Monday, November 7, 2016

A Look At the Evidence: #1 Getting to and Leaving Cielo Drive

Other Posts: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

A few concepts...

The Leading Question. A leading question is a question that suggests the answer in the question or a question that contains the information the examiner is trying to confirm. The use of leading questions is impermissible except in the case of a hostile witness. Why? The answers are unreliable- the examiner is directing or influencing the evidence presented. He is, as a practical matter, testifying, not the witness. So generally, they can only be used on cross-examination. The use of leading questions is a tactic designed as the name implies to 'lead' the witness to the answer you want.

Coaching A Witness. This is a topic that frequently comes up: “Bugliosi told so and so what to say”. Most attorneys don’t coach witnesses like that. Some do, however, offer critical information during the pre-trial interview process hoping and sometimes even suggesting that it might be remembered. Sometimes someone other then the attorney actually makes the suggestion.

Can you spot a coached witness? Yes. How? They sound coached. They blurt out the programmed answer before the question is finished or before they are actually asked about the subject. Sometimes they blurt out the answer several times in response to questions unrelated to the programmed subject. And if they made a previous inconsistent statement they usually say some third party, who is not going to testify,  or some other event refreshed their recollection.

Occam’s Razor.  Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. It is well to keep this rule in mind when evaluating witness testimony. Some answers just sound ‘off’- they don’t make sense because they are illogical or appear contrary to human behavior. They just 'don't make no sense'. 

The only way, then, to try to get the witness's answer back on track is for the lawyer supporting the testimony to add assumptions or facts from outside that steer the testimony back to the story.  When attempted during a trial the objection from the other side is usually ‘the question assumes facts not in evidence’. Usually, however, the assumptions appear during closing argument when the lawyer desperately tries to explain by making assumptions for which there is no evidence. That seldom ends well.

Objective Evidence. Sometimes answers are directly contradicted by the physical evidence or evidence that is unassailable. 

Words Matter. The words a witness chooses to use in describing an event or in response to a question are important and give hints to the listener regarding the testimony and its reliability. For example a typical answer  can go like this: "To the best of my knowledge as I sit hear today I have no recollection of that." This really means 'if you prove I'm wrong I'll change my answer.'

The Official Narrative

What happened during these crimes is the story presented and told by the prosecution starting with the Tate-LaBianca trial and ending with Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter. The story (not to be confused with the motive) has two primary sources. There are a few corroborating witnesses (these are essential given that the primary sources are co-conspirators) but these witnesses just confirm certain moments along the storyline.

The primary evidence for the official narrative comes from Susan Atkins reflected in her Grand Jury testimony and Linda Kasabian in her testimony at the Tate-LaBianca and the Watson trials. 

The Arrival and Departure from Cielo Drive

The official narrative tells us the murderers arrived at Cielo drive from Spahn’s Ranch at approximately midnight August 9, 1969. Steven Parent was murdered sometime shortly after 12:15 a.m. and the murderers drove away from Cielo at about 12:55 a.m. to reach Rudolph Weber’s hose bib by 1:00 a.m.

Bugliosi clearly wants to prove this timeline. He spends a good deal of time trying to establish it. Why?  He wants Tim Ireland hearing screams in evidence for the shock value. He wants to corroborate Kasabian’s story using Weber.

He also wants to establish and follow a timeline to make it easier for the listener (the jury) to follow the story. Detail also makes 'reasonable doubt' less likely. Concepts like 'about noon' work against the prosecutor. Detail also adds to the credibility of a witness.

Bugliosi may also have wanted the time to be nailed down to limit an alibi defense. It is harder to prove an alibi when the timeframe is narrow or detailed. And.... Bugliosi also seems to have been obsessed with a clock radio.

The narrative relies on the following corroborating evidence:

There is the phone call to Gerrold David Friedman by Steven Parent at 11:45 p.m.

That same Sunday, Jerrold D. Friedman, a UCLA student, contacted the police and informed them that the call Steven Parent made at approximately 11: 45 on Friday night had been to him.  Bugliosi, Vincent; Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (p. 68). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Interestingly, while Bugliosi states this time he actually stipulated at the Watson trial that the call was at 11:55 p.m.

