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California governor denies parole for Manson Family member

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown denied parole on Friday for a member of the Manson Family who was sentenced to life in prison for two 1969 murders carried out with other members of the cult, saying that he remained a danger to the public.

In rejecting parole for Bruce Davis, 70, Brown reversed the decision of a California parole board that found him eligible for release after his 27th parole hearing last October.

"As our Supreme Court has acknowledged, in rare circumstances, a murder is so heinous that it provides evidence of current dangerousness by itself," the governor wrote in his six-page decision. "This is such a case."

Brown commended Davis for his efforts to improve himself during his four decades behind bars, including earning degrees in religion and philosophy, leading counseling groups and teaching Bible classes.

But he said the convicted killer had continued to minimize the extent of his involvement and leadership in the Manson Family, a collection of runaways and outcasts brought together by ex-convict Charles Manson whose spree of killings horrified the nation in the late 1960s.

"Until he can acknowledge and explain why he actively championed the Family's interests, and shed more light on the nature of his involvement, I am not prepared to release him," the governor wrote.

Davis has been serving a life sentence in a California state prison since his 1972 conviction for the murders of music teacher Gary Hinman, who was stabbed to death in July 1969, and stunt man Donald "Shorty" Shea, who was killed the following month. He was arrested in 1970 after nearly a year on the run.

'HEALTER SKELTER'

Manson became one of the 20th century's most infamous criminals in the summer of 1969, when he directed his mostly young, female followers to murder seven people in what prosecutors said was part of a plan to incite a race war between whites and blacks.

Among the victims was actress Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of filmmaker Roman Polanski. She was stabbed 16 times by members of the cult in the early morning hours of August 9, 1969.

Four other people were also stabbed or shot to death at Tate's home that night by the Manson followers, who scrawled the word "Pig" in blood on the front door before leaving.

The following night, Manson's group stabbed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca to death, using their blood to write "Rise," "Death to Pigs" and "Healter Skelter" - a misspelled reference to the Beatles song "Helter Skelter" - on the walls and refrigerator door.

Davis did not take part in those murders.

Manson was originally sentenced to death but was spared execution after the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972.

Now 78, he is serving a life sentence at Corcoran State Prison for the seven Tate-LaBianca killings and the murder of Hinman. He has been repeatedly denied parole.

Steve Grogan, a Manson Family member who was convicted of murdering Shea at Manson's direction, was released in the mid-1980s.

Davis was previously granted parole in 2010 but remained incarcerated after that decision was reversed by then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Gregorio)

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