Sunday, June 29, 2014

Defending the indefensible? Lawyers on representing clients accused of nightmarish crimes

Rory Carroll and Simon Hattenstone talk to the lawyers who've taken on some of the toughest cases
Rory Carroll and Simon Hattenstone   
The Guardian, Friday 27 June 2014 10.00 EDT   

Irving Kanarek, 94, practiced law in California from 1957-1989. He represented Charles Manson, who was convicted in 1971 of conspiracy to murder actor Sharon Tate and six other people. He also defended Jimmy Lee Smith, convicted of abducting and murdering an LA police officer in 1963, a case immortalized in the book The Onion Field.

Irving Kanarek: ‘I don’t dream or even think much about Charlie.'
Photograph: Felix Clay for the Guardian
I would defend a client who I knew was guilty of horrific crimes. They have to be proved guilty. I've had cases where people were guilty as hell but they couldn't prove it. And if they can't prove it, he's not guilty. In that case, the person walks free. That's American justice.

I got a reversal of Jimmy Lee's death sentence, and he had been accused of killing a police officer. That made me the victim of police non-objectivity. They pulled me over, gave me tickets undeservedly.

It wasn't a difficult decision to take the Manson case. My purpose was to fight legally admissible evidence, and the amount of that was scant. His guilt was based on a few hearsay words, inadmissible in court, that he supposedly told this guy to do a number on the Tate residence. No question he was legally innocent. And, more than that, he was actually innocent. There was no evidence connecting him to those murders.

The newspapers, the magazines, the motion pictures got people all excited – Manson as the embodiment of human evil. Charlie wasn't a monster. When you look at the legally admissible evidence, you come to a very different conclusion. Just looking at him from objective considerations, he's a personable person.


I've thought a lot about the case in terms of the legalities. I haven't dwelt much on the human tragedy of it. There's a lot of myth, for example that the baby was taken out of Tate's body. Not so. The wounds were not in the abdomen. The wounds were primarily in the breast area.

I didn't spend much time [thinking about Tate and the other victims], because they were victims of disputes that Charlie had nothing to do with. I think his direct involvement has been woefully extrapolated.

By the time I visited the house, the bodies were gone. The scene was what I'd call mechanical. Nothing about it was gruesome, per se. They'd marked where they were in chalk. So it isn't as overwhelming as some people may feel. None of it stayed with me. The tools of the courtroom make such scenes less than human. I didn't think about it emotionally. The victims are part of the case, but are not that tangible. I lost sleep on other cases, but not on this one.

People ask me, have I ever felt in the presence of evil, I don't know how to respond to that. I don't dream or even think much about Charlie.

I have regrets about every case where someone is killed or injured. Murder is unappetizing. But I've never defended anyone who's been accused of horrible criminal acts on children.

Hat tip to Emily, a regular reader of the blog (or something like that).






30 comments:

Matt said...

I didn't spend much time [thinking about Tate and the other victims], because they were victims of disputes that Charlie had nothing to do with. I think his direct involvement has been woefully extrapolated.

I'll agree on that, but he was indeed involved.

Suze said...

I've always been of the opinion that Manson wasn't nearly as culpable as Bugliosi made him out to be. I'm sure this book is heavily influenced by Manson and Sandra Good. I'll read it anyway.

Michael Nagle said...

"Murder is unappetizing"

Wow. Thanks for clearing that up, and for restoring my faith in the humanity of attorneys.

Matt said...

Q: What's the difference between a jellyfish and a lawyer?

A: One's a spineless, poisonous blob. The other is a form of sea life.

Michael Nagle said...

Matt - brilliant :D

John Peters said...

I have regrets about every case where someone is killed or injured. Murder is unappetizing. But I've never defended anyone who's been accused of horrible criminal acts on children.

Um, I happen to remember this case. The Tate case. Very small child involved. The unborn child died. Sorry to burst your bubble Kanarek.

