Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Manson and the Manson Family

The Trial

The trial officially began in mid-June of 1970. Judge Charles Older presided. He decided that the jury, once selected, would be locked up until the end of the trial — "to protect them from harassment and to prevent their being exposed to trial publicity." Older was given a bodyguard and his home was provided with protection.

The twelve jurors selected were five women and seven men with a range of ages spanning from 25 to 73. While many occupations were represented, one was a retired deputy sheriff.

In his opening statement, Bugliosi characterized Manson as "vagrant wanderer, a frustrated singer-guitarist...who would refer to himself as Jesus Christ...and was a killer who cleverly masqueraded behind the common image of a hippie that of being peace loving...but was a megalomaniac who coupled his insatiable thirst for power with an intense obsession for violent death."

Bugliosi stressed that Manson commanded his followers to commit the murders, but that "the evidence will show that they were very willing participants in these mass murders..."

Manson, who first appeared to the jury with a bloody X that he had carved into his forehead, insisted on defending himself. He was assisted by an older lawyer named Irving Kanarek, who was legendary for his attention to detail (much to the frustration of witnesses, judges and juries) and Ronald Hughes, "the hippie lawyer" who was Leslie Van Houten's attorney.

Critical to Manson's defense was maintaining control of the Family. If his followers testified against him, he was doomed. He had to set up and maintain an effective communications network between himself and the other Family members, particularly those under indictment. He needed the Family members who were not in jail to communicate his wishes to those who were.

Just how sinister this communication would be was evidenced by what happened to Barbara Hoyt. Hoyt was one of the prosecution's witnesses, who was threatened that if she testified at the trial, she and her family would be killed. She was then lured to Honolulu by one of Manson's girls and given a lethal dose of LSD.  Fortunately, she got to the hospital in time for doctors to save her.

Manson was able to exert a lot of control over his girls in the courtroom. By then Susan Atkins had repudiated her testimony to the grand jury. They came up with bizarre stories that would implicate themselves but spare their beloved Charlie.

As the evidence was presented, things were looking bad for Charlie and the girls. A pattern was developing, according to Bugliosi: "The more damaging the testimony, the more chance that Manson would create a disturbance, thereby assuring that he — and not the evidence itself — would get the day's headlines. Often these disturbances would result in Judge Older removing them from the courtroom.

The drama hit a high point when Manson got into an argument with Judge Older and jumped towards the judge, yelling, "someone should cut your head off!" Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten stood up and started chanting in Latin.

When Manson and his girls were removed from the court, a shaken Judge Older instructed the jury to disregard what they heard and saw, but the effect was indelible. The jury got a first hand chance to see the real Charles Manson.

After 22 weeks of trial, the Prosecution rested. It was time for the defense attorneys to do their part. Judge Older told the lawyers that were assisting Manson and defending the girls to call their first witness. The defense responded: "Thank you, Your Honor. The defendants rest."

The court was stunned. Then the three girls shouted that they wanted to testify. The judge and everyone else was bewildered. The girls had decided that they would testify that they planned and committed the murders themselves and that Charlie had nothing to do with it.

Ronald Hughes, Leslie Van Houten's "hippie lawyer" objected and stood up against Manson's transparent ploy: "I refuse to take part in any proceeding where I am forced to push a client out the window." A few days later, Ronald Hughes had disappeared. After the trial was over, his body was found wedged between two boulders in Ventura County. One of Manson's followers later admitted that the Manson Family had murdered him.

A new lawyer had to be found immediately to take over the defense. Maxwell Keith was appointed. When the court reconvened, Manson and the girls created a disturbance suggesting that Judge Older "did away with Ronald Hughes," which resulted in them being removed again from the courtroom.

For the most part, the lawyers for the defense put forth a disappointing presentation. Paul Fitzgerald, Patricia Krenwinkel's attorney, spent more time defending Manson than his client. Daye Shinn, Susan Atkins' lawyer made a brief defense for his client. Irving Kanarek went on for days in his rambling style. Finally, Judge Older accused him of filibustering. Manson, apparently also tired of Kanarek's exhausting argument, shouted at him: "Why don't you sit down? You're just making things worse."

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