Chowchilla - Central California Women's Facility (CCWF) inmate Susan Denise Atkins, 61, who had been serving a life term for seven counts of first-degree murder, died of natural causes at 11:46 p.m. on Thursday, September 24, 2009 at the prison's skilled nursing facility. She had been on hospice status.
Atkins participated in five murders on August 9, 1969 when she, Patricia Krenwinkel, Linda Kasabian and Charles Watson murdered Abigail Ann Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Earl Parent, Sharon Tate Polanski who was eight months pregnant, and Thomas Jay Sebring. Atkins was also convicted for the August 10, 1969 slayings of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca along with crime partners Charles Manson, Watson, Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. Atkins was also involved in the murder of Gary Hinman on July 25, 1969 along with crime partners Manson, Bruce Davis, Robert Beausoleil and Steven Grogan.
On April 19, 1971, Atkins was sentenced to death by a Los Angeles County jury and received onto California's death row on April 23, 1971 for seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. She was resentenced to life on December 18, 1972 when in that year, the California Supreme Court found that the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the state constitution.
California did not have the life without parole sentence at the time.
California inmates who receive a sentence of life with the possibility of parole are entitled to parole consideration hearings after serving the legally required minimum term. Atkins' minimum eligible parole date was October 6, 1976. Her initial parole consideration hearing was on September 14, 1976 at which time she was denied parole. Between 1976 and September 2, 2009, she had been denied parole a total of 13 times. On July 15, 2008, the Board of Parole Hearings denied a recommendation for recall of commitment (compassionate release) for Atkins.
Atkins had been incarcerated at California Institution for Women for 37 years. She was transferred to a community hospital on March 18, 2008 until her transfer to CCWF on September 24, 2008 for housing in that prison's skilled nursing facility.
At the time of her death, of all women currently incarcerated in California, Atkins had been in prison the longest.