California Department of Corrections, File, AP Photos
CORCORAN, Calif. — Debra Tate hopes that Wednesday is the last time she has to walk into a prison holding Charles Manson and argue in front of a parole board panel that he should not be freed.
For four decades the sister of murdered actress Sharon Tate has traveled to whatever rural California prison has held the notorious cult leader and his band of murderous followers for hearings she says are too numerous to count.
"I've tried to take this thing that I do, that has become my lot in life, and make it have purpose," says the 59-year-old Tate, who was 17 in August 1969, when Manson sent his minions across LA on two nights of terror. "I've been doing it for Sharon and the other victims of him for the last 40 years."
The parole hearing at Corcoran State Prison in Central California, Manson's 12th, could be the last one for the aging mass murderer. Manson, now a gray-bearded, 77-year-old, has sent word that he doesn't plan to attend what might be his final chance to ask for freedom.
Under current law, inmates can be denied the chance to reapply for parole for up to 15 years. Another rejection could make Manson 92 before he would get another opportunity to make his case.
"At his age, I think he doesn't care," said Deputy District Attorney Patrick Sequeira, who will argue Wednesday against Manson's release. "He would be lost if he got out. He's completely institutionalized."
Manson could change his mind and attend the hearing if he has something to say, but he has not appeared since 1997. His most recent hearing was in 2007.
Tate told The Associated Press she is hoping to look Manson in the eye while she reminds the two-member parole panel of the tortuous deaths suffered by Tate, who was 8½ months pregnant, and four others visiting her Benedict Canyon home.
"I want to lock eyes with him and walk them through everything done to each and every one of my friends, blow by blow," she said.
Even Manson's state-appointed attorney, DeJon Ramone Lewis, said he is unsure of Manson's plan. If Manson does show, it would be the first time the two have met — Manson declined a meeting a month ago when Lewis went to Corcoran State Prison to prepare for the hearing.
Manson, however, is anything but a recluse. He has a steady stream of visitors who submit requests to see him, including college students writing papers about him, said Theresa Cisneros, spokeswoman for Corcoran State Prison.
Manson must approve all requests.
"He has a large interested public," she said, adding that Manson receives more mail than most prisoners.
Manson has been cited twice for having smuggled cellphones. Authorities found he had been talking with people in California, New Jersey, Florida, British Columbia, Arkansas, Massachusetts and Indiana.
The phone numbers were traced, but Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said she could not disclose who received the calls.
Manson also was cited in October for having a homemade weapon in his cell.
Manson's notoriety stems from one of the most gruesome mass murders in American history, the 1969 slayings of actress Sharon Tate and six others. Manson's trial with three women acolytes was a spectacle that drew international attention.
Manson was depicted as the evil master of murder, commanding a small army of young followers. He and the three women were sentenced to death. But their lives were spared when the California Supreme Court briefly outlawed the death penalty in 1972.
One of them, Susan Atkins, died in prison. Two others, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, remain incarcerated.
Manson also was convicted of two unrelated murders. An assortment of his followers are being held in California prisons.
Corrections officials released a recent picture of Manson in advance of his hearing.
It shows the gray-haired old man with a swastika on his forehead, a reminder of his dark past. He carved the symbol during his trial.
The photo was a dramatic change from his previous picture, when his head was shaved.
Manson's appearance has changed many times over the years but most memorable was the first image the world saw of the shaggy haired, wild-eyed cult leader staring from the covers of magazines in 1969.
Debra Tate says she doubts the parole panel will vote to free Manson, but she does wish that his posture as a messiah out to save the world was perceived by everyone as being a sham.
"I would hope he would get the moxie to come to terms with the reality of his situation and not the myth. They were a bunch of renegade sociopaths that banded together and had one hot flame for a short period of time," she said. "It's important to me that I try to diminish and tarnish their status as urban legends. It's wrong, it's just plain wrong."
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