Doc Sierra said...

You could buy me a car, fill up the tank
Tell me a boat full of lawyers just sank
But it ain't nothin' but a woman
Nothin' but a woman, no, no -
- Robert Cray

Michael Nagle said...

Good people, I'm a long-time lurker and admirer of this blog, though a very infrequent commenter.

Though I think about the Manson story all the time, almost everything I know about it comes from Helter Skelter and a few selected blogs - this one included, of course. Thing is, I want to get back into it, and would be hugely grateful if the folks here could recommend another paperback or two that would give me perhaps a deeper or just a different perspective on things than that offered by HS (which, for all the stick it gets, remains a riveting document in the history of true crime writing). Ed Sanders? Gorightly? Where do I go next? I know no single book can capture the whole truth of such a serpentine moment in history, but does anyone have a suggestion where I go next?
Best wishes to all here, Michael

Max Frost said...

Get Paul's book. Although he makes himself out to be much more important than he was, and although he plays on that Helter Skelter theme...the book is full of great first-hand experiences and insights.

You can always get a xerox copy of it from Aes-Nihil.

AustinAnn74 said...

Why does Leslie Van Houten always talk about Helter Skelter in her parole hearings? She claims this as the reason for the murders, and her participation in them. She has actually stuck by the same, exact story that Paul had (and a lot of the other ones too): Helter Skelter. Tex too. Why does everyone always say that Bugliosi is the one who invented HS. I've always been curious about that.

Max Frost said...

Because in their minds it is the best defense - "My mind was being controlled and I had no choice but to kill."

They wouldn't be using that excuse all these years if it weren't for Bugliosi using it as the primary motive for prosecution and actually WINNING the case.

The public accepted it as the official version so what better way to exonerate yourself from taking full responsibility?

The only problem is the parole board has obviously never bought it or they would've been let out a long time ago.

Doc Sierra said...

Good posts Ann and Max but my theory is that unlike Charlie, the killers really believed in Helter Skelter. I believe that Charlie used didn't for one minute believe in Helter Skelter but used it make these people paranoid and in need of his leadership. I think Tate was to send a message to Melcher and LaBianca was probably a hit. I think they did Tate first so the LaBianca hit would look like random nuts were the killers.....

Max Frost said...

The girls probably did but Tex had his own iron in quite a few fires before and during his adventure with Manson.

Doc Sierra said...

Hi Max, can you give some examples? I know he was a sleaze ball but I don't know why.....

Max Frost said...

Lotsapoppa being a prominent example of Tex running his own game. If he hadn't fumbled that one chances are we never would've heard about it because Crowe never would've been shot by Manson. Just think of how many things we will never hear a about regarding Tex and what he was up to. Does anyone think he was honestly just a failed wig salesman?

Bill Nelson did a good expose' book on Tex. I know, I should fence the stage in before people start booing and throwing bottles at me...but let me say this:

I knew Bill Nelson and I've called him every name in the book. However, someone's work is their work regardless of how slimy they may be. And Nelson did do some good work in his time.

Doc Sierra said...

Good example Max. I have a question about Nelson. Was he really a Secret Service Agent?

Max Frost said...

He claimed he was. He had a Secret Service ring. Seemed believable when he talked about it.

But then again, ya never know...

Doc Sierra said...

The ring doesn't convince me. When I was a kid I had a Captain Sattelite ring but I wasn't Captain Sattelite. Lol. Thanks Max.

Max Frost said...

You got me thinking Doc...

Most of my adventures in researching TLB took place between 1994 and roughly 1999. I've since researched many other "things" and subsequently learned many other "things." The point is the Nelson adventures were a LONG time ago and, in looking back, perspectives have broadened.

In retrospect, I would bet that Nelson had some law enforcement training early on in his life. I would guess he was a cop at some point - and the training, experience, etc. were engrained in his persona. So the idea that he was at some point Secret Service might very well be true.

