Charles Manson Trial


Charles Mason

Charles Manson is an American cult leader whose followers carried out several notorious murders in the late 1960s and sparked inspiration for the book Helter Skelter.

Selection of Jury

There were seven men and five women sitting on the panel.

141 prospective jurors were questioned and 129 of those excused

Despite the pretrial publicity, the jury was 12 people from the community who made up their minds solely on the evidence.

Opening Statement: Prosecutor

The first five murders, later to be called the "Tate" murders, occurred in a house high above the city of Los Angeles. One victim (Steven Parent) was found in his car outside the house and he had been shot four times and stabbed once. Another two victims (Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski) were found on the back lawn of the Tate estate. Coroner's reports would later indicate that Abigail had been stabbed twenty-eight times and Voytek was shot twice, struck over the head thirteen times and stabbed Sebring) were found inside the house tied together by a rope around their necks, which was hung over a rafter in the ceiling. Sharon, who was eight months pregnant at the time, had died from multiple stab wounds to the chest and back, totaling sixteen. Jay, who was found with Sharon, had been stabbed seven times and shot once. He died of exsanguination, which is bleeding to death and neither of the victims had actually died from hanging. The next two victims, in what would become known as the "LaBianca" murders, were found in a home in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles. Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were found stabbed to death in their home. He had been stabbed multiple times and a knife and fork were found protruding from his body and she had been stabbed forty-one times. The departments working on the two investigations were the Los Angeles Sheriffs Office (LASO) (LaBianca) and the Los Angeles Police Department ( LAPD ) (Tate). This would later play a very important role in the investigation in the year and a half due to mass miscommunication between the two departments concerning the two crime scenes.

"A question you ladies and gentlemen will Probably ask yourselves at some point during this trial, and we expect the evidence to answer that question for you, is this:"

"What kind of a diabolical mind would contemplate or conceive of these seven murders? What kind of mind would want to have seven human beings brutally murdered?"

"We expect the evidence at this trial to answer that question and show that defendant Charles Manson owned that diabolical mind. Charles Manson, who the evidence will show at- times had the infinite humility, as it were, to refer to himself as Jesus Christ."

"Evidence at this trial will show defendant Manson to be a vagrant wanderer, a frustrated singer-guitarist, a Pseudo-philosopher, but, most of all, the evidence will conclusively prove that Charles Manson is a killer who cleverly masqueraded behind the common image of a hippie, that of being peace loving ..."

"The evidence will show Charles Manson to be a megalomaniac who coupled' his insatiable thirst for power with an intense obsession for violent death."

"The evidence would show that Manson was the unquestioned leader and overlord of a -nomadic band of vagabonds who called themselves the "Family." . . . . . We anticipate that Manson, in his defense, will claim that neither he nor anyone else was the leader of the Family and that he never ordered anyone in the Family to do anything, much less commit these murders for him."

"This evidence of Mr. Manson's total domination over the Family will be offered as circumstantial evidence that on the two nights in question it was he who ordered seven murders."

The principal witness for the prosecution would be Linda Kasabian. . . .

"The word 'pig' was found printed in blood on the out-side of the front door to the Tate residence."

"The evidence will show that one of Manson's principal motives for these seven savage murders was to ignite Helter Skelter; in other words, start the black-white revolution by making it look as though the black man had murdered these seven Caucasian victims.

"The evidence will show that they, along with Tex Watson, were the actual killers of the seven Tate-LaBianca victims."

"The evidence will show that Charles Manson started his Family in the Height-Ashbury district of San Francisco in March of 1967. The Family's demise, as it were, took place in October of 1969 at Barker Ranch, a desolate, secluded, rock-Wean hideout from civilization on the shadowy perimeters of Death 'Valley. Between these two dates, seven human beings and an eight-and-a-half-month baby boy fetus in the womb of Sharon Tate met their death at the hands of these members of the Family."

Opening Statement: Defense

Manson entered the room with a freshly bloody X carved into his forehead. He said during the opening statement, "I have X'd myself from your world."

Present Evidence: Prosecutor

Although all these mistakes were made, officials were still able to put together enough evidence for trial. During the trial obvious signs of Manson's control over the family members was exhibited. At one point, Manson turned around and refused to face the judge. His followers, as well as his co-defendants did the same. When he shaved his head or carved an X in his forehead, they did too. He would also make periodic outbursts from time to time in the courtroom which his followers would repeat in a chant-like manner. All of these theatrics worked to the detriment of the defendants. Manson and four of his followers were subsequently convicted on all counts. This is somewhat extraordinary, because Manson never actually was present at the Tate murder scene. "Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi was faced with a difficult endeavor as it was. He proved that Manson, although not a direct participant, had ordered the Tate-LaBianca killings" (Terry 606). He was present at the LaBianca scene, only long enough to tie up the victims. He then walked outside and told his followers to "kill them." All of the defendants were sentenced to death which was later commuted to life when California's laws were changed. Although he has come up for parole several times already there is little doubt as to whether he will remain in prison.

"The evidence will also show that they were very willing participants in these mass murders, that by their overkill tactics-for instance Rosemary LaBianca was stabbed forty-one times, Voytek Frykowski was stabbed fifty-one times, shot twice, and struck violently over the head thirteen times with the butt of a revolver-these defendants displayed that even apart from Charles Manson, murder ran through their own blood."

