Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Thursday, 3 September 2009 16:49 UK

No parole for dying Manson cohort

Convicted murderer Susan Atkins is surrounded by her husband, left, her attorney and state officials at her parole hearing
A moveable bed in the courtroom allowed Susan Atkins to be present

The California Parole Board has refused to release Susan Atkins, a terminally ill convicted murderer who was a member of the notorious Charles Manson gang.

Atkins, 61, is serving a life sentence for her part in seven murders in 1969, including a pregnant actress, by what became known as the "Manson Family".

Atkins has brain cancer and, her lawyer says, may have only months to live. She slept through most of the hearing.

She would not be eligible for parole again until 2012.

Manson cult

Atkins was sentenced to death in 1971 for taking part in the murders, including that of Sharon Tate, the wife of filmmaker Roman Polanski, who was then heavily pregnant.

I will pray for her soul when she draws her last breath, but until then I think she should remain in this controlled situation.
Debra Tate, sister of Atkins victim

It was Atkins who led police to arrest members of the Manson clan when she confessed to a cellmate after she had been arrested in a robbery.

Her death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972, when the California Supreme Court abolished capital punishment.

Sharon Tate's sister, Debra, told the parole commissioners she would have a 40-year-old nephew if her sister had lived.

Ms Tate told the hearing: "I will pray for her [Atkins] soul when she draws her last breath, but until then I think she should remain in this controlled situation."

Dramatic moment

Parole commissioner Tim O'Hara said that Atkins never fully understood the magnitude of her crimes. The decision by the parole board was unanimous.

In a dramatic moment during the four hour hearing Atkins opened her eyes while her husband, James Whitehouse, led her through a recitation of the 23rd Psalm, with Atkins concluding in a strong voice: "My God is an amazing God."

Charles Manson became one of the United States' most infamous criminals during the summer of 1969, when the Beatles-obsessed ex-convict directed his mostly young, female followers to murder.

His execution was also commuted in 1972 and he is serving a life term in prison. He has been denied parole 11 times and is next scheduled for a hearing in 2012.

None of the other members of the Manson gang convicted of the seven murders have been paroled.

9 September 2009: An earlier version of this story referred to an admission by Susan Atkins that she had herself killed Sharon Tate. We omitted to say that she later recanted that testimony.

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