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July 15th, 2008
06:10 PM ET

Mercy for a killer? Charles Manson case back in court

Susan Atkins and Charles Manson in a Santa Monica courtroom Oct, 1970.

Susan Atkins and Charles Manson in a Santa Monica courtroom Oct, 1970.

Ted Rowlands
AC360° Correspondent

It’s hard to imagine a better test case for California’s compassionate release program for prisoners who are terminally ill.

Susan Atkins, who has brain cancer and has been given six months to live, has been a model prisoner during her almost 40 years behind bars. Her attorney says she has had a leg amputated, can barely speak, and would most likely spend the rest of her life in the same hospital room she’s been in since March.

The compassionate release program was designed in large part to save taxpayers money, and Susan Atkins is costing the state a bundle: More than a million dollars in medical fees in three months, and 225 thousand for around-the-clock guards outside her hospital room. If she’s freed, her family would pay for her care, saving the state many thousands of dollars.

But this is Susan Atkins, one of those creepy Manson girls who literally smiled at the cameras after brutally killing innocent people to appease Charles Manson.

Atkins is the one, who, by her own admission, held down the pregnant actress Sharon Tate while she and her unborn child were stabbed 16 times. Atkins admits that Tate begged for mercy saying, “Don’t kill me I want to have my baby!” But Atkins says she told Tate while holding her down, “I have no mercy on you."

Should California now have mercy for Susan Atkins?

If she’s freed, her family would be able to visit without restrictions, and could be with her more as she dies. And the state wouldn’t have to keep paying to guard a woman who can't even walk.

“Keep writing the checks” is what Virginia Graham told us during an interview in Phoenix.

Graham met Atkins in jail in 1969 after the so-called Helter Skelter murders, named for song that Manson says The Beatles used to send him a message.

Atkins confessed to Graham, who then turned Atkins in. Now in her 80’s, Graham thinks Atkins should die a prisoner, saying she deserves the same no-mercy treatment she gave Sharon Tate.

But others like the prosecutor in the case Vincent Bugliosi think Atkins should be let go, to save money.

Today, the parole board held an open hearing, asking for public comment. If the board recommends freeing Atkins, a judge would decide whether Susan Atkins deserves a compassionate release - or not.


Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Ted Rowlands
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Crickett

    Spending my tax dollars to protect the public from killers and provide for their "attonement" is fine with me. My tax money could be spent in worse ways and I'll take bumpy roads over killers on the street in order to keep people like the "Manson's" off mine. Expect lifelong consequences for your actions. She decided to play God and took away the lives of several of his "children." He can forgive her – not me.

    July 16, 2008 at 9:19 am |
  2. J

    Orrrrrr............. they could just stab her to death...that way, she wouldn't leave prision with the insane notion that people have mercy for her, AND tax payers would be free of the burden of paying for this crazy lady. it All works out!

    July 16, 2008 at 6:03 am |
  3. Victor in Saanich, B.C. Canada

    They should have done the murders up here in Canada!! After having served their sentences, the vast majority of it in what we like to call the 'Club Fed' sections of our penal system, they would have been released to make money from their notoriety!! Ask Ms. Homolka and Mr. Reid for example!! They deserve no pity and should have been executed!!

    July 16, 2008 at 4:14 am |
  4. sharyn

    Either way we taxpayers would be footing the bill for her medical care, in my opinion why not allow the staff at the prison earn some overtime money. God knows they deserve the extra $ for dealing with the likes of scum like her. As for releasing her so that she may die peacefully at home or in a hospital where her family can be by her side right up until the end, I say BS! She made her bed and now she can lie in it, right until the bitter end. As for God and forgiveness, I do believe it's true that God forgives all... but that is what seperates us from God. If I was to commit such a heinous act of violence by taking a person's life that was pregnant and showed no mercy for her and her unborn child I would not expect the Judicial System to bend over backwards for me because I was dying in the prison I was sentenced to live the remainder of my natural life. Hopefully I would make peace with my God, but I could not expect society to be forgive me.

    July 16, 2008 at 1:32 am |
  5. Lisa

    At this point she should be less worried about where she dies and more concerned about what she will say to God.

    July 16, 2008 at 1:05 am |
  6. JC- Los Angeles

    The name "compassionate release" needs to be removed from any discussion centered around remorseless killers.

    Either put her down and throw her out with the trash or let the disease runs its course.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:50 pm |
  7. tosassy

    @lempe. Put your self in the Tate families shoes. If that were your loved one your wife, husband, child, mother, father etc. would you still be saying show her compassion. Yes God does forgive people and people forgive people, but forgivness or no forgivness you still have to pay for your crimes. She murdered 5 people and an unborn child as the mother begged for her childs life and she told Tate I have no mercy for you. So be it she should be shown no mercy.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:23 pm |
  8. joanie gentry

    Please change Ms. Tate to Ms. Adkins. Sorry for the mistake.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:19 pm |
  9. joanie gentry

    Thank God. Re the cost of Ms. Tate and all who become terminal with prison time to do–someone please look into Hospice at these prisons. It is a huge waste of our tax dollars to offer terminal prisoners any less health care. Surely this could be done inside the prisons when we utilize Hospice for us taxpayers. Come on A.C. lets keep them honest too!