(Witold Kaczanowski didn’t testify. However, he did tell the police that Frykowski called him at ‘about midnight’ on the night of the murders.)

Rudy Weber’s testimony is the other bookend for the crime. At 1:00 a.m. the murderers are at his house.

Then there is a clock radio, which, according to Bugliosi, was forever frozen at 12:15 a.m.....

“On the seat next to him was a Sony AM– FM Digimatic clock radio. The time at which it had stopped was 12:15 A.M. Coincidence or significant?”  Bugliosi, Vincent; Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (pp. 43-44). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Below is an image of what purports to be the actual clock radio. I could not corroborate this fact and the tag to the left ‘looks’ wrong to me although the one at the top edge looks similar to others (what little can be seen). But if it is, in fact, the radio it stopped at 12:19, not 12:15. (Perhaps someone with the full trial transcript or some other source could verify if Exhibit 198 was indeed the clock radio. Or maybe someone knows the source of this image if it is a fake. A friend trying to help sent it to me but didn't record where he found it.) 

According to the official narrative the murderers first cut the phone line. Then they drove the car down Cielo Drive and parked. After parking the car they walked back up to the gate and climbed the fence after scaling the embankment to the right of the gate. Here they saw Steven Parent’s approaching headlights. Watson told the rest to lie down and then commanded Steven to stop. And it began....

Getting To Cielo

How long did it take to get to Cielo Drive?

A Google map search indicates that the shortest route from Spahn Ranch to Cielo Drive should take 37 minutes.

But given Atkins’ testimony before the Grand Jury it might have taken a bit longer.

Q: Did Tex drive you directly to Terry Melcher's former residence?
A: We sort of got lost on the way. I think we took a wrong turn and ended up somewhere in Mulholland and we went directly there. 

Kasabian sort of confirms the one hour drive time if the high end of her range is used.

Kasabian at TLB:

Q. How long after you left Spahn Ranch did it take you to get to this house?
A. I don't know. I have no idea of time. Maybe a half hour or an hour.
Q. A half hour or an hour?
A. Yes.

At the Watson trial she narrowed that range a bit:

Q: How long did it take you to get to the place from Spahn Ranch?
A: I don't know. Not too long, I guess, but I don't know the time.
Q: Could you give us any idea? Did it take five minutes, four hours, an hour, what?
A: Probably around an hour, I guess.

Note Bugliosi’s leading question. It is a nice tactic. He offers two time periods that are absurd and then he offers the one he wants. Based on the leading question an hour may not be right but let’s give it to Bugliosi, as an hour seems consistent with Atkins’ testimony that he had already heard, which is probably why he asked the leading question.

Now we have an elapsed time of 1:00.

When did they leave Spahn?

Atkins and Kasabian never mention a specific time unless Bugliosi first offers one to them. They operate off of ‘Family’ time. 'Family' time doesn't use clocks.

The official narrative says Manson approached Kasabian and Atkins on August 8th and told them to get a knife, a second set of cloths (or two sets) and in Kasabian’s case her driver’s license. This occurred ‘after dinner’. 

When was dinner?

Kasabian at TLB (I have added the emphasis):

Q. Do you know about what time you commenced to eat?
A. It was usually after sundown, so whatever time that is, I don't know.
Q. How long did it take you to eat your dinner?
A. Oh, dinnertime was really funtime, so maybe an hour, and then we --- maybe we would talk or sing songs or maybe he [Charlie] would play his guitar or whatever.


Q. And did anything unusual happen after dinner that night?
A. Yes. I remember I was in the kitchen, cleaning up, and maybe just sitting around.
Q. How long after dinner was this?
A. Maybe an hour, or so.

And her testimony at Watson’s Trial:

Q: About what time did you have dinner?
A: I don't know, about the same time we had it every night, after dark.

Taken together it appears Manson approached Kasabian 2-3 hours after dinner started. The difference depends on whether, and if so, how long, Manson played guitar.

Next Kasabian needs to get a knife, her license and some cloths. Recall she had some problems with two of these tasks so add ten minutes for her to get into the car. Add five if it is preferred or even leave it out. I chose 10. 

