Charles Manson Revisited, Part One
by William John Tychonievich
On May 16, 2004, on a Sunday evening, the Columbia Broadcasting System premiered "Helter Skelter," its three-hour movie based on the book Vincent Bugliosi wrote with Curt Gentry about his prosecution of Charles Manson and three women for the Tate/LaBianca murders of 1969. Considering that the original adaptation of "Helter Skelter" by CBS in the late '70's still holds the ratings record for a two-part mini-series, the nine million viewers this version drew was a major disappointment for the network. Uniformly negative reviews by the critics before the movie aired certainly didn’t help. Nor did reports that CBS had twice edited the final product: once for sexual content, in deference to the puritanical hysteria raised by Janet Jackson’s flashing of her nipple at the Super Bowl, and a second time for graphic violence, in deference to the social unease engendered by photos of Americans torturing Iraqi detainees in the same dungeon where Saddam Hussein had once plied his trade.
Perhaps if CBS had made a point of not toning the movie down and instead had pimped it salaciously, the ratings would have been better. Concerns about the portrayal of sex and violence certainly swirled around the original "Helter Skelter," so much so that the CBS affiliate in the San Francisco Bay Area, Channel 5, refused to broadcast it. This effectively imposed a blackout over several million people, and I was one of them. Years later I did manage to see the first two hours of the mini-series presented as an afternoon movie, but since I had to work the next day, I missed part two, the trial.
I had, of course, already read the book "Helter Skelter," along with other books, articles, and letters about, and even by, Charles Manson. I already knew the story, I was already well acquainted with the subject, so even though I did want to see the trial half of the mini-series, just to see it, not seeing it was no big deal. I knew, after all, that the perspective being shown, the point of view being given, was that of the prosecutor, the district attorney, the legal gun in the pay and thrall of the State. I knew the Charles Manson being portrayed, in the book as well as in the mini-series, was the Charles Manson created by the DA to fit his own needs, the Charles Manson fashioned to take the fall, and not the Charles Manson who actually lives and breathes.
I think that this, ultimately, is what fatally flawed the latest "Helter Skelter" incarnation. Bugliosi’s legal-pad vision of Charles Manson may be the de facto official version, the one the media maintains and projects at all costs, but it just doesn’t fit the picture being given. What he is supposed to have done, and the way in which he is supposed to have done it, should be well out of the reach of the man Bugliosi portrays in his book and its various scenarios, for that man is so venal, vain, and violent, so bigoted and base, so egocentric, selfish, and sinister, so monstrous and manipulative, that it’s all but impossible to see why anyone would fall under the spell he supposedly cast, let alone a large group of people. Bugliosi’s Manson, especially in the more recent TV movie, seems to accomplish this with LSD and the repetition of inane hippie cliches. America bought this malarkey during the trial and was still swallowing it a few years later when Bugliosi’s book was made into the mini-series, but more than thirty years have now past and it no longer rings true.
To give it an even more bogus feel, this latest version came with a disclaimer stating that some of the characters and scenes were composites; meaning, sometimes several different characters were lumped together to form one character and, likewise, sometimes several different scenes were conflated together to form one scene. In other words, a certain amount of fictionalization was practiced. I imagine CBS would claim poetic license and say the producers (one of which was Vincent Bugliosi himself) were merely heightening and tightening the dramatic presentation, but I think their reasons were far more disingenuous than that. I think they were trying to hide the errors and weaknesses of Bugliosi’s prosecution of Manson and I think they were striving mightily to make it credible to their audience that the Manson they portrayed as a despicable, sociopathic creep was also the charismatic mesmerist and charming criminal mastermind their scenario demanded.
