Course Unpredictable As Tate Trial Resumes Monday
Sunday, November 29th, 1970
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 29 – The three long-haired girls are pale and thin after a year in prison. Their gaze is blank except when it falls on the short, dark-eyed man at the counsel table with them.
Charles Manson flashes a dimpled smile their way, and his three women codefendants whisper to him and grin.
He calls them “my children” and during the 23-week Sharon Tate murder trial he has shown that he is their leader.
Manson, 36, came to the trial reputed to be a powerfully persuasive personality with special sway over women. He has lived up to his billing.
He has, through control of the three women, altered the course of the defense case.
The three young women have hired and fired lawyers at his suggestion, mimicked his physical gestures in court, acted unruly when he did, and sometimes silently moved their mouths in exact repetition of his words as he spoke.
Most important, they have followed his legal advice over that of their lawyers — a move which almost put them on the witness stand a week ago.
As court resumes Monday after a one-week recess, more last-minute maneuvers by the unpredictable Manson are possible, and the girls seem sure to follow.
It was just one year ago that he shuffled from anonymity into the spotlight surrounding the Tate murders. The buckskin-clad leader of a hippie-style family, was described by followers as “Jesus,” “Satan,” and “God.” They said he had hypnotic powers, that women worshiped him and men obeyed.
“We belong to him, not to ourselves,” one woman defendant was quoted as telling her attorney. “He is a very beautiful man. If Charles said it was right, it was right.”
From the start, it was clear that Manson wanted control of the defense. Refused permission to be his own attorney, the fifth grade dropout began hiring and firing a series of lawyers who told tales of being dropped because they wouldn’t obey Manson. When he finally chose a lawyer, Manson didn’t stop stealing the show.
His most dramatic move, preceded by backstage dealing with the women, came when the defense turn to present its case arrived.
The three brunettes — Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, 22, and Leslie Van Houten, 21 — dressed up in fashionable pants suits for their big day — opening of the defense.
But there was to be no defense. The night before, as attorneys entered a last-minute strategy session with the four defendants in jail, one worried: “Charlie is furious that they won’t let him be his own attorney. He may not want us to put on a defense.”
The attorneys said they would refuse to be steered by Manson, but the meeting lasted late into the night and the next morning came the shocker of the trial. The defense rested without calling a single witness.
It was their only choice, said the lawyers, for the three women had told them they planned to take the witness stand and confess. The move, they said, was their way of trying to save Manson. They would say he had no part in the crimes.
If Manson ordered the strategy switch, it was obvious he could not have controlled the strange legal twists which followed.
Miss Atkins was sworn, but her attorney refused to question her; other attorneys declared they too would refuse to help the girls “commit suicide.” The judge suggested they make speeches on the stand outside the jury’s presence to keep inadmissible statements from reaching the panel. The girls balked, and were at an impasse with the judge when Manson suddenly volunteered to testify. Leaving the stand, he told them, “Don’t testify,” and they didn’t.
Once more, he had drastically altered the trial’s course
Why did Manson change his mind about the defense case?
“If the girls…said anything good about me,” he said from the witness stand, “you would have to reverse it and say that it was bad. You would have to say, ‘Well, he put the girls up to saying that.”‘
But Manson’s emotional monologue wasn’t heard by the jury, and he petulantly refused to repeat it for them.
Why not talk to the jury which holds his fate?
Manson’s motives are unclear, but he hinted at possible reasons in his testimony.
“I didn’t recognize the courtroom,” he said at one point, “I recognize the press and I recognize the people.”
“I don’t care what you do with me,” he said at another point.
“…In my mind I live forever.”
By LINDA DEUTSCH