Manson Makes Wisecracks in Court
Thursday, December 18th, 1969
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 18 – Charles Manson, accused mastermind of the Sharon Tate murders, smirked and wisecracked Wednesday during an unexpected court appearance in which he unsuccessfully argued he should be permitted to act as his own attorney.
Superior Court Judge William B. Keene temporarily denied the request and ordered the public defender’s office to continue as Manson’s counsel pending Dec. 22 hearing.
Keene said he would question Manson at that time to determine if he is qualified to conduct his own defense.
“I’m competent to stand here and talk to you,” Manson, 35, argued.
“That’s not the same as being qualified to represent yourself,” the judge replied.
An attorney, Lawrence Steinberg, told Keene Manson had indicated to him that if his request to represent himself was denied, he would retain Steinberg and Luke McKissack as his attorneys.
However, Manson told the judge he would prefer to defend himself with McKissack and Steinberg acting as advisers.
“If I can’t speak in my own defense, then it ties my hands behind my back and there’s no use in having a defense,” Manson said, tugging at his mustache and running his hand through his lank, nearly shoulder length brown hair.
“I have the awareness to understand the charges brought forth against me and I have an understanding of the law,” Manson said. “In reading the Constitution the last time I was here, it said I had a voice. I wish to retain that right.”
Manson had not been scheduled to appear in court again until Dec. 22, but Keene said he gave permission for the brief hearing Wednesday on the understanding that Manson would ask that Steinberg and McKissack replace the public defender’s office as his counsel.
McKissack said Manson’s sudden announcement that he would insist on representing himself came as a surprise to the attorneys, who had conferred with him on Tuesday. He asked Keene to appoint him and Steinberg as lawyers of record pending the Dec. 22 hearing, and asked if Manson would agree to that request.
“Well, I think the judge has said what he said, and the judge is the man here,” Manson said. When newsmen in the courtroom laughed, Manson joined in the laughter, grinning at spectators.
McKissack told newsmen after the hearing that the public defender’s office was unable to properly represent Manson because of a conflict of interest with another case. The public defender is representing Robert Beausoliel, a defendant in the Gary Hinman murder, in which Manson has been implicated.
That as soon as he was officially named to defend Manson, private investigator Michael McCowan, who handled the defense investigation for Sirhan B. Sirhan, would begin assembling information in Manson’s defense.
McKissack, is representing Sirhan in his appeal of his first degree Murder conviction for the Robert F. Kennedy assassination.