It's his behavior. It was very cop-like. I didn't recognize it then but now it makes sense. It was one of the the aspects of him that were uncomfortable to be around - for me anyway.

AustinAnn74 said...

Eh....I don't know about that. I respect your opinion, however. :)

Max Frost said...

What do you mean Ann?

DebS said...

Bill Nelson was indeed with the US Protection Service which at the time was a part of the Secret Service. He did work at the White House at the time Nixon was in office.

This information is in his obituary. Nelson married his wife Fama in 1964 so I think she would know if this was accurate. Nelson was in the Navy and it's quite likely that he took the US Protection Service job upon his discharge.


Russel W. Nelson

Obituary

Russel William "Bill" Nelson 62, went to be with our Lord Sat., Oct. 22, 2005. He was preceded in death by his parents, Dorothy and Eldon Nelson; sister, Becky; and brother, Jerry. Bill resided in Huntington Beach, CA. He is survived by his wife, Fama; sons, Kevin, Brian and Tim; 6 grandchildren; sisters, Sandra Lee and Christina Williams; and brother, Jason. Bill proudly served his country in the US Navy in Vietnam. He worked for the US Executive Protection Service in Washington DC at the White House. Arrangements by Coastal Funeral Services, Irvine, CA. Burial in Riverside, CA.

Here is his Findagrave page-

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Nelson&GSfn=Russell&GSbyrel=all&GSdy=2005&GSdyrel=in&GSst=6&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=45491234&df=all&


Published in the The Indianapolis Star on Oct. 29, 2005

Michael Nagle said...

Max - good idea, thank you for the suggestion.

beauders said...

I new Nelson pretty well, I think he got his cop persona while in the Navy. As far as Nelson's wife she didn't know he was a convicted pedophile until Sandy Good came forward with the information. I don't think Nelson would have passed the mental evaluation to be in the Secret Service, he was nuts when I knew him. He threatened me several times and was absolutely consumed by the Manson stuff, enough so, that he lost his marriage because of it. I also think he died in part because of his obsessions and losses.

Max Frost said...

When did you know him Beauders?

The Secret Service gig would've been in the late '60s or early '70s from what I'm gathering.

He probably wasn't nuts (or AS nuts) back then.

beauders said...

I knew Nelson only through his Manson days. I don't think he was just a generic nut but possibly bi-polar or schizophrenic. He was also very turned on sexually by the whole Manson Family sex scene.

grimtraveller said...

AustinAnn74 said...
“Why does Leslie Van Houten always talk about Helter Skelter in her parole hearings? She claims this as the reason for the murders, and her participation in them. She has actually stuck by the same, exact story that Paul had (and a lot of the other ones too): Helter Skelter. Tex too. Why does everyone always say that Bugliosi is the one who invented HS. I've always been curious about that. “
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

What is so fascinating about the whole TLB schtick is the way so many differing and disparate strands meet. Trying to analyze every bit, even the main bits, is rather like trying to unbake an already baked cake.
Bugliosi clearly didn’t “invent” Helter skelter because Pat Krenwinkle left a calling card on the fridge at the LaBianca house long before Bugliosi even knew anyone had been killed. Others {eg, Susan Atkins to Virginia Graham, then Ronnie Howard, then the grand jury – quoting Watson about the Tate murders being ‘helter skelter’, Manson using the words and the Family talking a lot about it, Al springer to the LaBianca detectives, DeCarlo to LAPD, Manson to Purcell & Ward after the Barker arrest}, either by actual words or description, had already alluded to or spoken directly of it. Aaron Stovitz and Bugliosi disagreed on whether there was a motive, Stovitz feeling there wasn’t one. But Bugliosi stated he had never encountered the motiveless crime and what he did was to tie all the disparate strands together to try to form a coherent picture. Even he had to admit that much of what he was told by Watkins & Poston, he would never use at the trial as it was too ridiculous.
An interesting clue into how things came to be so unwieldy comes from two Manson statements, one that LSD was in part responsible for the murders and his assertion that “Helter skelter” meant “confusion.” Many of those with an acquaintance of the counterculture will be aware of the art of ‘disarming straight sensibilities’ with the kind of confusing acid talk that we so often see on internet forums that leave the uninitiated utterly confused and grappling at nothingness. Back in the 60s, even those that were part of it could be confused by it. It seems increasingly clear that Watson, Atkins & Van Houten believed in Helter Skelter, which was a multi~faceted concept, meaning different things to different people at different times with different levels of intensity.
Interestingly, Linda Kasabian’s reasons for going along, particularly on the second night, had nothing to do with Helter skelter ~in her mind.

