LOS ANGELES, Feb. 6 – Even in jail, Charles Manson still directs his loyal “family” while he plots a courtroom coup which could get him out from under charges that he directed the Sharon Tate mass murders.
Until now, Manson has maintained he alone will act in his defense.
But Thursday this appeared to have been a screen to disguise what he really wanted: an opportunity to rail at the establishment in pretrial maneuvering and, more important, to gather himself and his five co-defendants under a common legal shelter.
Manson and the others are charged with murder and conspiracy in the deaths of all or some of the seven victims of two mass slayings last Aug. 9-10 in different sections of Los Angeles.
Killed were: Miss Tate, the actress; Hollywood men’s hair stylist Jay Sebring; coffee heiress Abigail Folger; Voityck (Wojeceich) Frykowsky, a companion of Miss Folger, and Steven Parent, all slain Aug. 9 at the plush Bel-Air estate rented by Miss Tate and her husband, film director Roman Polankski, who was in Europe at the time. Parent, a friend of the estate’s teenaged caretaker, did not know the other victims. The following night, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were murdered in their home in a middle-class district 15 miles from the Tate estate.
In the case’s latest development, Denver attorney Francis Salazar disclosed he is the lawyer Manson has chosen to attempt to execute the legal coup. And Salazar told the Los Angeles Times News Service he is convinced Manson cannot be convicted of the slayings, “Nobody knows as much about the case as I,” he explained.
Salazar, widely known in the Midwest for criminal cases he has handled, said he was approached around the first of the year by a Los Angeles intermediary for Manson.
“I wanted to give the matter some thought before I talked with him,” Salazar said. “The big question was whether there would be a conflict if I were to represent more than one of the co-defendants. And if there would be, which ones I should represent.”
The question of conflict is the key to Manson’s strategy.
After considerable investigation, Salazar said he arrived at a conclusion that “may surprise many people”: that even if he represents all the defendants, there will be no conflict.
When it appears one defendant’s testimony or defense can damage another, conflict arises and courts will not allow the attorney or an associate to represent more than one client in a combined case — usually.
But there is an exception.
If a private lawyer is handling two or more defendants in a case, the judge is required to warn each accused of possible damage to his own defense from the testimony of a co-suspect.
If the co-defendants say they understand the possibility and still want the same lawyer, the judge has no choice but to permit this.
On the surface, it seems hard to believe that any defendant in the Tate case would want to risk joining his defense to any of the others.
This would appear especially true of Susan Atkins, whose testimony before the grand jury implicated Manson and the others in the seven slaying.
But the defendants in this case are unique. Manson’s strange hold over his nomadic tribe, in or out of jail, is the reason.
If he can arrange to have the same attorney — co-operating attorneys — represent all the defendants, there is reason to believe he can block each one from testifying against the others.
And if that happens, the case against all — particularly Manson — is badly weakened; the prosecution needs verbal testimony to support its physical evidence.
The prosecution can not use Miss Atkins’ detailed story of the murders which she gave the grand jury who indicted the suspects as evidence, damning though it was, unless she chooses to repeat it before a trial jury. And Manson appears certain she will elect not to.
The clan leader has told more than one person in recent weeks that Miss Atkins had “changed her story.” One account quoted him as saying:
“She sent word to me that if I’d get her a good attorney, she’d shut up.”
Which is where Salazar appears to fit in.
He said he probably will not represent Miss Atkins personally but that “she will be represented by a lawyer I am associated with,” which seems to indicate that Salazar will be in control of whether she will lake the stand.
Salazar said that he anticipates personally defending “one or more” of the accused, one of whom, he added, may be Manson himself.
Whether Manson’s strategy works or not, he is able to indulge in legal gymnastics because his arrest, rather than weakening his influence among his followers, appears in have strengthened it.
“The family is more cohesive than ever,” Salazar said.
From the shock of the arrests and the indictments, one might have assumed the Manson tribe would have been blown to the winds and that Miss Atkins’ grisly story would set back the hippie movement itself.
The latter may be true but not the former.
Manson’s followers not only are as faithful as ever, but appear to have grown in number, the tribe appears to have attracted new members through its notoriety.
The courtroom appearances of Manson attract between 20 and 30 loyalists — mostly young women — during every session.
The thrall in which Manson still holds family members defies the imagination.
To illustrate: The parents of Robert Beausoleil, 22, awaiting trial for the murder of fellow musician Gary Hinman here last July, visited Manson in jail Jan. 8.
Manson, Miss Atkins tied other family members also bare been implicated in the Hinman murder. In fact, evidence has been presented that the slaying was carried out at Manson’s direction, as Miss Atkins has said the Tate killings were.
Thus, it would appear, the elder Beausoleils would hold Manson accountable for the trouble their son is in.
Instead, Mrs. Beausoleil said she had found Manson “kind and sympathetic,” and added:
“Those pictures in the newspapers don’t show him the way he really is. It’s not fair what they’ve written about him.”
By JERRY COHEN