SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A follower of Charles Manson who stabbed pregnant actress Sharon Tate to death nearly 40 years ago but is dying of brain cancer in a California prison was denied compassionate release Tuesday.
The California Board of Parole released its unanimous decision on the release of Susan Atkins hours after a 90-minute hearing, during which it heard impassioned pleas from both sides.
"Obviously, it was too hot of a potato for them to handle," said one of Atkins' attorney, Eric P. Lampel. "Of course we're disappointed. There's no basis for denying this."
Lampel filed a motion July 10 with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Wesley asking for his client's release no matter what the parole board recommended. No hearing has been set, Lampel said after the hearing.
"We're going to be able to make the case in court. We'll take it to the next step," he said after being informed of the board's decision by The Associated Press.
Atkins' doctors and officials at the women's prison in Corona made the request in March because of her deteriorating health. She also has had her left leg amputated and is paralyzed on her right side, her husband, James Whitehouse, told the California Board of Parole Hearings.
Whitehouse, also acting as one of Atkins' attorneys, had argued that his wife was so debilitated that she could not even sit up in bed. He told the parole board there was no longer a reason to keep her incarcerated.
"She literally can't snap her fingers," he said. "She can put sentences together three or four times a day, but that's the extent of it."
He said doctors have given her three months to live. Atkins, in a hospital near the Southern California prison where she was housed for nearly 40 years, did not attend Tuesday's hearing.
The request for compassionate leave generated opposition from relatives of the victims, the state corrections department, Los Angeles County prosecutors and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"Those kinds of crimes are just so unbelievable that I am not for compassionate release in that case," Schwarzenegger said Tuesday before the parole board issued its decision.
Atkins, Manson and two other cult members, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, were tried for the 1969 cult killings of Tate; Leno and Rosemary La Bianca; and four others. Tate, the wife of filmmaker Roman Polanski, was 8½ months pregnant.
Sharon Tate's sister, Debra Tate, the last surviving member of her immediate family, sent a letter to the board opposing Atkins' release.
"She is a cold-blooded woman who to this day has not displayed any remorse," wrote Tate, who lives in the Los Angeles area.
The defendants maintained their innocence throughout the trial. Once convicted, the women confessed to the killings during the penalty phase.
On the stand, Atkins recounted her role in stabbing Tate, who pleaded for the life of her unborn baby. Atkins claimed she was on LSD at the time but did not apologize for the crime until a parole hearing years later.
Her brother, Steve Atkins, told the parole board Tuesday that he and his sister had been abused as children.
"After Susan got in with Manson, she was lost to me," he said. "Please let us be with Susan in private in her last days, to pray with her and give our last good-byes."
The defendants were sentenced to death, but their terms were commuted to life sentences when the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily ruled the death penalty unconstitutional. Manson and the two other women remain in state prison.
Atkins has spent 37 years in the California Institution for Women, where she has been held longer than any other female inmate in state history. She was transferred to the hospital in March.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said that's where she ought to remain. In a letter to the parole board, Cooley said the nature of Atkins' crimes alone should rule out any release.
He noted that after Atkins stabbed Tate, she tasted her blood and used it to write the word "Pig" on the victim's door.
Los Angeles County prosecutor Patrick Sequeira said the board made the right decision because of the crime Atkins committed. He said he informed Debra Tate and two other relatives of the victims.
"They are both relieved and pleased with the decision," Sequeira said. "It obviously doesn't take away the pain for them."
He said it's unclear whether a Los Angeles County judge can consider the compassionate release request from Atkins' attorneys without a recommendation from the parole board.
Compassionate releases are rare in California, with just 10 of 60 requests granted last year, Corrections Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said.
Atkins' medical treatment and paying for prison guards to watch over her has cost state taxpayers more than $1.4 million since March, according to the corrections department.
Atkins, 60, has been denied parole 12 times.