    July 15, 2008 at 11:16 pm |
  10. Dash Riprock

    Susan Atkins was an active participant in 8 gruesome murders and was originally sentenced to death for her crimes. Then the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty and commuted her sentence to life. If Atkins were truly remorseful then she would be grateful that society has allowed her to live in a cage until she dies.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  11. lampe

    I hope you people will always be free from sin and never need forgiveness. If god can forgive everyone ,what makes you think you are better than anyone else.

    July 15, 2008 at 10:34 pm |
  12. Jo Anne Cummings

    "Turning the other cheek" just doesn't seem to work for me and perhaps others. We need to send the message to future heartless murderers that this will not be tolerated.

    July 15, 2008 at 10:22 pm |
  13. Christine

    I knew she was denied before leaving my comment earlier.

    July 15, 2008 at 10:07 pm |
  14. Genevieve M, TX

    Atkins being denied parole is great news indeed! Either way, we (taxpayers) will have to continue to pay her medical bills. I don't believe for one second that her family will be able to pay the thousands of dollars it costs to keep her alive.

    The only place she (Atkins) will find "sympathy" is in the dictionary between "sh*t" and "syphilis"!

    July 15, 2008 at 10:03 pm |
  15. yolonda

    Mercy? At this point in her life she has no mercy. So why should we pay for that. Let her pay for her own medical care; send her home and off of a system that uses my money! Dying from her disease is not pain free, so lets send her home to deal with her pain, so that we dont have to.

    July 15, 2008 at 10:01 pm |
  16. Melissa, Los Angeles

    @ lampe the taxpayers would've still paid her bills anyway because I highly doubt her family has millions to pay for her care. Where's Kevorkian when we need him? Oh nevermind – he'd give her too easy of a death and Atkins doesn't deserve that.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:52 pm |
  17. Esther

    Let her die in prison. She deserves nothing.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:43 pm |
  18. lampe

    Well, all you haters, got your wished she was denied parole. So I hope everyones real happy about paying her medical bills.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:31 pm |
  19. Genevieve M, TX

    Hmmm...let's see....Manson's group stabbed Sharon Tate (who was 8 months pregnant) 16 times...that's in addition to killing other people. Tate begged for the life of her baby and they had no mercy for her nor the baby. They stabbed her (Tate) as she begged for mercy and cried out for her mother. Now they want mercy from their victims' families and the general public???

    Each of the "Manson Family Members" needs to rot in prison until they die. I would rather pay to keep them in prison and never allow any of them scumbags a second of mercy!

    July 15, 2008 at 9:09 pm |
  20. Annie Kate

    She should spend every last waking moment behind bars. What she did was horrific with no mercy given to her victims. You reap what you sow – no compassion for any of the Manson murderers.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 15, 2008 at 8:42 pm |
  21. Christine

    Let her die a prisoner! Sharon Tate didn't get to die with her family around her, and her baby never had a chance to live. Also the only savings for the state would be the guards salary. You all know her family won't be paying the hospital bill.

    July 15, 2008 at 8:40 pm |
  22. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    Let her take her last breath behind bars. Out of respect for Sharon's family........................No mercy for the mercifuless...............

    July 15, 2008 at 8:20 pm |
  23. Carrie

    She has gotten way more mercy than she gave Sharon Tate, She begged her not to kill her baby and show mercy and she told her no, held her down and stabbed her, now she is born again and she wants mercy...Please!

    July 15, 2008 at 7:52 pm |
  24. GF, Los Angeles

    Model prisoner? She should've been a model citizen so I'm glad to read breaking news that she's been denied.

    July 15, 2008 at 7:52 pm |
  25. Rob

    Atkin's own words:

    "She asked me to let her baby live," Atkins said. "... I told her I didn't have any mercy on her."

    We should treat her as she spoke to Tate...

    July 15, 2008 at 7:43 pm |
  26. lampe

    This woman fell into a mans trap, just like so many others do. You have people now of days, who are killing each other just for the hell of it. And for one reason or another are not getting the time she got. I for one am not interested in paying her medical bills,if she is really only months away from dying let her go home and live her last few days or months as a free woman. I do not understand when we've become this very heartless country.

    July 15, 2008 at 7:40 pm |
  27. Larry

    Wasn't she already given the death penalty, then california changed its mind on the death penalty so she got it reduced to life, then once again California changed its mind on the death penalty but she couldn't be sent back to death row?

    July 15, 2008 at 7:05 pm |
  28. Sandra Robertson, Wadley, Georgia

    Would we consider compassionate release for Charles Manson if he were diagnosed with a terminal illness? I sure hope not. In the name of justice, Manson family members should remain in prison for the remainder of their lives.

    July 15, 2008 at 6:48 pm |
  29. Jim- Kearny, NJ

    I usually come down on the side of compassion for the dying, but I can't see granting mercy to this woman who showed no mercy for an expectant Sharon Tate. Let her die in jail. She earned it.

    July 15, 2008 at 6:42 pm |
  30. Viewpoint

    Life in prison should mean life in prison. Start changing things even more and what's the point? Already child rapists are released after being reformed, only to attack again. Just like prisoner's are 'born again' and see the light....
    Save taxpayer's money? Reinstate the death penalty.

    July 15, 2008 at 6:30 pm |
  31. coop

    Kill her and get it over with, or let her go, save The tax payers money for something worthwhile, Is she worth spending your money on in a time like this. I think that 200 thousand could be better used feeding hungry people, Or maybe spent on making some effort to take the USA out of debt

    July 15, 2008 at 6:24 pm |