Bugliosi Defends Courtroom System
Wednesday, May 12th, 1971
VENTURA, Calif., May. 12 — “No type of court reform, in my opinion, could have prevented outbursts in the Charles Manson murder trial which a defense attorney and many spectators called a ‘circus,’” prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi told the Ventura County legal profession Tuesday night.
Speaking at a county bar association dinner meeting in Oxnard, the famous prosecutor became a defense advocate for the courtroom system which convicted Manson, 36, shaggyhaired chieftain of a wandering hippie tribe, and three of his women followers — Susan Atkins, 22, Leslie Van Houten, 21, and Patricia Krenwinkel, 23 — of 27 counts of murder-conspiracy in the August 1969 slayings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four visitors to the hilltop mansion leased by her film producer husband, and the killings a night later of wealthy market owner Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary.
Bugliosi, who paid a $50 contempt fine, said a murder trial is “no tea party,” but claimed Judge Charles Older conducted the guilt and penalty phases, spanning 9 1/2 months and costing an estimated $1 million, in “exemplary fashion.” The prosecutor blamed the bizarre atmosphere primarily on “weird, peculiar defendants” and said Older did all a judge could do to control their outbursts by banning them from the courtroom when they shouted and sang. Nor, said Bugliosi, can he envision any stronger judicial powers which would impress defendants already in jail and facing the possibility of a death penalty, which the jury finally decreed for all four.
Bugliosi urged the audience to view the length of the trial, longest in history, and cost “in perspective.” He pointed out that there were 27 criminal counts, four defendants and seven victims of “perhaps the most bizarre, nightmarish, macabre murders in history.” Trying a single defendant on a single first-degree murder charge often takes several months, he pointed out.
Answering questions from the audience of attorneys and judges, Bugliosi:
— Predicted the trial of Tex Watson, fifth defendant indicted in the Tate-LaBianca slayings will take “only two to three months.” Watson, extradited from Texas after the others’ trial already had begun, allegedly participated in the slayings which Manson was convicted of masterminding, but not actually performing.
— Estimated the appeal of Manson and the three girls will take three to four years. Bugliosi is “very, very confident” the convictions will be upheld, despite such problems as jurors’ seeing a prejudicial newspaper headline in which President Nixon said Manson was guilty. It was Manson who held up the newspaper in court, Bugliosi pointed out, and said the “doctrine of invited error” should protect the state from a reversal.
— Said the state still plans to try Manson in two other murders, although he already faces the death penalty, “as sort of an insurance policy.” If the Tate-LaBianca convictions were reversed in three to four years, after witnesses in the other slayings had forgotten or died, Manson might go free.
— Said he can envision no type of test of defense attorneys’ competency to assure fair trials. Any tests could result in a “closed shop” with only certain lawyers getting all the criminal-case business. Local attorneys appeared surprised that Manson defense lawyers had not sought massive investigative help, at taxpayers’ expense.
By HELEN REYNOLDS