Linda Kasabian was the star witness for the prosecutors. Kasabian had only been a member of the Family for six weeks when Manson announced, on August 8, 1969, "Now is the time for Helter Skelter." Kasabian joined Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel in traveling to the Tate home, where she witnessed the shooting of Steven Parent and the vicious attacks on Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowsi. Kasabian did not directly participate in the murders, later telling Manson, "I'm not you, Charlie--I can't kill anybody." The next night Kasabian rode with Manson and other Family members to the LaBianca home, but did not enter the home or see either of the murders.

California authorities issued a warrant for Kasabian's arrest on December 1, 1969. Kasabian voluntarily surrendered to police in Concord, New Hampshire and was flown back to California. She wanted to tell her story.

Almost immediately, her attorney, Gary Fleishman, proposed to prosecutors a deal whereby Kasabian would testify against other Family members in return for complete immunity. Having previously made a deal with Susan Atkins, Prosecutor Vince Bugliosi initially rejected the proposal. When Atkins changed her mind and announced she would not testify at the trial, Bugliosi quickly negotiated a deal with Kasabian's attorney: the prosecution would petition for immunity after she testified. Kasabian turned out to be a great witness--brutally frank and very believable. She left the stand after eighteen days of testimony. In his closing argument, Bugliosi said Charles Manson "sent out from the fires of hell at Spahn Ranch three heartless, bloodthirsty robots and--unfortunately for him--one human being, the hippie girl Linda Kasabian."

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Present Evidence: Defense

Fingerprints would be a problem area for police throughout the investigations. The gun used in the murders was discovered by a boy in Los Angles about two weeks after the murders. "The boy was careful not to touch the revolver to protect fingerprints. The police smudged it up and filed it away, the chambers of the weapon containing seven spent shells and two live bullets" (Sanders 355). Although the fingerprints on the gun were obliterated by police officials, forensics professionals were able to match a print from the front door of the Tate residence and one lifted from the frame on the inside door of Sharon Tate's bedroom to two of the suspects. These prints would become an important key to the prosecution's case.

In addition to eradicating fingerprints, officers made several other procedural mistakes. For example, pieces of a gun grip that were first seen near the entryway ended up under a chair in the living room. According to the official LAPD report: "They were apparently kicked under the chair by one of the original officers on the scene…." (Bugliosi 16). On December 16 these pieces would be matched to the gun that had been in police custody since September 10, 1969 when the Los Angles boy had found it in his yard. Police probably would never have made the connection if the boy's father, having heard about the caliber of gun used in the murders, had not insisted that the police check it out. Since guns and other property are routinely disposed of after a period of time, prosecutors were rather lucky that the gun was still around.

Officers were also unable to locate any of the knives or bloody clothing from the murders. One of the Manson accomplices (Susan Atkins) divulged to a cell mate her involvement in the crimes, including a suggestion of the location where these items were thrown from the vehicle. A television news crew set out to find them. They used statements made by Atkins, such as "mountain on one side" and "ravine on the other" to guide their search. On December 15, much to the chagrin of the police, they found the clothing

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Instruction to Jury

"The palest ink is better than the best memory," (Bugliosi urging the jury to take detailed notes to aid them in their deliberations.)

Bugliosi closed by telling the jury that they felt confident that the jury would give both the defendants and the People of the State of California the-fair and impartial trial to which each was entitled. The defense reserving its opening statements until after the prosecution had completed its case.

Deliberation by Jury

As you know, the defendants Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel are charged with the five Tate murders occurring on August the ninth, 1969, and they are charged with the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, on August 10, 1969. They are also charged with the crime of conspiracy to commit murder.

The defendant Leslie Van Houten is not charged with the five Tate murders. She is charged with the murder of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, and with the crime of conspiracy to commit murder.


It took the Jurors 42 hours 40 minutes to agree that Charles Manson and his "family" were guilty. (Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkels and Leslie van Houten)
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Closing Statement: Prosecutor

As you know, the defendants Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel are charged with the five Tate murders occurring on August the ninth, 1969, and they are charged with the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, on August 10, 1969. They are also charged with the crime of conspiracy to commit murder.

The defendant Leslie Van Houten is not charged with the five Tate murders. She is charged with the murder of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, and with the crime of conspiracy to commit murder.

Linda Kasabian. As you know, of course, Linda Kasabian originally was a defendant with these defendants and was charged with these murders in the grand jury indictment. Now, you heard the term "star witness for the prosecution" on television and in movies. However, independent and in addition to Linda Kasabian's testimony, the prosecution offered a massive amount of evidence connecting each defendant with these murders, completely apart from Linda's testimony. But Linda obviously was the single most important witness whom the prosecution called to the witness stand. At the start of Linda's testimony, I asked her why she was going to tell everything she knew about these seven murders, and she replied, "I strongly believe in truth, and I feel that truth should be spoken."

Closing Statement: Defense

Yes, I do. There has been a lot of charges and a lot of things said about me and brought against me and brought against the co-defendants in this case, of which a lot could be cleared up and clarified to where everyone could understand exactly what the family was supposed to have been, what the philosophies in regards to the families were, and whether or not there was any conspiracy to commit murder, to commit crimes, and to explain to you how they think with your minds.