Former Manson family member granted parole, subject to review

mfountain@thetribunenews.comMarch 12, 2014 

For the third time since early 2010, a former member of the Charles Manson “Family” who has spent the last 34 years at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo was granted parole Wednesday.

But whether Bruce Davis’ freedom will withstand Gov. Jerry Brown’s pen is another thing entirely.

On Wednesday afternoon, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s board of parole hearings recommended parole for Davis, 71, at Davis’ 28th parole suitability hearing.

The decision is subject to a 120-day review period. If the grant is finalized at the end of the review, the decision may be independently reviewed by the Governor’s office. Under California law, the Governor has 30 days to affirm, modify, reverse or decline to review the board’s decision.

The parole board twice previously recommended Davis’ release. In 2010, his first parole recommendation was reversed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a decision Davis challenged in court and ultimately lost in 2012.

Though Brown has approved a significant number of parole recommendations compared to his two predecessors, he rejected Davis’ second parole recommendation in March 2013.

Davis was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the deaths of musician Gary Hinman and ranch hand Donald “Shorty” Shea, though Davis long maintained that he did not physically murder either man.

He is not as infamous as such other Manson accomplices as Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten—who remain incarcerated—because he was not involved in the notorious Tate-LaBianca murders.

Santa Monica-based attorney Michael Beckman, who represented Davis at parole hearings since 2006, said Wednesday’s hearing was significantly shorter than previous ones—some 3.5 hours long—likely because the three-member board has reviewed him recently.

In addition, Davis has accepted responsibility for his crimes and a recent psychological evaluation said he presents little-to-no risk, Beckman said.

Luis Patino, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations, said Wednesday that the agency would not comment on Davis’ behavior in the past decades, but said that the board’s official transcript of Davis’ hearings would be released in 30 days.

If released, he would be just the second former Manson member convicted of murder to get paroled. Steve Grogan, who led authorities to Shea's body, was released in 1985.

Though Davis once planned to move to Grover Beach to be with his former wife and daughter, and possibly take up an offer to work landscape at a local church, Beckman said Davis now hopes to move to Los Angeles or San Francisco counties upon release, where he will spend at least six months in transitional housing.

Beckman said that Davis was “glad” following Wednesday’s decision, but understood the controversy surrounding his release.

“We hope (the Governor) won’t play politics this time and do the right thing,” Beckman said.

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