The elapsed Time to arrive at Cielo Drive: 1 hour to drive from Spahn to Cielo + 1 hour for dinner + 1 hour later for Charlie to approach her +10 minutes to get her stuff = 3:10 Hours.

This becomes 4:10 if Manson held the jam session.

So now we have two scenarios: Dinner Only (3:10) and Jam Session (4:10).

According to Kasabian dinner started either after sunset or after dark. So the starting point is to figure out when these events happened.

Family Time

The Family didn’t use clocks or calendars. Their notion of time related to the sun. It comes up and it gets light. It goes down and it gets dark. A timeline requires a clock. So is there a way to convert Family time to clock time?

There is. It is called the Farmer’s Almanac. The Farmer’s Almanac was something my mother, a farm girl, lived by. She would tell you in March whether the corn would be any good that year because of the almanac. 

The Farmer’s Almanac tells us when the sun starts to set (sunset) and when it gets dark (dark descends). It also tells us when the sun begins to rise (dawn) and when it is fully light (sunrise).

According to the Farmer’s Almanac sunset occurred in Los Angeles on August 8, 1969 at 7:46 p.m. and dark descended at 9:20 p.m. Dawn on the 9th of August occurred at 4:37 a.m. and sunrise occurred at 6:11 a.m.

So at this point on August 8th we have:

Sunset: 7:46 p.m.
Dark: 9:20 p.m.

This is going to give us a way to convert ‘Family’ time as two witnesses testify below.

Based upon sunset and dark under the Dinner Only scenario and the elapsed time of 3:10. They arrive between 10:56 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.

Under the Jam Session scenario with its elapsed time of 4:10 they arrive between 11:56 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.

Taken together this places their arrival between 10:56 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.

Does the testimony narrow this range?

I can’t get past the use of the words “we had it [dinner] every night, after dark”. This seems to be a recurring event that stuck in Kasabian’s memory and is consistent with her more general statement ‘after sundown’. She never says ‘sunset’. 'After dark' seems to mean ‘after it is dark’.

It became dark that night at 9:20 p.m. so dinner was after 9:20 p.m. on August 8th and then they arrived at Cielo Drive sometime after either 12:30 a.m. (the Dinner Only scenario) or 1:30 a.m. (Jam Session).

Either scenario allows all the phone calls to be made. It also allows the Knott’s guests to comfortably leave and the Knotts to go to bed with no hippies lurking about and no downed phone lines. It also allows Mr. Ireland to stick to his original statement.

The First Tate Homicide Investigation report notes:

“Between 0100 and 0130 Mr. Ireland was awake, alert and watching the sleeping children. He heard a male voice from what seemed to him a long distance away to the north or northeast shout, 'Oh, God, no. Stop. Stop. Oh, God, no, don't'. Ireland said that the scream persisted for approximately 10 seconds. The male voice was clear and he did not notice an accent.”

At trial, presumably also after having spoken to someone at the DA‘s office in preparation for trial, Mr. Ireland changed his answer. He now places the screams at precisely 12:40 a.m. basing the change on what 'Mr. Sparks' told him regarding the time. This conversation with Mr. Sparks happened sometime after Ireland spoke to the police. Mr. Sparks did not testify.

And our two witnesses actually appear to agree with the later time.  

Kasabian at TLB [my comments]:

Q. About what time did you arrive at the place?
A. I don't know.
Q. Now, give me an approximation.
A. Maybe around the middle of the night. It was dark for 4 or 5 hours, after it had been dark.
Q. Four or 5 hours after it became dark? [Her statement obviously threw Bugliosi.]
A. Yes. [Stop right here! Anything she says next is unreliable. She answered the question twice.]
Q. Now, when you say the middle of the night do you mean 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning or do you mean midnight? [Bugliosi suggests the answer by leading the witness. Also note the lawyer tactic: just like the leading question above he offers as an alternative to his desired response an absurd timeframe. This is intended to funnel the witness to midnight since 3:00 a.m. is too late even by Kasabian’s concept of time.]
MR.KANAREK: Compound, your Honor, leading and suggestive. [Kanarek realizes something is up but misses by making too many objections. Strike 1.]
MR.BUGLIOSI: It is not a compound question, it is one single question. [This is very good lawyering- a good tactic. He ignores the good objection, 'leading', and focuses on the ‘compound’ objection. Bugliosi is right the question is not compound. But he never addresses the ‘leading’ objection. The question is clearly leading he’s suggesting the answer in his question.]
MR.KANAREK: He is arguing with the witness, your Honor. [Kanarek fumbles the ball making a third objection. Strike Two]
THE COURT: Overruled. [Strike 3]
A. I cannot say a definite time because, as I said before, I had no concept of time when I was there. I would say roughly around midnight. [And Bugliosi leads a reluctant Kasabian to the answer he wants.]