A quite egregious example of this cinematic manipulation of truth was the scene where the judge denied Manson the right to represent himself. In this scene, as I remember it from my one viewing of the movie, Manson sported a freshly carved X on his forehead, threatened to cut the judge’s head off, slashed his finger under his chin in the classic cut-throat gesture, threw a copy of the Constitution into the wastebasket, mimed being crucified, and rolled his eyes a lot. The judge followed this extraordinary display with his ruling that Manson was "incapable" of representing himself. Besides the official reasons having to do with Manson’s "outlandish" requests, "nonsensical" motions, and numerous violations of the court’s gag rule, the judge averred that there were also other reasons for his ruling, though he didn’t specify what they were. The audience was left to assume from this that Manson’s frenetic shenanigans were the other reasons. However, this scene was one of those composites warned about in the disclaimer. TV Manson’s tour de force performance here reflected behavior the real Manson displayed at various times during his trial, true, but none of it was displayed on March 6, 1970, the day Judge William Keene "vacated" Charles Manson’s Sixth Amendment right to defend himself in court. The actions alluded to in this scene all occurred after Manson was denied the right to defend himself. In fact, Manson did these things because he was denied the right to defend himself. For the movie to insinuate that Manson’s recalcitrant behavior was why he was denied the right to defend himself stands truth on its head. If chicanery like this is needed, after all this time, to bolster the ruling which "vacated" Charles Manson’s right to represent himself, our suspicions should be roused. Is it possible Keene’s ruling had some problems Bugliosi and the other producers of this movie were trying to hide or obscure?
Two months earlier, Charles Manson’s request to act as his own attorney had been granted, though not before Judge Keene went to great lengths to dissuade him from this course. But Manson was adamant. Keene arranged for Manson to confer with Joseph Ball, former president of the California State Bar and former council to the Warren Commission, about defending himself. If he hoped Manson would reconsider once shown the pitfalls of self-defense, he was sorely disappointed, for on Christmas Eve, 1969, Ball told Keene that he found Manson to be "able, intelligent . . . quiet-spoken and mild-mannered" and that he showed "remarkable understanding" and "a very fine brain" concerning "problems of law." Even with this glowing review, Keene spent another hour grilling Manson on courtroom procedure, all the while, according to Bugliosi’s book, "almost begging him to reconsider his decision." When Manson’s mind remained unchanged, Keene said, "I am imploring you not to take this step." Finally, opining that Manson was making "a sad and tragic mistake," Keene conceded and told him "you are your own lawyer."
The gist of Keene’s argument, made obvious by the "sad and tragic mistake" remark, was that Manson and his case would be harmed, perhaps irreparably, if he handled his own defense, that if he embarked on his courtroom excursion without an attorney he would be sailing into dangerous waters indeed. By doing everything he could to keep Manson from defending himself, the judge was just trying to help Manson and protect him from his own folly; he was just trying to save Manson from himself. If only Manson would take his advice. But Manson saw it differently. He saw the judge and the prosecutor and every lawyer he had ever met as being on the same side, along with the police and the media, and all aligned against him. As the distinguished legal mind, Joseph Ball, told Keene, Manson "feels that if he goes to trial and he is able to permit jurors and the Court to hear him and see him, they will realize he is not the kind of man who would perpetrate horrible crimes." Is it possible that Judge Keene felt the same way, surmised that if Charles Manson were allowed to plead his own case, he would win acquittal? Is this why he was so determined to prevent Manson from exercising his Sixth Amendment rights?
Keene couldn’t just squash Manson’s rights without good reason, of course, especially following Ball’s eloquent praise of Manson’s keen mind and innate grasp of legal issues. If ruling Manson "incompetent" had ever been an option, Ball’s testimony certainly took it off the table. So Keene reluctantly gave in and granted Manson his wish. After all, it was Christmas time. The court could afford to allow Manson to play lawyer for the months of January and February because time was on its side. The trial itself was still many months off in the future (and did not start, as a matter of fact, until the middle of June). The two month period during which Manson was permitted to exercise his Constitutional rights allowed the heat to die down, so to speak. Soon the faint echoes of Joseph Ball’s words disappeared down the memory hole. And once that three ring circus known as the media had finished demonizing Charles Manson as a hippie cult leader and circumstantiating him as an uneducated, all-but-illiterate boor, the stage was set for the Big Take Back.
