare in California. Only 10 of the 60 requests made in 2007 were granted. The odds are that, without a good reason to do otherwise, the state parole board will review the Atkins request and file it in the not-gonna-happen basket. Why would I suggest that maybe this is a request that could be considered?
My stance has nothing to do with the fact that Atkins now presents herself as a born-again Christian. When she takes that final breath, God--not man--will judge if she's repented and deserves forgiveness. And even if she's truly sorry, it doesn't excuse her heinous crimes.
Believe me when I say that I wouldn't suggest releasing any of the other Manson murderers. Van Houten, for instance, has been repeatedly up for parole and turned down each time. As Superior Court Judge Bob Krug said, while Van Houten is described as a model prisoner, the nature of the crimes was the "basis on which the board based its decision" to deny parole. Let's face it: The Tate-La Bianca murders are too gruesome to be forgotten.
So why consider granting Atkins a release? Because we're not talking about a lot of time here, only a matter of months, and there's something Atkins could do for us, all of us, especially the families of unknown victims, that might be worth allowing her to spend her final time outside prison walls. Staring death in the eye, assuming she's still lucid enough, Atkins has the opportunity to ease the pain of others, by giving authorities the details and burial locations of any and all other Manson family victims.
I'm not suggesting a quid-pro-quo. The parole board shouldn't offer Atkins a guaranteed ticket out of prison if she discloses information. But I am suggesting that perhaps Atkins, the self-professed born-again Christian, might want to relieve her soul and repent all her crimes before departing this earthly plane. Why not come clean and tell authorities where the bodies are buried? Isn't that more Christian than taking that information to her grave and depriving the victims' family members of long-awaited answers?
If and when Atkins finally puts to rest the mystery surrounding Barker Ranch and any other Manson clan burial sites, perhaps the members of the California parole board will find it in their hearts to grant her the mercy she's requesting. Perhaps they will believe that she has truly changed.
Atkins needs to move fast. Her condition sounds precarious, and July 15th is the soonest the board can review her request. Even if fessing up doesn't win her a release, Atkins could die knowing that she's finally taken a step toward making some small amends for her horrific crimes.