July 3rd, 2008
10:37 AM ET

Should we have mercy for the unmerciful?

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. According to her Attorney she’s 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 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 thousands of dollars.

But this is Susan Atkins, one of those creepy Manson girls that smiled at the cameras after brutally killing innocent people to appease Charles Manson. She was the one, who, by her own admission, held down the pregnant actress Sharon Tate while she and her unborn child were stabbed 16 times. She admits that Sharon Tate begged for Mercy saying “don’t kill me I want to have my baby” but 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. Plus 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 Helter Skelter murders. Atkins confessed to Graham, who then turned Atkins in. Graham, now in her 80’s 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.

The next step is a July 15th parole board meeting; if the board agrees to let Atkins go free a judge would have to make the final decision on whether or not Susan Atkins deserves a compassionate release.

Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Ted Rowlands
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Autumn Greensburg PA

    Immediate death penalty for the unmerciful is the answer. No long jail terms on death row and no compassionate release program (you GOT to be kidding me). Demons do not have souls and cannot be rehabilitated.

    July 6, 2008 at 12:58 pm |
  2. Kaelinda

    Let her go, if her family will be paying her bills and NOT the state or the county or the federal government. I kind of resent the fact that the government spent a million dollars on her in the last three months, but the state doesn't pay for medical care for tens of thousands of Californians who deserve it a lot more than she does.

    That's mercy enough, I think, but if her family will foot the bills, let her go.

    July 6, 2008 at 2:35 am |
  3. Larry

    Did Californians revoke the death penalty for a few years?

    July 4, 2008 at 6:57 pm |
  4. Tom M

    I think Susan Atkins should be released. To the care of the Tate family.

    July 4, 2008 at 1:30 am |
  5. Yolanda in L.A.

    Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. One thing is for sure she has lived for the 40 years her victims have been deceased. Hell no they should not let her out. She is the same person just an old version.

    July 3, 2008 at 11:17 pm |
  6. Toni - Las Vegas,NV

    She made her bed 40 years ago. Let her lay in it . She didn't have a second thought about Sharon Tate and her child.

    July 3, 2008 at 11:13 pm |
  7. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    Let her die in prison............................

    July 3, 2008 at 10:57 pm |
  8. James Dylan

    The state is going to have to flip the bill no matter where she is. She was sentenced and should serve it out.

    July 3, 2008 at 10:51 pm |
  9. joanie gentry

    This delima is what keeps many juries from having faith in sentencing killers to life without parole.If my memory serves me right this convicted murderer was supposed to get the death penalty untill our Supreme Court questioned the death penalty decades ago.
    There should be no consideration re health after being covicted of such horrible acts.
    To burden the victims families only increases
    their pain. Yes, it is expensive to run prisons; but, surely there can be Hospice etc. even in maxium facilities. I'd also like to see a break down of these medical bills for her and other terminally ill convicts. This killer cannot be the first to develop terminal cancer. What have we done with them?

    July 3, 2008 at 9:46 pm |
  10. Jim

    If the State would have done what God said & had EXECUTED Her, MANSON & the rest of the murderers they would not have had this problem. But that is what happens when you do not listen to what God says. & you pay for it one way or another.

    July 3, 2008 at 9:12 pm |
  11. Lisa

    As others have noted, I doubt very highly that her family would be able to afford her medical care, nor would they pay it. Thus, the state would still be paying the medical bills. As such, I would offer that she be moved into a minimum security prison with a hospice where she could live out her remaining days. Two things are accomplished, 1) we reduce the medical bills quite a bit as she would presumably not be treated for the tumor; and 2) she would most likely be allowed to have her family visit more frequently and would not require around the clock guard service as she would at a hospital. Thus, she is still a prisoner, having not been released, and yet the compassion portion of this program would still be intact.

    Please note, personally, I don't feel she deserves compassion nor treatment. But I do not make the laws (many prisoners should be overjoyed with that). As such, my personal feelings have no bearing.

    But since, as a Californian, I am helping to foot the bill, maybe the State should look into hospices in prisons for just this reason. We continue to cut medical benefits for Medi-Cal for people who are trying to make an honest living while providing those benefits to those incarcerated. I have a real problem with someone getting certain medical treatment while residing on Death Row. (And yes, it does happen.) But then that would fall under the "prison reform" discussions that are talked about but never really seem to happen.

    Those convicted are in prison to pay their "debt to society". Terminal illness should not relieve that debt.

    July 3, 2008 at 4:54 pm |
  12. Nadine Buchko (Pittsburgh, PA)

    She deserves to die in prison for the horrific act she participated in. Too bad the death penalty was not the course of action for her.

