Welcome to the web site supporting Susan
Atkins-Whitehouse. This website has been recently updated, as of the Spring of 2010.
almost anything else you will read either on or off the internet, this
site has been constructed by people who actually know the case. Though
we admit we are a biased party (just like the district attorneys and victims' advocates), we
have tried as much as possible to document absolutely everything we
assert with citations to either State documentation or statements by
the District Attorneys who prosecuted this case.
Though convicted for the Tate-Labianca murders in
1969, even the prosecuting attorney for the case claimed Susan did not have
independent counsel, was deliberately prevented from putting on any defense,
and was forced to lie on the witness stand.
vilified as the person who killed Sharon Tate, in 1976 the California
Court of Appeals held that Susan's Grand Jury testimony - specifically
the part concerning her assertion she did not stab Sharon Tate
- was not perjured. Despite the fact this holding was a third of a
century ago, district attorneys and victims advocates continue to
propagate this myth.
Susan was two weeks short of entering her 41st year of
incarceration when she passed away. That was more time than any woman in California history, and we believe longer than any woman in U.S. history. She spent
37 years of that time working at the California Institution for Women.
Though her case attained almost urban-myth proportions, Susan's
incarceration was in stark contrast to the sensationalism of the crime,
being characterized by an unwavering decades-long commitment to the
community punctuated by contributions to earthquake victims, aids
sufferers, 9/11 victims, homeless children, victims of violent crime,
at-risk youth, and National Security. This web site has been
constructed with the hope of allowing the public to see who Susan
really was, the extent to which she contributed to our community, and
the extent to which the District Attorneys and Victims Advocates have
misstated the facts and at times blatantly lied to the public in order
to promote their own careers and agendas.
On March 18th, 2008,
Susan was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of brain cancer.
She was treated by an army of incredibly skilled neurologists,
doctors, nurses, aides, therapists and social workers who fought
extremely hard for her life. They cared for her with kindness,
compassion, professionalism, and unbelievable dedication. Despite the
fact that Susan was not expected to survive the initial weeks of her
illness, these professionals' skill and determination kept her
alive. On May 15th,
2008, it was announced Susan was expected to have less then six months
to live. But as the result of her extremely good health and even more importantly
the weight of prayers from friends, family and complete strangers who
have been touched at one time or another by Susan's work or her
testimony, Susan was able to celebrate
Thanksgiving with her family. Then her 21st
Anniversary two weeks later, then Christmas, New Years, Valentine's
Date, Easter, and even the Fourth of July. Susan was only two and a
half months away from her 22nd Anniversary when she passed away.
Susan spent her last year of incarceration in the Skilled Nursing Facility
within the California Department of Corrections where she was happy,
comfortable, content, and prayed up, and where she continued to receive
incredible care at the hands of dedicated and compassionate nurses and aides. Her affliction caused her no pain.
was able to attend her 18th hearing before the California Parole Board
on September 2nd, 2009. Though doctors had predicted her illness would
prevent her from ever speaking again, she was able to recite Psalm 23
as her statement to the Board. A week later, after a day of visiting in which she never opened her eyes or
moved, I said good bye to her and promised I would return to visit with
her the next day. I prayed with her before I left, as I had every day
since she was hospitalized, and I ended it the way I always did. "In
Jesus' Name, Aaaaaa..." and suddenly Susan opened her mouth and
whispered "men!" And that was the last word she ever spoke.
Two week later Susan passed away after
spending the day with me. She was surrounded by friends and
people who loved her that evening. She looked very peaceful and
content, and there was a hint of a smile on her face.
My Mission Statement
I met Susan in 1985 after discovering
a copy of her book, "Child of Satan, Child of God." I was dealing
with problems in my own life, and this story about a girl who ended up on
death row only to turn her entire life around was extremely inspiring. I
determined that if this girl could change her life from the confines of a
prison cell on death row, certainly I, blessed with all the advantages of
living in the free world, could do the same.
I was also impressed by just how easy it is to make one or two bad
decisions and to find yourself inextricably stuck in a terrible
situation. Susan's stark story reinforced my commitment to change my
I wrote to Susan and we exchanged letters for a year or more, with her
giving me encouragement as I quit drinking and slowly reestablished
relationships with my family and even started back to school.
Eventually I learned more about her daily life and how she spent
her time and I was amazed at the extent of the work she (and other
life-inmates) did for the community. From walk-a-thons to raise money
for the Sheriff's Department, to raising money for earthquake victims,
9-11 victims, and hurricane victims, I was astonished how many programs
Susan and these women contributed to. I asked Susan why none of this
was ever mentioned in the media and she shrugged and said the media
This bothered me because I was raised with the notion that if someone did
something wrong they should be held accountable, regardless of who they are.
And if someone did something commendable they should be acknowledged, once
again regardless of who they are. This was all the more so of a woman who was
imprisoned and told she had to "pay back to the community." It
seemed not just hypocritical but illegal to demand she "pay back"
and then to refuse to acknowledge all the work she'd done.
Over the years I came to slowly understand that Susan was fully aware that
she would not be acknowledged for the work she did for the community. She
accepted that but, to my amazement, she continued to contribute
whole-heartedly - sometimes giving when she had next to nothing for herself,
and sometimes giving to people who actively advocated against her. I slowly
came to understand that she was strong enough to set her own needs aside and
keep focused on helping others regardless of whether she was ever given credit for
I honestly do not know if I could have done that. Not for five years, or ten
years, and not for the almost four decades Susan did it. It was because of
this commitment to others that I came to believe in Susan.
To the extent to which her trial was a circus, and to the extent to which her
case has been used and exaggerated to serve some people's financial and
political interests, and to the extent to which she has been denied parole
regardless of her flawless behavior, this offends everything I was taught to
believe regarding our Justice System and what the United States was created
to stand for.
1994 I applied to Harvard Law School, and graduated with honors three
years later. Since then I have been Susan's primary legal
James W. Whitehouse