Up until the time Manson’s access to the Constitution was abruptly severed in early March, he behaved himself. Bugliosi makes this clear in his book, though spinning it as part of the institutionalized personality Manson acquired from being a lifelong prison inmate. Keene would have mentioned any disruptive or malfeasant behavior in court when he was giving his short list of reasons for vacating Manson’s right to defend himself, if there had been any. All he could muster along these lines was to state that he had also discussed Manson’s "conduct" with two other judges before whom Manson had previously appeared, but he didn’t elaborate on this at all. He didn’t say what "conduct" was discussed, in what context it was discussed, what conclusions were reached, why he was talking to these other judges in the first place, or why he even mentioned this little powwow if he wasn’t going to say anything about it other than that it happened. We don’t know if the other two judges agreed with him; we can only assume they did. Someone with a suspicious mind might think the exigency Judge Keene felt in citing such an unspecified, chimerical conference to give his summary action the appearance of independent support stemmed from his uneasiness with the legal merit of vacating Charles Manson’s rights, that he was engaging in a kind of judicial sleight-of-hand to distract from the endogenous deficiencies of his ruling. Is it possible the "conduct" which concerned this trio of jurists was Manson conducting his own defense and winning an acquittal because, unlike a practicing attorney, he would be free of the procedural constraints and punctilious routine implanted in the American court system?
Once we strip away the obstructionist methodology and revisionist chronology, all that’s left are those three reasons Judge Keene gave for ruling Manson "incapable" of acting as his own lawyer:
- The "outlandish" requests Manson made in court which "appalled" Keene.
- The "nonsensical" motions Manson had already made which Keene noticed while going over the case file.
- Manson’s numerous violations of the gag order which Keene also noticed while going over the case file.
Is it just because we’re engaged in the act of hindsight, is it just because we’re three decades removed from the temper of those times, that these reasons given by Judge Keene seem picayune at worst and underwhelming at best?
Really? What’s the problem?
Say no to the outlandish requests, deny the nonsensical motions, and admit that just about all parties to this trial, from law enforcement to prosecutors and defense attorneys, racked up impressive gag order violations. The Tate/LaBianca Murder Case, from its very beginnings, leaked sensitive information profusely. The sensationalist press, the sewer into which most of these leaks poured, printed this stuff eagerly and prominently, often with wildly imaginative embellishments. In the absence of inside stories and lurid details, the media weren’t above making things up, either. But whether based on someone talking out of school or made up out of whole cloth, the villain of these articles was always the same: Charles Manson, the monster. If the gag order was decreed by the court to protect Manson from having his case prejudiced by pretrial publicity, it was a miserable failure. If it was decreed to gag Manson so he couldn’t interfere with the judicial system while it let his case be prejudiced by pretrial publicity, it was a resounding success. Whatever the intent, the violations of the gag rule Keene said Manson made while acting as his own attorney were of minor significance. The major violations came from elsewhere, from police and attorneys, and they continued to bedevil Keene’s successor, Judge Charles Older, during the trial, when Manson truly was gagged.
Bugliosi focused on strategy while the matter of Manson’s representation was being decided, seemingly without opinion or preference in the matter, other than how it would effect his court presentation and chances of winning convictions carrying the death penalty. When the judge forced Manson to accept an attorney, this was no problem for Bugliosi and he took it right in stride, adjusting his tactics to fit his assessment of the evolving circumstances. Lawyers were a big part of that assessment because, though Charles Manson and his three female co-defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit the same crimes and were being tried communally, the judicial system dictated that they each have their own lawyer and that each of these lawyers, created in the system’s image, represent the interest of his particular client and that interest only. Bugliosi appreciated the delicate dynamics of this situation and the tensions it could produce among lawyers trying to defend individually a client charged jointly. Using his knowledge of each lawyer’s character and observations of each one’s relationship with his client, Bugliosi and his case benefitted greatly during the trial from lawyers working at cross purposes and undercutting each other. If Manson had been allowed to represent himself, this would probably not have occurred. The three women, most likely, would have followed his lead and ignored their attorneys. Could it be that the possibility of such a united front was another factor weighed in the decision to rend Charles Manson from his Constitutional rights?
Bugliosi’s apparent nonchalance towards the issue of who would represent Manson survived somewhat smugly right up until early June, just two weeks before the start of the trial, when his knowledge of a certain lawyer’s character and tactical predilections caused him to radically change his stance. That certain lawyer was Irving Kanarek and when he was named as the substitution for Manson’s previous counsel, Bugliosi asked for a conference in chambers.