    What is sad is that her enormous health care cost is being paid for and there are great people out there who are suffering with major illnesses such as cancer with no healthcare.

    Something is very wrong here! Where is the compassion for those people?

    July 3, 2008 at 4:32 pm |
  13. Vicki, Long Island, NY


    I hate to even write this since I try to treat everyone the way I would want to be treated. I believe she should not get special treatment with the compassionate release program. Did Susan Atkins have compassion while looking into the eyes of her victim(s) while they begged not to be murdered before she performed these horrible and brutal act of murder(s)?

    But, I do believe she should get the necessary medical care in prison and be taken care in her final days - this is the human thing to do, but to get a compassion release - I do not think so.

    July 3, 2008 at 4:24 pm |
  14. Michelle, Spring Valley,CA

    Life is life, and there shouldn't be any stipulations as to well, if you die of natural causes, in your sleep then you spend life in prison, but if you die from a terminal illness, then we show you mercy and you get out early... doesn't make sense. The court system is going to be piled with appeals if that happens too, so there's more money.

    I feel for her family. Maybe they could give her some extra visitation with them in exchange for her "good behavior". But that's all. Thinking about Tate's last moments makes me question even that much mercy.

    July 3, 2008 at 4:12 pm |
  15. Michael Grohs, St. Pete Beach, FL

    She shouldn't be released for numerous reasons, one of them because she wants to. She deserves everything that has and will happen to her.

    July 3, 2008 at 3:48 pm |
  16. GF, Los Angeles

    Kristen from PA touched on something that never occurred to me. Why is it that a convict receives medical treatment for free and law abiding citizens can't?

    July 3, 2008 at 3:43 pm |
  17. Ruby Coria, LA. CA.

    Ted, from someone (I hate to say..) who has met Susan (in C.I.W) I do think that there is a LOT of waste in tax-payers money. Someone should realy look into what needs to be done with each person, Susan & the others do un-human things., but at this point Susan is no big deal, the cats at C.I.W. have more life then her. But I know it's a tough call.. and the C.O's need jobs! Look into the waste of money on the C.O's too! Ted, I enjoy your reporting*

    July 3, 2008 at 2:54 pm |
  18. JC- Los Angeles

    First off, the name of this program "Compassionate Release" needs to be changed immediately. A person like Atkins is anything but compassionate. Secondly, to refer to someone of this ilk as a "model prisoner" is doing a grave disservce to her victims. Although I have the highest regard for Vincent Bugliosi, to make the loss of life a monetary issue, is reprehensible. At best, Atkins should have two choices: stay the course or be put down.

    July 3, 2008 at 2:50 pm |
  19. Tony Segura

    Our nation and the world are all observing how our judicial system works depending on our skin color. The judge on this case must have been related to either Rush Limbaugh or Lou Dobbs. If you listen to these two people, they posses a vicious attitudes toward the so called ALIENS and they pass it on thru radio and television. Then the weak and the faithfull follower like Joe Horn either hurts or kill just to please the these co-hosts and listeners. It began with the old man that took a Mexican flag and burned it while a camera roled. Then came Joe Horn and next it will be alien women and children who will be lined up and shot execution style in a lawless United States street. Although most of these people claim to be BORN AGAIN CHRISTIANS.

    July 3, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  20. Susan


    I am very sorry, but no mercy was shown to Susan Tate and her unborn child by Susan Atkins when she stabbed her 16 times.
    She should remain in prison. She can be given comfort measures to deal with her pain.

    If she were a model person, she would not be in jail in the first place.


    July 3, 2008 at 2:12 pm |
  21. Teresa, Oh

    If the question here is should the judge be merciful and let her out, the answer is NO. It is clear that Susan doesnt know what mercy is, so why give her any?

    If the question is: should we save ourselves alot of money? It is clear the answer is yes.

    As for her not being able to walk, many get about quite nicely in a wheelchair or crutches or walker. I imagine she would get second wind on her hobble out of prison. By the way, why should Susan get to be around her family longer? Sharon was denied this.

    Mercy or money? mercy or money? I say, tit for tat. No mercy where mercy was not given. If they took up a collection to keep her in prison,
    I would certainly give what I could to keep her there. That an innocent baby would die, and an unmerciful woman live: I dont think so.

    July 3, 2008 at 1:24 pm |
  22. GF, Los Angeles

    We're spending that much money on such a worthless so called human being?? Yesterday I said keep her in prison but I had no idea she was in the hospital on taxpayers dime. If that's the case, let her go so that our money can go to something much more worthwhile.

