Friday, September 4, 2020

Irving Kanarek, Lawyer Who Defended Charles Manson, Dies at 100

 The national spotlight that focused on Mr. Kanarek made his disruptive circus of courtroom tactics almost as fascinating as his bizarre clients.

Irving Kanarek, right, in 1970 with Charles
Manson, whom he defended in the macabre killings
of the actress Sharon Tate and six other people.
Credit...Associated Press


By Robert D. McFadden

Sept. 3, 2020

Irving Kanarek, a Los Angeles lawyer who defended Charles Manson in the cult killings of the actress Sharon Tate and six other people, and Jimmy Smith, whose murder of a police officer was chillingly retold in Joseph Wambaugh's 1973 best seller "The Onion Field," died on Wednesday in Garden Grove, Calif. He was 100.

His nephew Kany Levine confirmed the death.

Those killings were among the most notorious crimes of the 1960s, and the national spotlight that focused on their trials made Mr. Kanarek's disruptive circus of courtroom tactics almost as fascinating as his bizarre clients — Mr. Manson, the cult leader with a "family" of young drifters, and Mr. Smith, a petty thief who did not quite know how to operate the automatic pistol he carried.

For Mr. Kanarek, the trials were high points in a three-decade practice given to a more routine caseload of personal injury and damage claims. The law was not even his first calling. He had been an aerospace engineer for North American Aviation, but had lost his Air Force security clearance and his job after being falsely accused of Communist associations in the 1950s. He cleared his name, but the experience had soured him on science.

His first major case arose in Los Angeles on a March night in 1963 with a routine traffic stop for a broken taillight on a car carrying Mr. Smith and Gregory Powell. As two officers, Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger, approached, Mr. Smith and Mr. Powell drew guns, disarmed the officers and drove them 90 miles north to a remote onion farm near Bakersfield, Calif.

Mr. Wambaugh's novelistic treatment described Mr. Campbell's killing:

"Gregory Powell raised his arm and shot Ian in the mouth," he wrote. "For a few white-hot seconds the three watched him being lifted up by the blinding fireball and slammed down on his back, eyes open, watching the stars. He probably never saw the shadow in the leather jacket looming over him, and never really felt the four bullets flaming down into his chest."

Mr. Hettinger fled into the darkness and escaped. Mr. Powell and Mr. Smith were caught, tried for murder, convicted and sentenced to death.

But the case became a seven-year marathon of appeals, mistrials, reversals and reinstatements. Mr. Kanarek won Mr. Smith's first reversal and defended him in other proceedings, but he was eventually fired by Mr. Smith, who threw a chair at him.

Those death sentences were commuted to life in prison in 1972 by a California Supreme Court ruling that temporarily invalided the state's death penalty. Mr. Smith was paroled in 1982, but was in and out of prison for the rest of his life on parole violations. He and Mr. Powell both died in prison in their late 70s.

Mr. Kanarek with reporters outside
a Los Angeles courtroom in 1970 during
Mr. Manson's murder trial. He was
known for his disruptive courtroom tactics.
Credit...Associated Press

Mr. Kanarek's next — and last — famous client was Mr. Manson. On Aug. 9, 1969, a cleaning lady entering a Benedict Canyon home in North Beverly Hills, Calif., found the mutilated bodies of Ms. Tate, 26, the pregnant wife of the director Roman Polanski, as well as three friends and a chance visitor. All had been stabbed and shot many times, and Ms. Tate had been hung from a rafter.

A day later, the bodies of a grocery magnate, Leno LaBianca, and his wife, Rosemary, were found in their Los Angeles home. They had been killed in ferocious attacks that left little doubt they had been slain by the same people who killed Ms. Tate and her companions.

Within months, Mr. Manson and four followers were arrested and implicated by Linda Kasabian, an accomplice who admitted her role in the crimes. Ms. Kasabian was granted immunity and became the state's star witness in a trial that began in July 1970 and lasted six months. (Charles Watson, a cult member who joined in the killings, was committed to a mental institution and not tried with the others.)

