Charles Manson, 3 female accomplices sentenced for grisly crime 40 years ago today

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California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Getty Images

In this handout photo from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Charles Manson, 74, poses for a photo on March 18, 2009 at Corcoran State Prison, California. Manson is serving a life sentence for conspiring to murder seven people during the 'Manson family' killings in 1969. The picture was taken as a regular update of the prison's files.

Forty years ago today, a jury in Los Angeles handed down death sentences to four of the most infamous killers in California history: Charles Manson and his three female accomplices. But the sentences the jury delivered were not the sentences they’ve served.

That’s because while Manson, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins were on trial, the California Supreme Court was reviewing a death penalty appeal by Robert Page Anderson. He’d been sentenced to die in San Quentin’s gas chamber for killing a clerk at a San Diego pawnshop.

By law, Anderson’s appeal went straight to the state’s highest court. Chief Justice Donald Wright, a Reagan appointee, believed the death penalty was “cruel and unusual” – and unconstitutional. That’s what he wrote in the majority opinion in 1972 that overturned Anderson’s sentence – and every other death sentence in California, including those for Manson and the women.

That’s why they come up for parole every few years. Atkins died of cancer not long ago; it’s virtually certain that Manson, Krenwinkel and Van Houten will never win parole.

But do you know who did in 1976? Robert Page Anderson – the pawnshop killer.

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