2 minute read

Charles Manson Trial: 1970-71

Case Draws Presidential Remark

Kanarek's interruptions of Kasabian's testimony were so incessant that Judge Older sentenced him to a night in jail for contempt. Kasabian was about to be cross-examined when the trial was shaken by comment from an unexpected source. President Richard M. Nixon told reporters in Denver, Colorado, Manson was "guilty, directly or indirectly of eight murders." Nixon's remarks were meant to criticize what he perceived as a tendency of the media to glorify criminals, and the White House quickly issued a statement denying any intent to prejudice the case. Nevertheless, Manson's defense, arguing that such a statement by the president made a fair trial impossible, motioned for a mistrial and demanded that the charges against him be dropped. Judge Older denied the motion.

The next day in court, Manson stood and displayed a newspaper with the headline, "Manson Guilty, Nixon Declares." Judge Older questioned the jurors about their reaction to the headline. Satisfied that they would remain impartial, he ordered the trial to resume and sentenced Atkins' attorney, Daye Shinn, to three nights in jail for leaving the newspaper within Manson's reach.

Former "Family" members and visitors to the Manson commune at the isolated Spahn Movie Ranch testified for the prosecution. Danny De Carlo, one of the motorcycle gang members who furnished police with tips, said that Manson had frequently spoken to him of starting a race war. Once again, Judge Older ordered Kanarek jailed for contempt because of his frequent interruptions.

Former "Family" member Barbara Hoyt testified that she had overheard Atkins describing the murders. Juan Flynn, a Spahn Ranch worker, told the court that Manson had tried to frighten him by holding a knife to his throat and saying, "You son of a bitch, don't you know I'm the one who's doing all of these killings?"

On October 5, Manson demanded to be allowed to cross-examine a detective who had just testified. When Judge Older refused, Manson began to argue. Manson leaped toward the judge with a pencil clutched in his hand, screaming, "In the name of Christian justice, someone should cut your head off!" Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten chanted as bailiffs struggled to subdue Manson. When the trial resumed, the prosecution called Atkins' former cellmates, who described her bloody account of the Tate murders. Under the Aranda rule, their testimony was limited to Atkins' participation in the killings.

After nearly four months of testimony by prosecution witnesses, the state rested. Attorney Paul Fitzgerald stunned the court by resting the collective defense without calling a single witness. The three "Manson girls" suddenly announced that they wanted to testify on their own behalf, apparently to free Manson by taking sole responsibility for the murders. Fearing their clients would incriminate themselves, the defense attorneys threatened to quit if the judge allowed the testimony. Judge Older accused the defense of trying to wreck the trial.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Charles Manson Trial: 1970-71 - Atkins Reverses Course, A "helter Skelter" Scheme, Case Draws Presidential Remark, Manson Speaks