Mr. Kanarek's courtroom tactics — a Niagara of objections, interruptions, shouting matches with the judge and witnesses, shoving incidents with two prosecutors and a scuffle with his client, who repeatedly tried to fire him — made him an outcast in some legal circles, but in others an exemplar of legal tenacity. He was jailed twice for contempt of court and vilified by much of the press and public.

The state called 84 witnesses and adduced that Mr. Manson, hoping to trigger an apocalyptic race war in America, had planned and ordered the killings, which were executed by his co-defendants, Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, and by Mr. Watson. The defense rested without calling a single witness because, Mr. Kanarek said, the three women wanted to confess on the stand to "save" Mr. Manson.

In 1971, all four defendants were convicted of murder and conspiracy and sentenced to die in the gas chamber. Mr. Kanarek scoffed at the rulings and the trial.

"It was entertainment for the public," he said.

A year later, when California's death penalty was temporarily invalidated, the sentences were commuted to life in prison. Mr. Manson was never released. He died in 2017 at 83.

Mr. Manson's crimes generated books, plays, television dramas, documentaries and feature films — most recently Quentin Tarantino's Oscar-nominated "Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood." After the trial, Mr. Kanarek prospered for a few years, but he never again made national headlines.

In 1989, he was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct and hospitalized for a psychiatric evaluation. In 1990, he lost his law license over unpaid debts. He later lived in motel rooms.

Irving Allen Kanarek was born in Seattle on May 12, 1920, to Meyer and Beatrice (Prupis) Kanarek. His father was an insurance salesman.

Irving and his sister, Zillah, grew up in Seattle and attended Garfield High School. Irving graduated from the University of Washington in 1941 with a chemistry degree.

In the 1940s and early '50s, he was an engineer for North American Aviation, working on aerospace projects in California, and held a patent for work on rocket fuels. After losing his security clearance and his job, he won a suit for reinstatement and back pay.

But he had already decided on a new career. He earned a degree in 1956 at Loyola Law School and began his practice in 1957.

His marriage to Sally Nava ended in divorce. He is survived by their two daughters, Irvina and Walesa Kanarek.

Long retired from law practice, Mr. Kanarek in recent years had resided at an assisted-living facility in Garden Grove.

Robert D. McFadden is a senior writer on the Obituaries desk and the winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for spot news reporting. He joined The Times in May 1961 and is also the co-author of two books. 

A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 4, 2020, Section A, Page 25 of the New York edition with the headline: Irving Kanarek, Lawyer Who Defended Charles Manson, Dies at 100. Order Reprints | Today's Paper | Subscribe


38 comments:

Cooltide said...

Objection!

starviego said...

Reading the trial transcripts, I get the feeling that at times the prosecutors were equally guilty of using endless objections to keep certain evidence out. And Charles Weedman, lawyer for Steve Grogan in his trial, made Kanarek look like a piker in that regard.

Doug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
starviego said...


Kanarek was no fool. He knew what was going on:


LADA files Box14 vol3070 pg285of302
Bugliosi: "At one point he(Kanarek) said that the Los Angeles Police Department was at the Spahn Ranch dressed as hippies and acting as informers."

LADA files Box54-4 pg349
Kanarek: ...I have been told that a person named Kenneth Como has allegedly escaped from the County Jail... I allege it, without being able to prove it, that at this particular time, this was deliberately allowed to take place, or accomplished by --
The Court: The escape?
Kanarek: Yes. ...it is incredible of belief, with the surveillance --
The Court: I agree with you. ....
Kanarek: ...he was allowed to, in order to generate publicity against Mr. Manson at this particular time.

thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/24/other-presidents-who-weighed-in-on-big-cases/?_r=0 Bugliosi, pg442 re: "Manson Guilty, Nixon Declares"
"The next day in chambers Kanarek charged the President with conspiracy. “The District Attorney of Los Angeles County is running for attorney general of California. I say it without being able to prove it, that Evelle Younger and the President got together to do this.” "

ColScott said...

Not sure how you go from Rocket Scientist to Lawyer to homeless. ODD.

Entertainment? Also odd- he was the court jester

TabOrFresca said...

