AP Was There: Cult Leader Charles Manson And Followers Convicted For Brutal California Killings

Three women co defendants in the Sharon Tate murder case, from left, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, laugh as they walk to court in Los Angeles for sentencing on March 21, 1971. Van Houten, on of Charles Manson's followers, was released from prison on parole on Tuesday, July 11, 2023. (AP Photo/file) Associated Press 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — EDITOR’S NOTE — On Jan. 26, 1971, Charles Manson and three members of his California cult were convicted for the murders of seven people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate. On Tuesday, one of those three followers, Leslie Van Houten, was released from a California prison after serving more than 50 years for the 1969 killings of Leno LaBianca, a grocer in Los Angeles; and his wife, Rosemary.

Van Houten is the only one of Manson’s followers involved in the murders to be let out of prison.

The Associated Press is republishing a version of its original report about the conviction by Linda Deutsch, who covered the trial that lasted from late 1969 into 1971.

Charles Manson, shaggy leader of a cult-like clan of hippie types, was convicted Monday of first-degree murder and conspiracy along with three women followers in the savage slayings of actress Sharon Tate and six others.

The state said it will ask the death penalty for all.

The defendants, who staged wild outbursts during their seven-month trial, sat passively as verdicts were returned on the 27 counts against them.

After jurors were polled, Manson muttered audibly, referring to them: “I think they’re all guilty.” After the verdicts were all in, he shouted at the judge: “We’re still not allowed to put on a defense. You won’t outlive that, old man.”

The jury of seven men and five women, who had deliberated 42 hours and 40 minutes since receiving the case Jan. 15, was ordered to return to court at 9 a.m. Thursday for the penalty phase of the trial. They will continue to be sequestered.

The prosecutor said he has about 50 witnesses ready for the penalty trial. The defense has said it will put on a case as long or longer than the state’s, seeking life imprisonment instead of the death penalty on a contention there still is doubt as to guilt.

Death or life imprisonment are the only possible verdicts for convictions on first-degree murder.

Under California law the same jury that returns a first-degree murder-conspiracy conviction must meet again at a second trial to fix the penalty. Had the verdict been second-degree murder, the penalty would have been an automatic five years to life and there would have been no penalty trial.

The defendants were charged with murder-conspiracy in the August 1969 slayings of the beautiful actress and four visitors to her mansion, and in the killings a night later of a wealthy merchant couple.

Manson, 36, was accused of ordering the killings to touch off a race war he believed was heralded in a Beatles song, after which he expected to take power.

Other defendants: Susan Atkins, 22; Patricia Krenwinkel, 23; and Leslie Van Houten, 21.

Miss Van Houten was charged with conspiracy in all the killings, but with murder only in those of market owners Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

The defendants, banished from court Dec. 22 for shouting, filed in smiling and chatting. The women wore prison uniforms with ribbons in their long hair. Manson wore a rumpled white shirt with a blue scarf. His hair was disheveled and he sported a new goatee.

All arose and walked out quietly after the verdicts — read one by one for each of the 27 counts — were finished. A score of sheriff’s deputies was in the packed 92-seat courtroom to maintain order.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Vincent Bugliosi, the chief prosecutor, told newsmen he will seek the death penalty: “I don’t enjoy it, but it is necessary.” Of the verdict, he said: “I’m very, very pleased and the Los Angeles Police Department is very happy. We expected the verdict but until the clerk reads the verdict you don’t know.”

The deciding factor? “The overwhelming amount of evidence.”

Chief defense counsel Paul Fitzgerald said the defendants told him Monday night they “expected the worst.” He described the verdict as anticipated.

“We lost the case when we lost our change of venue. We thought we had as much chance to win the case in Los Angeles as they had of winning the Sam Sheppard.” The reference was to a Cleveland doctor convicted in the 1950s of slaying his wife in a sensational case. The Supreme Court ultimately overturned the conviction.

Fitzgerald said the defense would argue at the penalty trial that pretrial publicity hurt the defendants. He said he will plead for a sentence of life imprisonment on grounds that there is “still some doubt as to guilt.”

Maxwell Ketih, representing Miss Van Houten, said he had felt she had a fighting chance “if not for acquittal, for second-degree murder.” Miss Van Houten was not a member of the killer party at the Tate home.

“She reacted a lot better than I did,” he said of the verdict. “She didn’t turn a hair. She seemed more solicitous of me.”

Manson’s attorney, Irving Kanarek, declined to comment directly on the verdict but termed the trial “a carnival” in which sensational publicity was fostered by the district attorney’s office.

The verdict capped a trial in which the state called 84 witnesses and the defense rested without putting on a case. The transcript ran nearly six million words and there were 297 exhibits.