Tate Case Stalled; Lawyer Still Lost
Thursday, December 3rd, 1970
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 3 – The Tate-LaBianca murder trial came to a virtual stand still today because of the continued and mysterious absence of defense lawyer Ronald Hughes.
Police and sheriff’s deputies searched for the 250-pound red-bearded novice attorney but failed to find a trace of him at his home here or in the area of a mountain cabin where he may have gone last week during a court recess.
This was the fourth day Hughes failed to appear in court and fears were expressed for his safety.
The chief prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi said, “I said a prayer for him last night. This isn’t funny any more.”
Hughes, 35, trying his first jury case as attorney for Leslie Van Houten, was the object of a helicopter search in rugged mountain country north of Los Angeles where he often camped out with only a sleeping bag.
A torrential rainstorm hit the area Sunday, but Hughes was not among the evacuees from the area. Superior Court Judge Charles H. Older ordered the Los Angeles sheriff’s department to make every effort to find the attorney, but he has not been located.
The deputy district attorney and the three other defense lawyers went ahead with consultations about the judge’s instructions to the jury, but the trial could not formally proceed without Hughes or someone else representing Miss Van Houten.
Chief defense lawyer Paul Fitzgerald indicated to newsmen that he felt Hughes’ continued absence could lead to a mistrial, although Miss Van Houten has protested she does not want to go through it all again.
Fitzgerald said he felt the only option might be to sever her case from the trial of Charles Manson, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel.
The alternatives were to appoint another attorney to represent her, or to designate one of the other three defense lawyers to take her case, but there were legal technicalities weighing against such action.
Bugliosi, who previously expressed suspicion about the absence of Hughes, said he had become concerned about what might have befallen the attorney.
“He has too much at stake to be deliberately absenting himself from the trial,” Bugliosi said. “It could mean jail and disbarment.”
The bizarre case took another strange twist yesterday when another of the “Manson family.” Bruce Davis, surrendered himself to deputies on a street corner outside the courthouse . He had been bought for another slaying in which Manson is accused that of musician Gary Hinman.
The jury in the trial, locked up nightly in the Ambassador Hotel, had not been in court for 10 days and does not know of Hughes’ disappearance.
Lawyer Accused In Traffic Case
Attorney Paul J. Fitzgerald, 33, the chief defense counsel in the Tate-LaBianca murder trial, was booked on suspicion of drunken driving early today.
Police said Fitzgerald was stopped for a vehicular violation and refused to take any sobriety tests when requested to do so by the officers. Police said he would be released on his own recognizance.
Under California law, Fitzgerald faces automatic suspension of his driving license for six months.