Now before Bugliosi ‘helps’ Kasabian say ‘midnight’ she places their arrival 4-5 hours after dark. Dark was 9:20 p.m. So they arrive between 1:20 and 2:20 a.m.  

Remember the 4:15 Jam Session scenario above? If, in our Jam Session scenario, we have Charlie play guitar after dinner for a while. The 4-5 hours after dark timeframe is consistent with that scenario. The Jam Session scenario is also consistent with her unassisted recollection of the arrival time: they arrive 4-5 hours after dark or around 1:20 a.m.

Bugliosi leads Kasabian to the answer he wants at Watson's trial too. 

Q: Okay, about what time did you arrive at the gate at the top of the hill, approximately?
A: Time? I don't know.
Q: Well, was it 3:00 in the morning, midnight, eleven --
A: It was probably around midnight.

Again, look at Bugliosi's tactic he offers her two times that can't possibly be right and the one that he wants. The question is 'leading' only in this trial Mr. Bubrick doesn't object. 

Atkins, before she too is lead to the 'midnight' answer, appears to agree with Kasabian's original estimate:

Q: Do you know about what time you arrived at that residence?
A: I just know it was late at night. [Stop!]
Q: Around midnight?  [Leading]
A: Possibly.  [This is not really the answer he wanted. He was looking for a ‘yes’.]

So here he is again leading Atkins to the time he wants but midnight does not appear to be completely consistent with her recollection. She answers ‘possibly’ even to his leading question. Her first impression was that it was ‘late at night’. ‘Late at night’ sounds a lot like Kasabian’s ‘the middle of the night’ which Kasabian further defines as 4-5 hours after dark or, again, after 1:20 a.m.

Leading questions are permissible before the Grand Jury. There is no judge present to rule on an objection and more to the point there is no opposing lawyer there to make the objection. 

It is easy to challenge Kasabian’s accuracy, in fact its one of my pet projects. But she has no reason to lie about the time. She doesn’t care about ‘time’ but Bugliosi does. You can almost hear her thinking ‘why does this matter’ when answering the questions.

What can be said is that the only person who testified that they arrived at midnight was Bugliosi. One might also ask why do they need to arrive at midnight? According to these two witnesses, they didn't.

The Other Bookend: Rudy Weber

A cook at the Brentwood Country Club calls LAPD and says Rudolf Weber saw the killers hosing off at his house on the night of the murders. On December 29, 1969 Bugliosi, a police photographer and Detective Calkins go to Weber’s house, interview him and take some pictures. Later that same day he is interviewed a second time by the LAPD and that interview is recorded. Weber later testifies that the hose event occurs at 1:00 a.m. thus putting the other bookend on Bugliosi’s timeline.

Weber’s house is about 4 minutes from Cielo Drive per Google Maps. So Bugliosi’s timeline is tight. He needs them to pull everything off by 12:56 and be back at the car ready to drive to Weber’s hose. The four minutes may not be right either. They at least drove past Weber’s house and then turned around and parked down the street walking back to the hose.

If Steven Parent is murdered a few minutes after 12:15 everything has to happen in less then 40 minutes. This might explain why Bugliosi didn’t want the clock to read 12:19. If that image is authentic then even under Bugliosi’s timetable Steven was shot sometime after 12:19- call it 12:25. Now he has less then 30 minutes.

