Watson Trial To Open Today

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 16 — Opening statements and testimony are set to begin today in the trial of Charles “Tex” Watson, with attorneys aiming to depict Watson as a youth driven to insanity by drugs and the mesmerizing dominance of Charles Manson.

Watson, 25, is the last of five defendants to stand trial for the seven Sharon Tate murders. He has pleaded innocent and innocent by reason of insanity, and, because of legal technicalities, faces the possibility of three separate trials.

The first trial, underway now, is to decide guilt or innocence. If found guilty, Watson would then have a sanity trial. If found sane, a penalty trial would be required to decide his sentence.

A source close to the defense says testimony from numerous psychiatrists will be introduced during the guilt phase in an effort to prove “diminished capacity” at the time of the slayings.
Many will testify about the effects of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, amphetamines and the plant belladonna.

The source said Watson was known to have use the latter, which grew wild near the Spahn Ranch headquarters of Manson’s hippie style tribe. Belladonna, a hallucinogen, if take in sufficient quantity, can be fatally poisonous.

Watson’s alleged slavish obedience to Manson will be another point stressed in testimony, the source said. The tall Texan was one of the few male members of Manson’s female “family.”

Manson and three women codefendants were convicted of murder and sentenced to death last April for the August 1969 killings of Miss Tate and four visitors to her mansion and the similar slayings a night later of a wealthy market owner and his wife.

Testimony at their 9 1/2 month trial tagged Watson as Manson’s chief lieutenant who led the killing missions and stabbed or shot several victims himself. The women defendants who confessed their roles in the killings during the trial’s penalty phase, said Watson was “high” on hallucinogenic drugs during both nights of murder.

Watson wasn’t tried with the others because he was fighting extradition from McKinney, Tex. After his return to Los Angeles last fall he was declared an insane “vegetable” who went into catatonic trances and wouldn’t eat. He was taken to a mental institution where he remained for several months before being declared fit to stand trial.

Since his return, the source said Watson has been cooperative with his attorneys and no longer expresses devotion to Manson or the “family. ”

In fact, the source says, Watson no longer wants to be addressed by the nickname “Tex” which Manson followers gave him. He prefers Charles.

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