    July 3, 2008 at 12:54 pm |
  23. Christine

    Show no mercy! She had none, and Sharon Tate didn't die with her loved ones around to comfort her, please lets not forget the poor innocent baby who never had a chance at life. She should die a prisoner!

    July 3, 2008 at 12:40 pm |
  24. Arachnae

    Without expressing an opinion on the question itself, a little semantic quibble – 'mercy' is (or should be) independent of worthiness of the recipient. If mercy is shown only to the 'deserving', it's not 'mercy' but 'fairness' or 'justice'.

    If people who don't deserve it are never shown 'mercy', then there is no mercy in the world. That's pretty much the basis of every religion on earth.

    July 3, 2008 at 12:06 pm |
  25. Kristen- Philadelphia, PA

    This case doesn’t make any sense to me and proof how corrupt our government is. This woman who brutally murdered another human being and her unborn child gets millions of dollars spent on her health care, yet millions of law abiding citizens in this country can’t get health insurance. Can we get out priorities in order? If they release her so what, that money will probably just go to another undeserving convict. How in America do we give prisoner’s better health care than our own kids who have done nothing wrong?

    I think the wrong question is being asked, what folks should be asking is why would the government spend that much money on her health care in the first place yet don’t bother to fund coverage for the law abiding citizens who can’t afford it.

    July 3, 2008 at 11:36 am |
  26. Carol

    'Compassionate release' to save taxpayer money sounds good in theory, but I don't know how that could possibly happen.

    If her medical costs for three months amounted to one million dollars, how on earth could her family come up with that kind of money? What business are these people in, and how do I get into it?

    I suspect her bills would still land in my mailbox, in one form or another.

    July 3, 2008 at 11:36 am |
  27. Larry

    Does the Tate family have any say in this?

    July 3, 2008 at 11:26 am |
  28. Dee, New York

    It sounds like Susan Atkins is harmless enough to be released, but I'm not sure how much money would be saved by releasing her. Why would her family pay for her care? As an adult, and indigent at that, wouldn't her care be paid for by a state system such as Medical? As for the guards, aren't they civil service employees at some level? They would just end up working at some other location. It would be compassionate for her family to be able to spend more time with her before she dies.

    July 3, 2008 at 11:12 am |
  29. Gecko-San

    Uhmmm...... If you didnt give her the death penalty I think its time for her to be let go you had 40 years to kill her and alot of our money to keep her alive now I think its some one else turn to pay for that responsibility.

    VA- Norfolk

    July 3, 2008 at 11:10 am |
  30. Michael Lorton, Virginia

    Susan Atkins is asking for the same mercy that Sharon Tate cried, but since we are putting a dollar value savings on Susan Atkins and the compassionate release program......doesn't negate what she did and you cannot transfer the crime or guilt into cost efficiency. God is the only one who will forgive her. She made her bed......she should lie it......until her death.

    July 3, 2008 at 11:10 am |
  31. Jeanette Loos

    Susan Atkins committed a horrible crime and she was found guilty.She is as guilty today as she was the day she chose to commit this crime.So I say,When you can bring Sharon Tate and her unborned baby new life,then Susan Atkins should be released back into society.I'm willing to spend my tax dollar to keep her in prison.People everyday are dying of cancer or uncureable diseases who would be thankful if they could receive the medical treatment she is getting for free.

    July 3, 2008 at 11:06 am |
  32. Annie Kate


    I doubt her family has the money or health insurance to pay for her care either so the taxpayers would end up paying for it but out of a different account – welfare.

    Its nice she has been a model prisoner all these years but that doesn't help the people she killed; she showed no compassion to them. And even though she spent her life behind prison bars she still has had 40 more years of life than Sharon Tate and her baby had.

    Lots of inmates die in jail; considering what she did and the sheer viciousness of it I think she needs to stay right where she is – in jail.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 3, 2008 at 11:02 am |
  33. Genevieve M, TX

    Judging by what I have read about the killing spree she participated in, Atkins needs to stay in prison. She showed no mercy to her victims, so why should she have mercy because she is terminally ill? As far as I am concerned, Atkins gave up her rights when she participated in killing those people back in 1969.

    I do think that the final decision on this matter should be determined by the families of the victims. I would agree with whatever they decide.

    July 3, 2008 at 10:59 am |
  34. Cindy

    No we should not have any mercy for Atkins. She had none what so ever for Sharon Tate, her unborn child or any of the others that they killed. A lot of people die in prison and don't get out because they are sick. Why should she be any different?

    As far as the money goes we will probably still be paying her bills if she did get released because how else will she pay anything but welfare and government help!? Either way it really won't matter because we'll be paying the bill! Let her stay in prison where she belongs!


    July 3, 2008 at 10:52 am |