In chambers, Vincent Bugliosi told Judge Charles Older, who had replaced Judge Keene in mid April, that it was "common knowledge among the legal profession" that Irving Kanarek was a "professional obstructionist" who, in Bugliosi’s "frank opinion" could turn a complex trial estimated to last four months or more into one that "could last several years." Bugliosi contended that Kanarek’s legal antics promised to make the trial "a burlesque on justice" and as a possible way to avoid this agony he told Older that "the prosecution has no objection to permitting Mr. Manson to represent himself, as he has desired throughout, and let him have an attorney of his choice to assist him."
Bugliosi admitted in his book that he offered this suggestion in the hopes that Manson, if restored his right to defend himself, would dump Kanarek. "From the start," Bugliosi wrote, "Manson had maintained that only he could speak for himself. He’d strongly implied that, failing in this, he’d make trouble. And there was no question in my mind that this was his reason for choosing Kanarek." He added that Manson was "bright" and could cross-examine certain prosecution witnesses "with probably more effectiveness than many 'straight’ attorneys." To avoid trouble, then, Bugliosi, belatedly willing to second Joseph Ball’s vote of confidence in Manson’s legal instincts, supported Manson’s effort to reclaim his rights. There was, however, also another reason, and a rather important one at that: "I was concerned that the denial of Manson’s request to defend himself might be an issue on appeal."
Judge Older, though, was not concerned about this and told Manson, "It would be a miscarriage of justice to permit you to represent yourself in a case having the complications this case has." Again, we have the patronizing attitude of the wise judge protecting the ignorant defendant from self-inflicted harm. Older could not let Manson defend himself; he was too unsophisticated and would only screw things up. There are complications, Charlie boy; it would all be way over your head anyway; let a professional defend you. Yet in the hands of that professional, Charles Manson was found guilty and given the death penalty. Could he possibly have done any worse than that defending himself?
Forced to take a lawyer, Manson affirmed as his attorney Irving Kanarek, the well-known obstructionist. "I am forced into a situation," he told Judge Older. "My second alternative is to cause you as much trouble as possible." Bugliosi wrote in his book that Manson gave the court its "first sample" of the promised trouble a little more than a week later, which was right before the start of his trial, the middle of June. This means that Manson waited until the last possible moment, more than three months after he lost his right to defend himself, before he began doing the symbolically disruptive things the "Helter Skelter" movie had TV Manson performing as a manic ensemble act way back on March 6, just before TV judge vacated TV Manson’s Constitutional rights.
It should be noted, therefore, that for all intents and purposes, Charles Manson remained his own attorney. Though the court had figuratively handcuffed, blindfolded, gagged, and isolated him as part of its denial of self-representation, Manson’s "second alternative" of causing trouble was premeditated and calculated to allow him to make a legal case despite these handicaps, a legal case that was simple, consistent, and to the point. It went like this: Manson had an inalienable, Constitutional right to defend himself; the court blatantly violated that right; Manson warned he would make trouble because of this; he then made that trouble in a variety of ways, to protest against, and to draw attention to, the unfair trial he was receiving. Attorney Manson focused on the Constitutional rights being denied him because he knew this denial set the stage for his being railroaded. But if Charles Manson was going to be railroaded, he was going to be railroaded on his own terms. He was going to go down signifying his right to defend himself. He was going to drill his points home with guerrilla theater. He was going to improvise skits and politically pantomime the subtextual revolutionary currents which were being excluded from the discussion. He was going to counter the judicial system’s strategic scheme to banish him from the stage of his own trial. He was going to make the legal case that his disenfranchisement from the proceedings of his trial made that trial illegal, and its verdicts null and void, in the eyes of the Constitution of the United States of America, that powerful genetic document which is, in fact, the Law of the Land.
The legal case Manson made, everything considered, was right on target, or would have been if the American court system were honest and honorable enough to abide by its own rulings. But from the beginning it was obvious that the government viewed Charles Manson as a special case, a very special case indeed. To the government, this was more than a grisly mass murder trial, it was a confrontation with the anarchic revolutionary counterculture which at the time was flourishing fungously in the domestic darkness cast by the Vietnam War. This disjointed generational movement of anti-governmental attitudes and outlaw behavior was growing more and more brazen and confident in its harassment of the power structure. The trial of Charles Manson was called to order to nip this psychedelic lumpen uprising, at least symbolically, in the bud. There was no way that the government could permit a freaky performance artist like Charles Manson to exercise even partial control over the trial’s proceedings and thereby create a stage for his contumacious philosophies and fulminations. That was why the court system twisted and contorted itself and bent over backwards, anything, rather than allow Manson his right to represent himself.
