Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Let's Make a Deal? Maybe.

by Kathryn Casey

Okay, the truth? I have no compassion for Susan Atkins.

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.

As Atkins withers away from cancer in the California Institution for Women, law enforcement authorities and forensic experts continue to eye the Barker Ranch in Death Valley, where the Manson family lived at the time of their arrests. For more than three decades, rumors have persisted that the clan committed murders at the ranch. Bodies, however, have yet to be found, even after repeated searches. Why do we care? If there are undiscovered bodies, there are families living in pain, moms and pops and brothers and sisters, perhaps husbands and wives and sons and daughters who may still hope every day that their long-lost loved one will walk back into their lives. Don't they deserve to know what really happened?

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.


jigmeister said...

How about the monetary angle. She is in a hospital being treated at taxpayer expense for a terminal disease and guarded by several corrections guards on a 24/7 basis. Were she to be released, it sounds like she would be moving to another hospital at her family's expense.

Leah said...

At this point, we have already spent so much money on her that it won't matter that we do until she dies. And that will probably be cheaper than keeping her another 30years.

If she gives up the info in exchange for a compassionate release then, I'd say she really isn't repentant at all. She ought to do it becuase she has changed, in exchange for nothing, because it is the right thing to do. I don't look for that to happen.

Paralegal Sandy said...

No! She shouldn't get out. She should have been put to death long ago. That's my opinion.

Kathryn Casey said...

But she wasn't executed, Sandy. Can't rewrite the past. And wouldn't it be wonderful for those families to finally be able to bury their loved ones? While I lack compassion for Atkins, I feel incredibly sorry for families who spend decades left to wonder about their loved ones' fates. Atkins could potentially tie up all the loose ends.

Yes, Leah, I agree, Atkins should do it because it's the right thing to do, as I said in the post. But the bottomline is that it's time to fess up and let the world move on. Even Vincent Bugliosi is saying he doesn't have a problem with her release in her present condition, and he prosecuted the case. I'd add that first I'd want her to tell the truth about Barker Ranch.

Sibby said...

IMHO granting her a compassionate release would be a slap in the face to the families of the victims. However, I would understand the authorities trying to make a deal for the release to get information about other victims yet to be found. After all, authorities have been making deals with devils for ages. Not that I would like it, but I would understand it.

Great post Kathryn.

Kathryn Casey said...

Thanks, Sibby. Glad you dropped in. I know I'm a dweeb but what does IMHO mean? Oh, I bet I know: In My Humble Opinion!

Leah said...

I think it means: in my honest opinion.

KC, I wonder if any of them have tried that negotiation tactic already to get parole. None of them would have anything to loose by telling them about more bodies buried on the ranch. So why are they all staying silent about it??

Rae said...

Great post, Kathryn.

IMHO: In My Honest/Humble Opinion.

Sharon Tate and the other victims weren't allowed to negotiate for compassion, so Atkins shouldn't be.

I agree with Leah - if she were truly repentant/born again, she would have come clean years ago. Since she didn't, sadly, I doubt she would do it now, with or without the incentive of a compassionate release.

I say she should remain imprisoned until the end.

Kathryn Casey said...

Ah, now I'm really with it. I know what IMHO means!

I don't know if any of them have tried that tactic, but it may not work for the others, since there's no statute of limitations on murder. At least in Texas, and I would think in CA. Robin Sax should be able to tell us that.

I understand where y'all are coming from, but I figure Atkins would have no quality of life on the outside for her final months anyway, so the downside isn't great. On the other hand, the upside could be finally getting all the loose ends tied up. They keep digging at Barker Ranch and getting nowhere. Sure would like to find out where the bodies -- if they exist -- are buried!

TxMichelle said...

The only person who I feel some compassion for (besides the victems families) is the husband. He loves her and it is painful to watch someone die of cancer.
Still, he knew when he married her that she might die in prison.
Finding God, does not mean they are deserving of our compassion. God will forgive her if she is truely repentant.
Morphine is not that expensive, and it is a damn sight more peaceful way to go then being stabbed while pleading for your life and the life of your unborn child.

cherry6905 said...

