June 24, 1970: the Trial of the Century

On this day in history, the trial against Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten for the Tate/LaBianca murders began.

Charles Manson conferring with attorney Irving Kanarek during the 1970 Tate/LaBianca murder trial

On July 24th, People v. Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten began in Los Angeles Superior Court. Manson began the first day of trial with an act of self-mutilation. According to Bugliosi, “When Manson walked into the courtroom the first morning, people gasped. The night before, he’d gotten ahold of some sharp object and carved a bloody X into his forehead. Outside the Hall of Justice, Family members passed out his statement: ‘I have X’d myself from your world… Your courtroom is man’s game. Love is my judge.’”

He got the idea from his cellmates — two black prisoners, one a Black Muslim. They “apparently suggested that (Manson) slash an X, and therefore, when the holocaust came and Muslims took over the world, the Muslims would spare the marked people.”

The following day, Pat, Leslie and Sadie also carved X’s into their foreheads, using a heated bobby pin.

Bugliosi understood that the burden of proof was on his evidence, including witnesses like Linda Kasabian. But he also knew that, “The prosecution does not have the burden of proving motive, I told the jury. We needn’t introduce one single, solitary speck of evidence as to motive. However, when we have evidence of motive we introduce it, because if one has a motive for committing a murder, this is circumstantial evidence that it was he who committed the murder. ‘In this trial, we will offer evidence of Charles Manson’s motives for ordering these seven murders.’”

“You’ve got to realize that Manson was the main focus of the trial,” Bugliosi explained. “The problem was that he did not physically participate in the murders. How did I connect him to the crime? I brought him in by way of circumstantial evidence. The first piece was his total, complete domination. The other one is that only he had a motive for these murders: Helter Skelter. I told the jury that when those words were found printed in blood at the LaBianca murder scene, it was tantamount to finding Manson’s fingerprints.”

Witnesses helped the jurors understand Manson’s frame of mind. “The Golden Penetrators had a particularly crucial role to play… Gregg Jakobson would do most of the heavy lifting when it came to explaining how Manson had come to be such a central part of the Los Angeles music scene. This was the first move in depreciating Manson’s cultural assets. Much of Bugliosi’s courtroom portrait of Manson would rely on a complicated math: the prosecutor needed to present the leader of this family as totally in control of his small kingdom, but off the rails with respect to understanding his place in the wider culture — mildly delusional but not totally insane. Bugliosi used Manson’s attempts to break into the music business to help establish that Manson was operating from organized, if deeply daft, motivations. Also important… was that the Family as a unit needed to be constructed as an anthropological curiosity — certainly worth paying attention to (and perhaps even worth ‘recording’) but not to be mistaken for peers or potential colleagues.”

The public clamored for details and media filled the courtroom throughout the entire length of the trial. Sharon Tate’s father attended and the families of Steven Parent and the LaBianca’s were also present. But the Manson Family — other than those subpoenaed as witnesses — were not permitted in the courtroom. In protest, Family women parked themselves on the sidewalk in front of L.A. Superior Court. There, barefoot, they sat and spread Charlie’s message of protest. Later, they staged a sidewalk crawl, on hands on knees, a sad and cringe-worthy attempt at revolutionary theater. Some passersby were entranced by the women’s dedication. But most were simply gawkers who couldn’t look away. For them, the young women of the Family became emblematic of all the lost souls of that era. It was easy to rebuff them on the street, laugh at their antics and then go home and count their own safe, sane daughters with a sigh of relief.

The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing — published June 2019 from Swann Publications (with quotes from Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry — published 1974 from W.W. Norton and Company, The Family by Ed Sanders — published 2002 Thunder’s Mouth Press, Vincent Bugliosi quoted in ‘Manson: An Oral History’ by Steve Olney — from Los Angeles Magazine July 2009, and Creepy Crawling: Charles Manson and the Many Lives of America’s Most Infamous Family by Jeffrey Melnick — published 2018 from Arcade Publishing)

Nancy Pitman, Sandra Good, Catherine Gillies and Kitty Lutesinger of the Manson Family, demonstrating outside of Los Angeles Superior Court during the 1970 Tate/LaBianca trials.

This article originally appeared here.

You can read more about the Manson Family with the following articles:

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series. https://www.mansonfamily.net/

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