Once it had successfully prosecuted Manson for "ordering" the Tate/LaBianca murders by casting him as a violently ruthless thug who exercised total psychic dominion over his hippie automaton followers, the government was not about to let his conviction be reversed just because its courts had torpedoed the Sixth Amendment in order to obtain it. Manson’s trial, which lasted ten months and cost a million dollars, was too viscerally symbolic, too culturally archetypal, for the government to even entertain the idea of overturning its verdicts for Constitutional reasons. That’s why the railroading of Charles Manson was a complete job, from top to bottom, with the Federal, State, County, and City levels of government all signed on to do whatever was necessary to make sure it stuck. That’s why the judges Keene and Older could so casually push aside basic Constitutional guarantees, confident that any judicial rulings, past, present, or to come, which might undermine the Manson verdicts, would never be applied to the Manson case. When the fix is on, that’s just how it’s done.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about the 1975 United States Supreme Court decision regarding the case of Faretta vs California which confirmed to state defendants the Constitutional right of self-representation. In this case, as in Manson’s, the defendant strongly pleaded for the right to defend himself, was just as strongly dissuaded from this course of action by the judge on grounds that it would be a mistake, was finally allowed to act as his own lawyer after having his intelligence and legal knowledge surveyed and tested, but then his right to represent himself was suddenly revoked just before his trial started and he was forbidden from taking any part in the proceedings. In a 6 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment applied the Sixth Amendment to the states and that the right to self-representation was a basic right implicit in the Sixth Amendment. The Court pointed out that Congress had realized this from the very beginning and had therefore made this right one of the first to be encoded at the Federal level, and that 36 of the states had likewise encoded this right. Since the defendant had made it quite clear that he wished to represent himself, the Court ruled, denying him that right was a reversible error. His conviction was overturned and a new trial was ordered.
Given this Supreme Court ruling, how is it possible that, for thirty long years now, the government has denied Charles Manson the new trial that is rightfully his? The State’s first dodge was to claim the Faretta decision came after Manson’s trial and therefore didn’t apply to him. But in 1978 a Federal Appeals Court ruled in Bittaker vs Enomoto that although his trial took place before state defendants’ right to self-representation was confirmed, "denial of the California defendant’s right of self-representation was a federal constitutional defect requiring setting aside of his conviction." In arguing this case, the State of California several times raised the horrific specter of Charles Manson as one of its prisoners who might benefit from making the Faretta decision apply retroactively to Bittaker. The Appeals Court felt constrained to discourage "this type of advocacy" in a footnote to its decision which went on to say that Federal Court decisions should be made in accord with the Constitution and the laws, "without regard to the notoriety of parties or nonparties." Yet despite its willingness to use the possible restoration of Manson’s rights as a scare tactic in this case (saying, in essence, if you give Bittaker a new trial you’ll have to give Manson one too), the government continues, 27 years later, to ignore the rulings of its courts and to block all attempts at gaining Manson the new trial, the fair trial, he deserves. His habeas corpus petitions have been denied, non-responsively and routinely, by the Los Angeles County Superior Court. His legal arguments have never been addressed. Because if they ever were the government would have to give him a new trial, one in which he would run the defense, and we can’t have that, now, can we? So let’s just ignore the whole thing. You know, what Constitution? What Supreme Court decision? What Appeals Court ruling? I don’t know what you’re talking about. This is the way Manson has been frozen out of the system, his fulminant artistry locked safely away from the volatile tinderbox of a public trial.
Yet the very fact that the government suppresses its own legal principles and procedures to avoid dealing with Charles Manson as a defense attorney forcefully indicates his competence in the law game. The judicial correctness of his stand demanding his Constitutional right to represent himself in court was confirmed and reconfirmed by the American legal system and, if not for the governmental conspiracy of ignorance regarding this matter, the rulings made by the judges Keene and Older would have been openly and soundly repudiated. Manson’s unwavering insistence that the Constitution conferred on him the right to self-representation, while he faced down a California Court System which denied that such a right existed, was nothing short of prophetic.