How did Atkin's marry an Attorney? Did they have conjugal visits? I don't want to sound cold. But who marries a strange serial murderess in prison?
All those people she killed would have liked a loving spouse and family.
If she's so deserving of compassion why hasn't she already turned over information on where to find the buried bodies? Based on the fact she hasn't done it I'd say a big fat "NO" This is NUTS!!

Kathryn Casey said...

Yup, she married an attorney. Sorry, but I haven't the foggiest about conjugal visits.

Even if we don't care about Susan Atkins, which we all agree we don't, aren't we concerned about the families of the unidentified victims? Don't we want them to have the relief of finally recovering their loved ones' remains?

Leah said...

I can't help but wonder if there really are more bodies to find. While I wouldn't doubt it, it seems like someone would have given up all that info by now. Even though there is no statute of limitations on murder, they aren't going anywhere anyway. You'd think that one of them would want to make themselves look good.

Rae said...

That's true, Kathryn...those families should have that relief. It's just beyond frustrating that the only way Atkins might give up that information would be in exchange for a compassionate release.

Otherwise, I can't see her revealing anything - especially after 30+ years of keeping mum.

How ironic that she and Tex Watson have both taken a "born again Christian" stance-and, yet, neither one of them has ever attempted to give those victims and their families, if there are any, peace at rest and peace of mind. Real Christian folks, they are.

Levi said...

I don't believe there are bodies at the ranch. If there were, I'm sure one of the scum bags would have let the cat out of the bag, in order to be released, but they haven't spilled the beans.

I think if this hag is ever released, they should take her out in the middle of no where, and throw her in a dirty hole with a bunch of pigs. That would show this freak who the real pig is.

Kathryn Casey said...

Y'all are scaring me! LOL

Maybe there aren't any more bodies. Who knows? Well, guess Manson and the rest of the clan does. You're right that if any of them had truly changed they'd tell authorities where to look. As I said, I wouldn't offer this deal to Van Houten or any healthy members of the clan, but I do believe it might be worth letting Atkins die outside prison walls to close this horrible chapter.

TxMichelle said...

I can see where you are coming from as far as putting to rest the dead.
I can't help but think of Ted Bundy though, thinking that he could exchange his death sentence for the locations of the bodies that were not found.

He admitted that he killed those girls. I don't know that allowing him to live would have been a trade off. Then again, I was not a victem of those crimes. So I really don't know.

Levi said...

Wouldn't they have spilled the beans for a deal ALREADY if there were bodies? I mean they have been in jail a VERY long time, they have had plenty of time to say, "hey, if I tell you all were other victims are buried, can I get out early?"

And what if Atkins says "Here is where the bodies are..." and she is released, she dies, and it turns up, she lied and there were no bodies?

Kathryn Casey said...

I don't know, Levi. I really don't. If there were more, maybe they would have said so. I'm not so sure. They might be worried that there'll be more murder charges. I guess they'd have to look for the bodies before they released her?

I wouldn't be suggesting that Ted Bundy be released. This is a special circumstance. Atkins is reportedly bed bound and dying. She's not going to hurt anyone. Even Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted her and the rest of the Mansonites, says he has no problem with her being released, that she isn't a threat.

Rae said...

I never thought she still posed a threat of any kind...it's just the principle of the thing that bothers me. It's like, "Okay, you get death...no, life...no, wait a sec, since you're dying, we'll give you a break. Go home."

Other prisoners don't and didn't get to die with their families (and I'm thinking of James Earl Ray here, whom even the King family thought might be innocent), so Atkins shouldn't be an exception.

I think a line needs to be drawn. Either all get a compassionate release, or none do.

TxMichelle said...

Exactly Rae.
Watts died in prison of cancer also.
I just think that your sentence is your sentence.

TxMichelle said...

Oh, and I understand taht you weren't suggesting the likes of Bundy be released. He wasn't even bargaining for release, just for life.

Leah said...

I agree Rae. We should let all prisoners out when they are about to die, if we are going to do it for Atkins.

Paralegal Sandy said...

I was just sitting here really trying to put myself into the place of someone who is missing a young daughter. That daughter has been missing all these years. By this time I surely know she is no longer among the living. I really believe it's not going to make enough difference to me where her body is to let Susan out of prison., even if she is sick and dying. And let me explain why. When I go to the cemetery to put flowers on a grave I do not vision my loved one there. I often talked to them wherever I am because to me they are not in the ground. As the poem says "Do not come to my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep." Nothing is going to bring them back or ease the pain of their demise.

