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Charles Manson Trial: 1970-71 - Atkins Reverses Course

kanarek family prosecution kasabian

Prosecutors lost Atkins' cooperation in March 1970, three months before the case came to trial. After a short meeting with Manson in jail, she retracted her confession and declared that she had invented the story implicating him, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten before the grand jury.

Although the four "Family" members were to be tried together, the prosecution was required to abide by the rules of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1965 Aranda decision. Statements made by one defendant, such as the stories Atkins told her cellmates about the "Family's" bloody deeds, could not be introduced as evidence against her co-defendants. The prosecution's task was further complicated by the fact that Manson had not been present at the Tate house the night of the slayings. Deputy District Attorneys Aaron Stovitz and Vincent Bugliosi had to try to convict Manson on the seven murder counts based on the theory that the cult leader had ordered the killings.

Manson's request to be allowed to represent himself was denied. At first angered by this refusal, Manson then accepted Irving Kanarek as his attorney. Kanarek had a reputation in legal circles as an "obstructionist," accused of lengthening trials with pointless or improper courtroom tactics. The prosecution formally protested Kanarek's involvement with prophetic warnings that the complicated trial might last much longer than necessary if he were allowed to participate. Kanarek nevertheless became Manson's attorney. By the end of the trial, even Manson grew annoyed with Kanarek's behavior, which earned the verbose attorney numerous contempt citations.

Worldwide publicity about the case made finding an unbiased jury unusually difficult. When Judge Charles H. Older read a press account of a conference in his chambers, the infuriated judge moved to limit public speculation, about the case. He imposed a "gag order" barring the lawyers and witnesses from speaking to the press about matters not entered as evidence. Stenographers and other court officials were forbidden from giving or selling transcripts of the case to the press.

When testimony began July 24, 1970, Manson arrived in court with an "X" scratched on his forehead. He considered the trial a "game" in which he was being judged by a society unworthy and incapable of understanding him. In protest, he had symbolically "X'd" himself from the world. Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten followed Manson's example by burning an X into each of their foreheads.

The most damning prosecution witness was Linda Kasabian, a former "Family" member who was granted immunity in return for her testimony. Over protests by the defense, who held that Kasabian's use of LSD and other drugs had made her incapable of distinguishing fact from fantasy, she described sex orgies, drug use, and Manson's domination of all facets of "Family" life. Like other "Manson girls," Kasabian had once believed that Manson was Jesus Christ.

Charles Manson Trial: 1970-71 - A "helter Skelter" Scheme [next]

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