Accused Slayer Chooses Inexperienced Attorney
Monday, March 23rd, 1970
LOS ANGELES, Mar. 23 – As the Sharon Tate murder case moved slowly toward trial last week, the prosecution gained a new star witness and Charles Manson gained a new lawyer — who has never tried a case.
Manson, the leader of a nomadic band of young people accused of killing Miss Tate and six others, fired his court-appointed attorney and hired Ronald Hughes, a bearded man of 35 who passed the bar only last June.
The district attorney’s office, meanwhile, was moving to counteract Manson’s maneuvers to unhinge the case they have been constructing against him and four of his “family” members.
A fifth follower accused in the killings, Charles Watson, is still fighting extradition from Texas and probably will be tried separately. Manson and the four followers—Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel—are scheduled for trial on April 20.
As pieced together from several sources who wish to remain anonymous, here are the recent developments in the celebrated murder case.
The family members were indicted by a grand jury last fall mainly on testimony given by Miss Atkins, who also published a first-person article describing the grisly murders.
Shortly thereafter, Manson began exerting what is apparently a tremendous hold over his followers. His strategy was to gather all the family members under a common defense so none of them would testify against each other.
First, Miss Van Houten dismissed her court-appointed lawyer and selected Ira Reiner, a friend of Manson’s. Then Miss Krenwinkel suddenly stopped fighting extradition from Alabama and agreed to return to Los Angeles to face trial.
“It was incredible,” said a person close to the case. “Manson got Krenwinkel back with one phone call.”
Last month, Miss Atkins met with Manson. Within days she fired her attorney, Richard Caballero, and announced that she would repudiate her grand-jury testimony and refuse to take the stand at the trial.
Manson acted as his own attorney for several months until the court declared him incompetent to do so and appointed Charles Hollopeter to represent him. But Manson fired Hollopeter last week when the lawyer suggested that his client take a psychiatric examination; at that point Manson appointed Hughes, an old friend.
The district attorney’s office was reportedly very concerned about these developments. They have some physical evidence, such as fingerprints and a gun believed to be the murder weapon. But they would have a much better case, particularly against Manson, if they had first-hand testimony.
According to Miss Atkins’ public statements, Manson instructed his followers to kill the occupants of the house rented by Miss Tate, but never appeared on the scene.
The prosecutors then focused on Mrs. Kasabian. A shy, soft-spoken girl who recently gave birth to her second child, Mrs. Kasabian had been with the “family” only a few weeks before the Tate murders and was not very close to them.
Moreover, Miss Atkins’ story never placed her inside the Tate house or the house of Mr. and Mrs. Leno Labianca, the wealthy grocery store owners who were slain the night after the murders at the Tate house.
Last December, the prosecution wanted to try Mrs. Kasabian. But when Manson persuaded Miss Atkins not to speak, the district attorney agreed to drop charges against Mrs. Kasabian if she would take the stand.
Manson has not given up trying to dissuade Mrs. Kasabian from testifying. Family members not charged in the murders have frequently visited Mrs. Kasabian’s lawyers, and Manson has asked to see her, but the lawyers have refused to discuss the case.
Meanwhile, Charlie Manson and his family have become culture heroes, at least to many young people who feel they have been treated unfairly by the police. The Los Angeles Free Press, a widely read underground newspaper, for example, has featured Manson on the front page almost every week for months. Most of the articles have been highly sympathetic.
Manson has brought out a record album containing 13 songs written and sung by himself. Some of his followers provide background accompaniment. The record was published under a new label, The Family Jams. Manson has said that the songs contain much of the philosophy he has preached to his followers.
Most of the family members who are not in jail — a dozen or so young people — have gotten back together and now live on the Spahn Ranch, a dilapidated movie set in which they lived for more than a year before the Tate murders.
By STEVEN V. ROBERTS