Kathryn Casey said...

That could be true, Sandy, but I've known a lot of folks who have missing relatives presumed dead. Over and over I've heard, "I know he/she's not coming back. But if the police could just find her body, so we could bury her, I'd feel like she was finally at rest."

There's something about having that knowledge, of knowing for sure, and of the semi-closure of a funeral or memorial service with a body that does help families.

That said: The vote is overwhelmingly in favor of Susan Atkins dying in prison!

Rae said...

Well, and I'm just wondering out loud here, but during the time that the Mansonites (goo word, Kathy!) lived at Barker Ranch, they were doing some pretty heavy chemicals, and, also, were fairly brainwashed by Charlie boy. As well, it has been 40 years. Is it possible that they haven't come forward about other bodies there because they simply don't remember?

I don't mean they don't remember killing other people, but don't remember where the bodies are buried.

It's been 20 years since I've done illicit drugs, but, as I recall, imbibing didn't create the clearest mind, or the clearest memory. I'd have been hard pressed, the day after a bender, to remember anything I had done the night before, much less forty years earlier.

Donna Weaver said...

Great post, Kathryn! Several people have brought up the issue of whether or not Manson Family members may have participated in, or have guilty knowledge of, additional murders and bodies buried at the ranch, and why they haven't tried to barter that information. I believe the answer is simple. There would not be any deals made. They would be charged with those additional homicides. There would be no free passes on murder for them after what they have already done. They would have nothing to gain, legally anyway. As long as they keep getting a shot at freedom (no matter how slim) through parole reviews, they aren't going to jeopardize that by relieving their consciences. To me this is a strong indication of a true lack of remorse.

My husband, Gary, has been missing since he was murdered 24 yrs, 6 months, and 9 days ago. Susan Atkins is a waste of skin who deserves to die a slow, painful death. I'm glad she knows its coming--just like her victims did. Does she deserve mercy? NO WAY. But because there is nothing on earth that can save her and her death is imminent, would I make a deal with her to let her die at home in exchange for finally knowing where my husband was thrown in a hole like a piece of garbage? You bet your ass I would!

Kathryn Casey said...

That's very true, Rae. They may not remember. (I stole the Mansonite term from the Manson Family Today website. It is good though.)

Thanks for weighing in, Donna. I wouldn't barter with any of the others either. Just Atkins for the above reason. I have heard that they've questioned Manson about Barker Ranch, but got nothing. For all we know there's no one buried there. If there are, I do hurt for the families.

dewdle said...

If it were just a matter of her having only a few months to live, I'd say let he die in prison like other murderers. Like other commenters, I don't buy that born-again claim, otherwise she'd given up the locations of the bodies already, instead of using it for a bargaining chip. I think allowing the victim's family members to decide would the be fairest, only because she has such short time left. It shouldn't be someone else's decision to decide if the family members would get more peace of mind having their family members' remains returned, or allowing one of their killers to die a free woman.

Kathryn Casey said...

That's a good thought, Dewdle, but there's a problem: no one knows who, if anyone, is buried at Barker Ranch. The family members won't know their loved ones' bodies are there until they're found and identified, so asking them isn't possible, alas.

cherry6905 said...

Manson and his zombies are probably titillated beyond belief over all the new media coverage.
Psychopaths don't change they just figure out how to play the game from inside.
Has anyone brought in experts like Tim Miller and Texas EquuSearch, infrared cameras, cadaver dogs, etc. I'm surprised they haven't gone over that ranch with a fine tooth comb?

Kathryn Casey said...

They've been doing that, Cherry. They've brought in the latest high-tech stuff, but the remains are so old, no luck yet. I'm sure you're right and they're loving the coverage, especially Manson.

corina 59 said...

I don't understand the expense for Atkins' care. She is a convicted murderess who was sentenced to excecution and got off because of a glitch in the law.
So why did we spend millionms on her rehabilitation and now want to release her ?

corina 59 said...

I have waited over 40 years for these killers to give up any information on the whereabouts of the murder victims and NOTHING