Aaron Stovitz dies at 85; original prosecutor of Charles Manson and his followers
The lawyer was removed from the trial for an off-hand remark he made after defendant Susan Atkins testified.
By Keith Thursby
10:53 PM PST, January 25, 2010
Aaron Stovitz, the original prosecutor of mass murderer Charles Manson and three female followers who was removed from the trial for comments he made about the case, has died. He was 85.
Stovitz died Monday at a Tarzana hospital after a long battle with leukemia, said his daughter, Rhonda Steinberg.
Stovitz, who was removed in September 1970 by then-Dist. Atty. Evelle Younger, later said he wasn't bitter over the decision but thought his remark was "innocuous."
A 1970 Times story speculated that Stovitz got into trouble for an off-hand remark he made after defendant Susan Atkins testified that she was too ill to continue with the trial.
"She's putting on an act worthy of Sarah Bernhardt," United Press International quoted Stovitz as saying.
The Times story also noted an interview Stovitz gave to Rolling Stone magazine before the trial in which he talked about details of the murder case. Stovitz said he thought the interview was for background and not for publication in violation of a gag order. After that, Younger ordered both Stovitz and his fellow prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, not to make public statements about the case.
"Aaron is a very competent, experienced trial lawyer," Bugliosi said at the time of Stovitz's removal. "I consider it a personal loss that he will no longer be co-prosecutor with me on this extremely important murder trial."
Steinberg said her father "had a stellar career" and the focus should not be merely on the Manson case, for which "he did so much of the preparation," she said.
Manson and four of his young followers -- Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles "Tex" Watson -- were eventually convicted of murdering actress Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski, in their Bel Air home on Aug. 9, 1969, along with four others. The next night they killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in their Los Feliz home.
Aaron Harris Stovitz was born Aug. 1, 1924, in New York. He joined the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1943, moved to Los Angeles in 1947 and graduated magna cum laude from Southwestern Law School in 1950. Stovitz was a Los Angeles deputy district attorney from 1952 until 1963, when he briefly left for private practice. He returned in 1964 and worked in the district attorney's office until retiring in 1981.
His other trials included the prosecution of "Freeway Killer" William Bonin. Stovitz prosecuted more than 500 jury trials including 100 murder cases, his daughter said.
After retiring, he worked in the Ventura County district attorney's office and also served as a municipal commissioner and judge in small claims court. He also taught at a law school in the San Fernando Valley.
Along with his daughter, Stovitz is survived by his wife of 59 years, Clara; sons Ken and Steve; and seven grandchildren.
Services will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Mt. Sinai Hollywood Hills.