grimtraveller said...

Max Frost said...
Because in their minds it is the best defense - "My mind was being controlled and I had no choice but to kill."
===========
Except that that isn’t the case. Maybe it’s just my biblical way of understanding it but I find no conflict in someone being dominated by someone else and being ordered/coerced/persuaded to kill, yet being fully responsible for their actions. The person doing the dominating is also responsible.
Of course, one has to closely examine whether ‘domination’ has been taking place.
So none of the TLB participants can get away with saying they’re not culpable because they were under outside “control.” And if the role CM is purported to have played is true, then neither can he. In much the same way that Presidents and Prime Ministers {and those in their governments that agree} that send their troops to war in any other than defensive capacities are guilty for whatever ensuing carnage that subsequently takes place.

grimtraveller said...

That last line should say 'responsible' rather than 'guilty.'

grimtraveller said...

Irving Kanarek said...

"I would defend a client who I knew was guilty of horrific crimes. They have to be proved guilty. I've had cases where people were guilty as hell but they couldn't prove it. And if they can't prove it, he's not guilty. In that case, the person walks free. That's American justice"


Using the same logic, the prosecution 'proved' the guilt of the four defendants and later Charles Watson. I don't know what Kanarek is moaning about. In his quote, he sets the terms of the battle. By the very terms he sets, he lost.


Irving Kanarek said...

"It wasn't a difficult decision to take the Manson case. My purpose was to fight legally admissible evidence, and the amount of that was scant. His guilt was based on a few hearsay words, inadmissible in court, that he supposedly told this guy to do a number on the Tate residence. No question he was legally innocent. And, more than that, he was actually innocent. There was no evidence connecting him to those murders"


Of course, as the losing lawyer in all Manson's murder trials, he would say that !
But if all that is truly the case then Kanarek must have been one crummy lawyer because he makes it sound really easy. Good thing he came free. Or was it ?
Manson is on record as pretty much summing him up as something of an idiot. In George Stimson's book, just after the bit where he says Kanarek was regarded by many law people as "an obstructionist buffoon" and that his performance as Charlie's lawyer was "for the most part, incompetent", Charles Manson is quoted as saying "I got that idiot for a lawyer......Kanarek never did anything but obstruct. He never did anything. He promised to get me my pro per [own lawyer status] and he lied. He didn't do it. That's the reason I hit him in the courtroom. I wanted him off of me, Man.
Not only did he fuck up, he sold my rights [and] after that he sent me 2 or 3 Playboy magazines and $50. And then he started an appeal without my permission. I told him 'I'm not going in that direction.' He went in that direction anyway. He destroyed all my chances of getting back on purpose so he could buy and sell that. He bought & sold my life.
Irving Kanarek was the focal point of Man's rights. He had a chance to speak for Man's rights and he didn't."

Apparently, his obstructionist tactics pissed the jurors off, no end. One of them said that they had wanted their own mental questions answered and facts exposed through a series of clever questions because they didn't want to believe the defendants were guilty or to have to convict on simply circumstantial evidence but Kanarek wore every matter thin and bored everyone rigid without effecting the outcome. Interestingly, the juror concluded that this was "at the expense of his client."