If we look back at the "outrageous" requests which "appalled" Judge Keene on March 6, 1970, it’s interesting to note that the two examples Bugliosi gave in his book (of what he called "a number of novel motions" argued by Manson that day) both dealt, rather existentially, with the legal parameters of being one’s own lawyer. Manson asked in one that the Deputy District Attorneys prosecuting him "be incarcerated for a period of time under the same circumstances" to which he had been subjected and in the other that he "be free to travel to any place" he "should deem fit" in preparing his defense. No wonder Judge Keene felt "appalled." Here, standing in front of him, was this Manson character, already pushing the envelope on a right the State of California denied even existed, already using this ephemeral right as leverage to gain more equitable footing with the prosecuting attorneys, already asking that the system adapt to him rather than vice versa. Keene was having none of this, of course, and unceremoniously defrocked Manson as his own lawyer.
But once it’s established that the right to self-representation is basic, inalienable, and Constitutionally mandated, even in the State of California, the requests made by Manson no longer seem all that "outrageous." They might even be better described as pioneering, since Manson was using the right to self-representation as a vehicle to redefine the accused’s relationship to the law professionals who do all the prosecuting, counseling, and judging. With this right protected and safe from being "vacated," the State of California would be forced, in such cases, to lower the ceiling of incestuous legalese in its courts and make the process accessible to the people. As the Federal Appeals Court stated in Bittaker vs Enomoto, "The purpose of the right is to protect the defendant’s personal autonomy, not to promote the convenience or efficiency of the trial."
Charles Manson understood all this intuitively. He also undoubtedly understood that the Constitutional redress he was pleading for would never be given him, no matter what the merit of his case. Since he was illicitly locked out of the legal process of his trial, Manson acted as his own lawyer by playing to the public rather than the jury. Several times during his trial he called the public to witness how his Constitutional rights were being violated. And several times he warned that if his Constitutional rights were denied today, everyone’s rights would be gone tomorrow. He had to play to the public because the jealous gods who rule the rarified realms of the American legal system enjoin juries from considering Constitutional issues in their deliberations. The people who form juries are enjoined like this despite the facts that the Constitution is the Law of the Land, that it begins with the conceit that it was drafted by "We the People," and that the convention of citizens who actually produced it had not one lawyer among them. But nowadays only lawyers and the courts they overpopulate are allowed to "interpret" the Constitution, as if it were written in some esoteric language and ciphered in some mysterious code only the sacred priesthood of attorneys can translate into plain English.
Reading the Sixth Amendment, it’s easy to see why the courts ruled that the right to self-representation is "implicit" in its language. All its rights are assigned to the "accused" directly, one after the other, and it isn’t until the very end that "Counsel" is mentioned. "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury . . . and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence." The Sixth Amendment places the trial firmly in the hands of the "accused." Not only is the reference to lawyers held till the end, the syntactic structure of the euphemistic phrase "the Assistance of Counsel," framed as something the accused has a right to have, suggests more of an advisory role than anything else. Clearly, the criminal trial envisioned more than two hundred years ago by the authors of the Bill of Rights saw the defendant representing himself before the court, empowered in that context with several rights, including the right "to have the Assistance of Counsel."
Now, however, the caboose pulls the train. The accused has the right to an attorney, but only one approved and certified by the State’s judicial apparatus. And it’s the attorney now who is informed of the nature of the accusation, who confronts the witnesses against, and who gathers the witnesses in favor by means of the court’s compulsory process. When the trial is under way, the attorney runs the show and the defendant finds he’s become little more than a chess piece in a game between two lawyers, a game which is refereed by another, hierarchically superior lawyer. Once this triangulation of justice is firmly established and the defendant is as dissociated as possible from the mechanism grinding out his fate, the juristic chatter which goes on over his head easily evolves into an esoteric exercise in forensic jargon and officious cant. Word games and debaters’ points become more important than proof of guilt or presumption of innocence. More often than not, the adjudicative dynamics of this imperious crap shoot come off as arbitrary and mysterious rather than consistent and intelligible.
