Vonda White, who has served 28 years on a murder conviction, was granted release by the state’s parole board in September but the California governor reversed the decision Thursday.
Schwarzenegger said White’s crime was “especially atrocious” because of the “dispassionate and calculated manner” in which she carried it out, adding that “her release from prison would pose an unreasonable public-safety risk.”
The former preschool teacher was one of LeBaron’s 13 wives and was seven months pregnant in 1975 when the cult leader ordered her to kill Dean G. Vest in National City, near San Diego. LeBaron, founder of the Church of the Lamb of God, believed Vest was going to defect and leak information about the sect to the FBI.
On June 16, 1975, White shot Vest twice in the back and once in the head with a gun supplied by LeBaron. White then called police and told investigators she had been upstairs in her home, reading stories to her children when she
heard three shots fired downstairs.
After a brief detention, White was released. She then fled the state, adopting aliases for herself and her five children.
She was captured in 1978 in Colorado.
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White was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to seven years to life, with the possibility of parole.
White, now 67, claimed she carried out Vest’s murder because she feared for her safety and that of children.
During White’s September hearing, the parole board noted she has been a model inmate who has participated in several educational and therapy opportunities.
“I’ve been involved in California law for over 38 years and I’ve not seen a more deserving person,” said Edward Williams, presiding commissioner of the parole board.
It was White’s 19th bid for parole.
The parole board concluded White’s actions were due to “significant stress” placed on her by LeBaron, but the governor said that did not mitigate the gravity of her crime. He also noted the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office opposed White’s release.
She will remain incarcerated indefinitely at the California Institution for Women in Corona, Calif.
LeBaron, who died in Utah State Prison on Aug. 16, 1981, started his sect after a falling-out with a brother over leadership of another church.
He ordered followers – including another plural wife – to carry out numerous hits, including the 1977 murder of 71-year-old Rulon C. Allred, leader of the Salt Lake City-based Apostolic United Brethren. LeBaron considered Allred a rival.
The FBI last summer placed Jacqueline Tarsa LeBaron, Ervil LeBaron’s daughter, on its list of most-wanted fugitives in
Houston. On June 27, 1988, LeBaron followers carried out four murders of sect members in Houston and Irving, Texas, the FBI says.