Experience tells me anytime Bugliosi says a witness is going to be a very good witness I start to worry about the accuracy of what they say. In Helter Skelter he does just that:

“As I listened to Weber’s story, I knew he was going to be a good witness. He had an excellent memory, told exactly what he remembered, and didn’t try to fill in what he did not.” Bugliosi, Vincent; Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (p. 249). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

We don’t know what Bugliosi or Calkins said to Weber when they met that morning at Weber's house. We do know they parked their car in the same position as the murderers and took some pictures.

We also know what he told Detective Calkins later that afternoon (thanks to

RUDOLF WEBER: Well, to the best of my recollection…we went to bed around 9 o’clock which is our usual bed time –
SGT. ROBERT CALKINS: Who…Who is we? excuse me.
RUDOLF WEBER: My wife and I.
SGT. ROBERT CALKINS: Would you identify your wife, please?
RUDOLF WEBER: Her name in Mila(?)
SGT. ROBERT CALKINS: Alright, thank you.
RUDOLF WEBER: We, uh – ‘cause I have to be at work at 6 o’clock in the morning. So, about – it must’ve been about 1 o’clock, I heard the uh, the sound of, running water.

Read this carefully: “We, uh – ‘cause I have to be at work at 6 o’clock in the morning. So, about – it must’ve been about 1 o’clock, I heard the uh, the sound of, running water.”

Why must it have been about 1:00? Because he went to bed at 9:00 p.m?

Or it must have been 1:00 because he went to work at 6:00 a.m.?

Why 'must' it have been 1:00 if he actually looked at his clock (as he later testified)? Wouldn't it be more consistent with human behavior to simply say 'It was about 1:00 a.m.'?

Or maybe it must have been 1:00 because that is what fit the timeline he had just learned about. Maybe it went something like this earlier that morning:

“Well these hippy types were using the hose there. It was the middle of the night. I’m not sure of the time. It was late.”

“Well we know they were over there at midnight and probably got here an hour later.”

“Well then it must have been about 1:00.”

Interestingly in this interview Weber doesn’t mention looking at his clock to confirm the time (something he says at trial) and while he briefly mentions his wife being present he doesn't mention his wife ever confronting the killers (again, something he says at trial- she, however does not testify because she has ‘emotional issues’). Bugliosi didn’t know Kasabian’s version of the events until after February 26, 1970 and Rudy's testimony by the trial corroborates Kasabian's recollection.

Rudy's trial testimony:

BUGLIOSI: Did anything unusual happen that night sir, after you went to bed?
WEBER: Well, it was about 1:00 o’clock in the morning, that would be Saturday morning.

Wait a minute! Bugliosi didn’t ask him the time. He asked him if something unusual happened after he went to bed. The answer is ‘yes’. Instead Weber offers up 1:00 a.m. before he is even asked.

Weber goes on to now explain that he looked at his clock (never mentioned on December 29th). 

Q: How did you know it was about 1:00 o'clock?
A: Because I looked at the clock.

 He then adds the confrontation between his wife and the killers and the whole sheriff’s deputy thing consitant with Kasabian’s story, but also seems to have slipped both his mind and Detective Calkins’ on December 29th when Weber was given the opportunity to offer the information.

SGT. ROBERT CALKINS: Alright. Now, at the time you followed these people down to the car, did any of them make any statements at all except the man?
RUDOLF WEBER: Well, after they started towards the car, nobody said anything.
SGT. ROBERT CALKINS: I see. Then what was the only statement the man made?
RUDOLF WEBER: Uh, he only said “Hi” and uh, “We’re just getting a drink of water, sorry to disturb you” and when I asked him, “Is that your car down the street?” he said, “No, we’re walking.”
SGT. ROBERT CALKINS: And that’s all that was said.
RUDOLF WEBER: That was all – all that was said that I can remember.

Bugliosi wanted a clock-based timeline that started at midnight and ended one hour later. He set out to prove his timeline. The testimony of the two most important witnesses, however, does not support his timeline. In fact the only person who ever says 'midnight' is Bugliosi. The evidence also suggests that someone may have gone so far as to directly or indirectly influence the testimony of at least two witnesses to make their stories fit the official narrative.