Charles Manson knew the American court system quite well. He knew it because he had been its victim many times before. He understood it in a way only someone who has been arrested and tried several times can understand it. It was this understanding which made him a dangerous threat to the government’s case. The "complications" which Judge Older cited as the reason for refusing to reinstate Manson as his own attorney were "complications" for the prosecution, not the defense. The State had to sell twelve jurors an outlandishly twisted conspiracy story, told mainly by a couple of unreliable witnesses who were trading their testimony to escape serious criminal liability, that a man was guilty of mass murder despite not being at the scenes of the crimes. Manson knew, as the State knew, that this would be an almost impossible task if Manson were allowed to be up and about, if he were permitted to enter the fray freely and play goalie. But Manson also knew, as did the State, that if he were tied down and shut out of the way, the prosecution could take any number of uncontested shots at the net. No matter how wild and scattered those shots were, enough of them would find the net to make Manson the blowout loser of a game he wasn’t allowed to play.
Theoretically, of course, Manson’s lawyer would block those shots for him. But that’s only theoretically. In reality, Manson’s lawyer, whether he was Kanarek or someone else, as a member of the bar and officer of the court, had to play on a whole different field. As a professional authorized by and accountable to the State, regardless of how unorthodox or bombastic or "obstructionist" his demeanor or tactics, he was easily locked up in the semantic ozone of legalese, because it was, after all, his usual theater of operations. And while the majority of criminal cases are argued completely in that ozone, Manson’s was not one of those cases. That’s because, as I said before, the fix was on. Kanarek was able to obstruct and delay and waste time and annoy and irritate, but in the final analysis the prosecution had clear, unimpeded shots at the net of guilt because the defense did not have access to the field. The blowout, therefore, was guaranteed.
So, though Manson’s vision of how his defense should be structured was much more in keeping with the Sixth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution than the extant practices of California’s Courts, it didn’t matter. His defense was more or less structured for him by the State itself and all his efforts to participate were forcefully rebuffed, until he was literally removed from the courtroom and placed in a lockup where he listened to the proceedings of his own trial on a speaker, completely out of sight of the people judging him. When Judge Older informed the defense attorneys that the four defendants would not be allowed back in court until a verdict was reached, he said it was "perfectly obvious" that they were using the court "as a stage for some kind of performance." This, of course, was true, but Older’s bureaucratized mentality was too tendentious to fathom a primal truth: the courtroom was a theater and a trial was a stage upon which the accused and the witnesses performed. Otherwise, justice was stillborn.
Whatever Vincent Bugliosi thought about all this, one thing is certain: he knew about the Supreme and Appellate Court rulings concerning the Constitutional right of self-representation which overturned in substance, if not fact, the conviction of Charles Manson for the Tate/LaBianca murders. Bugliosi, after all, was not only the prosecuting attorney and author of a best-selling book about that trial, he was also still working as a prosecutor in California during the time these two very important decisions were handed down. He and several other prosecutors from his "team" continued crusading against Manson and his communal milieu for years, criminally indicting and prosecuting some while relentlessly dogging others. As a producer of this latest version of "Helter Skelter," Bugliosi had to be aware of the mendacious effects of conflating Manson’s trial disturbances into one scene and then cutting that scene into the movie so that the protest it represented occurred before the rulings being protested, thereby negating the protest and presenting the disturbances as disjointed, random acts of madness.
When we first encountered and began investigating this particular manipulation of truth by the "Helter Skelter" TV movie, I rhetorically asked if possibly Keene’s ruling had some problems Bugliosi and the other producers wanted to hide or obscure. I think it is now almost obscenely clear, based on the plethora of prima facie evidence, that this was indeed the case. The producers were hiding the very important fact that the trial at the center of their "true crime" melodrama was a blatantly unredressed mistrial. Since Charles Manson was oracularly singing just that tune throughout the trial, the producers had to act preemptively by rearranging actions and re-sequencing events in such a way that Manson’s prescient tactical improvisations were transformed into egotistical inanities. They had to pretend with all their might that the Faretta and Bittaker rulings never happened, so diverting attention completely away from the issue of self-representation became a crying necessity, lest too many of the curious start poking through the veil of pretense.
