Manson, Planning Defense, Said Readying Surprise
Wednesday, January 28th, 1970
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 28 – In the law library of the Los Angeles County Central Jail, a short, slight man pores over legal tomes and makes notes. It takes a lot of time. He has only a fifth-grade education and has trouble reading and writing.
He is Charles M. Manson, chief of the nomadic hippie clan that is linked to seven bizarre killings.
Against the advice of judges and criminal lawyers he is building his own defense against conspiracy charges in the killings of actress Sharon Tate and four other persons and murder charges in a later double slaying.
Every day he goes to the law library near his cell. Sometimes he interviews potential witnesses or talks to advisers.
How can a man whose experience in legal matters is limited to proceedings that placed him in prison for 20 of his 35 years hope to prevail against seasoned prosecutors?
Precise information about Manson’s self defense strategy is hard to come by. Police officers, public officials and attorneys are restricted by court order from commenting on the case.
But from others who have talked to him, a picture emerges.
“Charlie realizes the legal complexities facing him,” says one of Manson’s visitors who asks anonymity. “He’s picking up more ability each day. He’s going to have quite a surprise ready in the next 10 to 15 days.”
This same visitor says Manson will never accept formal counsel. He quotes Manson: “Every time I had an attorney I ended up pleading guilty — ended up in the penitentiary. This time my life is at stake.”
“He’ll do it himself, though. Charlie feels that if he had an attorney, the attorney would he too busy holding press conferences to work on the case.”
Another Manson friend, attorney George E. Shibley of Long Beach, says Manson is quite intelligent.
“I think he could make some genuine contribution to his own defense if his participation was limited,” Shibley said.
“His whole manner, his whole appearance…he has a quality of reasonableness, calmness, friendliness about him. I think if his role was limited to cross-examining one or two witnesses, the jury would be able to see if he is the monster as depicted or a real live human being.”
But another attorney who sees Manson almost daily, Daye Shinn, thinks otherwise.
“If he does go on his own, there will he five or six other defense attorneys,” Shinn said. He referred to attorneys for five of Manson’s followers who also face trial in the killings.
“They’ll do the bulk of the work,” Shinn said.
Another asset, Shinn added, is Manson’s close knowledge of his co-defendants, which he will rely on in questioning witnesses.
“You can imagine him cross-examining Susan Atkins.”
Miss Atkins, a co-defendant, has been described as a member of the Manson clan who was at the scenes of the killings and gave details to a grand jury.
Attorneys can recall but one similar case of this magnitude in California.
Caryl Chessman defended himself in a rape, kidnap, robbery trial in 1943, but was convicted. Although Chessman had attorney Al Matthews as an adviser, he did much of his cross-examining.
Chessman, some attorneys say, became an expert on law during 12 years of appeals before his execution. He wrote many of his own motions and briefs but after selling several books, used the money to hire attorneys to help in his fight.
When Manson insisted or conducting his own defense, Superior Court Judge William B. Keene told him: “As a judge, I’m imploring you not to take this step. I’m doing everything I can to dissuade you.”
Under California law, a defendant no longer can have a legal adviser as did Chessman. Defendants may have co-counsel but legal advisers are not recognized by the court.
Keene ruled that Manson waived his right to counsel, saying, “It’s a sad and tragic step, but I find you have full and complete conception of consequences of acting as your own attorney,”
Joseph A. Ball, an attorney, was appointed by the court to advise Manson on self-representation. Ball urged him to have co-counsel.
Manson’s opponents will be Deputy Dist. Attys. Aaron H. Stovitz and Vincent T. Bugliosi. Stovitz says, “We have 350 lawyers in the office. We can call on any of them.”
Manson has load a wealth of free advice from visiting lawyers, a friend says. But when he asked for a tape recorder because of limited reading and writing skills, a judge turned him down, saying it might set a precedent for other inmates working as their own lawyers.
“Charlie is a slow reader,” says an ex-convict friend. “His writing’s a mess.”
“But when he speaks, man, it’s different. He can really blow it out.”
Manson has said he has only one advantage — the truth.
“I read in the paper all the things I say. I haven’t said a thing. I’ve been in the desert.”
“I have the truth in my head. Like I’m not hiding anything…”
Superior Court Judge George M. Dell, who will preside at Manson’s hearing to enter a plea Wednesday, says Manson will get no favors or privileges.
But, Dell adds, Manson is “entitled to certain tools. When a person is allowed to go pro-per (defend himself), you will have to permit him things not normally allowed others with an attorney.”