Charles Manson's 'right-hand man' Bruce Davis denied parole for seventh time
Gov. Gavin Newsom reversed his parole recommendation on Friday, calling Davis "an unreasonable danger to society"
By Lila Seidman
Los Angeles Times
SACRAMENTO — A convict described as Charles Manson's "right-hand man" won't be walking out of San Quentin State Prison after his recommendation for parole was again rejected by California's governor.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday reversed parole for Bruce Davis, who was convicted of two brutal murders carried out in 1969 with Manson "family" members who terrorized Southern Californians. The governor said in his decision that Davis "currently poses an unreasonable danger to society" if released.
A state panel in January recommended parole for Davis, now 78, marking the seventh time he has been deemed suitable for release, only to have it subsequently blocked. Former Govs. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger also previously reversed the parole board's decisions.
Michael Beckman, an attorney for Davis, said Monday that he wasn't surprised by the reversal, calling it the latest example of California leaders playing politics with his client's life.
Beckman called Davis "the most rehabilitated inmate I've ever represented," and accused Newsom of not wishing to create waves amid his recall.
Davis was convicted in 1972 for the brutal slayings of Gary Hinman, an aspiring musician, and Donald "Shorty" Shea, a stuntman and a ranch hand at the Chatsworth ranch where Manson and his followers lived.
He was not involved with other infamous murders carried out by the Manson family cult, including the killing of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others, also in 1969.
Manson, who died in 2017, was repeatedly denied parole, as have most of his onetime acolytes.
During his 50 years behind bars, Davis has never been disciplined for violence and completed multiple self-help programs, his attorney said. He has earned several degrees, including a master's and a doctorate, and vocational certificates.
Newsom acknowledged that Davis "has made efforts to improve himself," but said they were outweighed by "negative factors" that made him unsuitable for release, including the heinous nature of the crimes that spread terror during that summer.
Davis "joined one of the most notorious cults in American history and actively aided in furthering Charles Manson's goal of triggering an apocalyptic war arising from racial tensions and with the goal of creating societal disorder," Newsom wrote.
He said the crimes the group "committed to achieve this goal are among the most disturbing reported in our state's history."
Manson and several followers identified Hinman in July 1969 as a potential source to support their cult's move to the desert, according to the parole release review. Davis dropped off three members of the Manson group at Hinman's Topanga Canyon home.
After Hinman refused to comply, Davis and Manson returned to the home, where Davis held a gun on the victim and Manson sliced his face from ear to chin. Two days later, fellow Manson follower Robert Beausoleil stabbed Hinman in the chest and smothered him with a pillow. The group wrote "political piggy" and drew an animal paw print on the walls using Hinman's blood.
The next month, Manson told his followers that Shea was a police informant and was working with a neighbor to remove the group from the movie ranch where they were living.
Manson and Davis, with fellow cult followers Steve Grogan and Charles "Tex" Watson, drove Shea to a secluded area, where he was stabbed to death. Davis admitted that he cut Shea with a knife from his collarbone to his armpit, claiming Manson ordered him to cut the victim's head off, according to the parole release review.
Grogan, who was also convicted in Shea's murder and helped lead authorities to the site where the victim was buried, was paroled from prison in 1985.
Newsom wrote that Davis continues to minimize his role in the two killings he participated in and lacks insight into how he became implicated in such grisly crimes.
Davis "does not understand that it was his agreement to participate in Mr. Manson's plans that resulted in the torture and murder of his victims, regardless of whether he ultimately inflicted the fatal blows," Newsom wrote, concluding that it "may make him vulnerable to repeating these patterns in the future."
Beckman, however, said that Davis takes responsibility for what he's done and that degree of individual culpability matters in terms of punishment. He denies Davis was a vital assistant to Manson, or a "right-hand man," as prosecutors have claimed.
"He's been held almost 50 years ago as an accomplice," Beckman said, adding that if the crimes hadn't been associated with Manson, "he'd have been out years ago."
Davis' next parole suitability hearing is tentatively set for July 2022. Beckman is considering appealing Newsom's decision.
Most of the key players in the Manson murders — including Watson, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel — continue to serve life sentences, although parole has also been repeatedly denied to them.
Manson follower Susan Atkins, who stabbed actress Sharon Tate to death more than 40 years ago, was denied parole even when she was terminally ill. She died in September 2009.
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