Pretense, after all, was and remains the primary modus operandi in this establishment conspiracy to exclude Charles Manson from the remedial ramifications demanded by the relevant court decisions in regard to the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the prosecution or trial of Manson for the Tate/LaBianca murders, says the Pretense, so lets not talk or write about it in any way, shape, or form, or even entertain the notion hypothetically or speculatively; and if we all assiduously maintain the Pretense, in time it will become the veritable truth. The only anomaly in this conspiratorial silence so far was the State of California brandishing the Manson card during the Bittaker appeal, and that was probably a miscalculation. The State must have felt the guarded threat of a Manson mistrial was sufficient to extort a ruling it considered proper from the Federal court. When that tack failed, the State most assuredly must have regretted insisting on record that the Bittaker and Manson cases both turned on the same point of Constitutional law. But that tactical faux pas was simply hidden behind the Pretense with all the rest and willed into oblivion.
The government and its agencies, at all levels, became total know-nothings in this regard. The media, in all its forms and manifestations, reported not one word of this matter. Even a non-governmental legal organization like the American Civil Liberties Union, one which prides itself on tweaking the establishment when need be and one which dedicates itself to championing causes of the poor and oppressed when their rights have been trampled and kicked aside by powerful government interests, refused to pierce the Veil of Pretense, refused to help shine a light on this arrogant and obvious violation of a poor man’s basic rights. Even the radical lawyers of the ACLU, it seems, were still so sutured to the system’s mechanistic mythology, still so abashed by its modern immorality play of power politics, that they found the unspoken demands of the Pretense irresistible. How quickly they devolved back to monkeys who saw no Manson, heard no Manson, and spoke no Manson should be frightening in its implications, especially since the case of a man being singled out and deemed too dangerous to be granted a fair trial, declared unworthy of rights recognized by the Constitution, is exactly the kind of case which defines the ACLU’s raison d’etre. The ACLU’s failure to challenge or expose this Constitutional coverup was and remains a major setback to the cause of civil rights.
The only person, in fact, who called attention to the specifics of this conspiratorial coverup through feigned official ignorance was Sandra Good, a central member of Charles Manson’s coterie. Interestingly enough, though she was one of the more prominent figures in the Manson saga and, according to the index, made an appearance on 40 pages of Bugliosi’s book, her character failed to make the cut for the TV movie. As far as this version of "Helter Skelter" was concerned, Sandra Good was conflated to nonexistence. This production choice gets even more interesting when you consider that right after Good’s dear friend and comrade, Lynette Fromme, performed her 1975 virtual assassination of the unelected President who pardoned mass murderer Richard Nixon, Bugliosi appeared on network news programs and delivered dire warnings about how the government ought to keep its eyes now focused on Ms. Good. Not long after that crime-stoppers’ heads-up, Sandra Good was arrested by Federal authorities, tried, and sentenced to 15 years in the penitentiary for sending anonymous letters to members of the wealthy corporate elite apprizing them that if they didn’t stop polluting God’s earth in pursuit of their avarice, they would some day have to answer to the International Peoples Court of Retribution. As proof of the dictum that a prophet is without honor in her own country, Good served 10 years of that sentence, plus another 5 years in paroled exile from California.
Yet despite the visibility and notoriety, despite being the de facto spokesman for the Manson kith, despite being seen as so threatening by California authorities that in another ravishment of civil liberties they refuse to let her visit Charles Manson in jail, despite all this, Sandra Good was conspicuous by her absence in the "Helter Skelter" of 2004, especially in the scenes where the character of her close friend Lynette Fromme appeared. It was disconcerting to see one of them in a world where the other one didn’t exist. Perhaps the Lynette character was a composite of the two of them. Who knows? But one thing was for certain: once Sandra Good had the gall to tear through the Veil of Pretense by posting on the Web details of the Sixth Amendment rulings which undermined Manson’s conviction, it was necessary for the producers of the new "Helter Skelter" to exclude her personage from the movie, lest the mere acknowledgment of her existence, the mere mention of her name, somehow led some otherwise oblivious viewers to make the connection, and that embarrassing Constitutional question of self-representation reared its hoary head in public.
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