In most writings about the Manson Trial, Kanarek gets blamed for the long length of the trial. I’m probably the only one that believes that it was not mainly him but mainly Older. If you go to ceilodrives website and read the early Kasabian transcripts you’ll see that during a sidebar or chambers meeting that BUG brown noses older complementing Older on how much they were getting done using just a 4 hour workday versus the standard 6 hour court workday. So in this trial of the century, where 4 people are being tried for there lives and 17 jurors are being sequestered and treated like prisoners, Older decides to shorten the workday by a third and doesn’t put in extra effort by also holing court on Saturday. If you read the notice of when he died they mentioned he was an avid golfer. Betcha he golfed every afternoon during the trial.

BUG and Kanarek had a a good work ethic and no one else related to the trial did, and that includes Older.

Kanarek put in a good effort but he was not a top shelf lawyer. The only top shelf lawyer the defense had was the guy that replaced Hughs (Leslies lawyer that died).
Kanarek did surprisingly make a decent amount a objection that he won ( and caused BUG to whine). As bad as he was, he outperformed (the vastly overrated) Fitzgerald.

Shabbat

orwhut said...

Blogger ColScott said...
Not sure how you go from Rocket Scientist to Lawyer to homeless. ODD.

I wish I'd noticed that.

Monica said...

I've always been curious about Kanerek and thought there was more to him than his objections. Really...what were his choices with wackadoodle CM. You wrote: "In 1989, he was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct and hospitalized for a psychiatric evaluation. In 1990, he lost his law license over unpaid debts. He later lived in motel rooms." That breaks my heart. Yeah he defended CM, who I personally think was responsible for this entire atrocity. But there is a big gap between the trial and his homelessness. God bless his memory and those who loved him. Thanks for posting, Matt.

grimtraveller said...

Robert D. McFadden said:

A day later, the bodies of a grocery magnate, Leno LaBianca, and his wife, Rosemary, were found in their Los Angeles home. They had been killed in ferocious attacks that left little doubt they had been slain by the same people who killed Ms. Tate and her companions

Debatable. Not all of LAPD found it that obvious.

Mr. Manson and four followers were arrested and implicated by Linda Kasabian

Ironically, she was one of the last people to implicate him and the others. From October '69 through to late Feb '70 there was a whole lotta implicatin' goin' on from a whole cachè of accomplices, hangers on and other interested parties.
That said, she'd been the first to implicate him before his arrest ~ but not to police. As Early as August she'd implicated him to 3 people.

ColScott said:

Not sure how you go from Rocket Scientist to Lawyer to homeless

Life and its myriad directions, the feeling you've been dealt a low blow and mental health issues.

TabOrFresca said:

If you read the notice of when he died they mentioned he was an avid golfer. Betcha he golfed every afternoon during the trial

One of the things that stood out to me when I was going through the transcripts was the time each session began and ended and why or what was going on at the close of each day's proceedings.
Suffice it to say, I disagree with you about Older.

In most writings about the Manson Trial, Kanarek gets blamed for the long length of the trial

Whether it would have been shorter without his numerous objections is debatable because it wasn't specifically him that lengthened the trial, it was a combination of things, like the delay caused by Ronald Hughes' disappearance and the time it took for Max Keith to get up to speed with all the transcripts up to the point at which he came in or all the doctors that came in during the penalty phase and the various national holidays that fell during the trial's duration.
They all add up.
It frankly would have been long anyway and even longer if the defence had actually put on a defence in the guilt phase instead of a half cocked attempt at one in the penalty phase when the accused had already been convicted and it no longer mattered.

Monica said:

there is a big gap between the trial and his homelessness

I sometimes wonder if some of his later mental health issues actually began manifesting during the trial. I honestly think he was delusional. His later interviews kind of make me wonder how fine the line is between delusions and stubbornness.

Peter said...

His closing arguments lasted a week.

kraut_iznota_knotsy said...

"Get me this Kanarek." =D

grimtraveller said...

Peter said...

His closing arguments lasted a week

To be fair, he was fighting for someone's life by this point.

Peter said...

If I had to listen to him for a week I would have voted to execute all of them just to get even.

orwhut said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
orwhut said...

I remember reading that Kanarek once objected when someone stated his name, claiming hearsay because he learned his name from his mother. Does anyone remember this? Did I get the story right? and What prompted the objection?

TabOrFresca said...

orwhut,
This story is in “Helter Skelter” in the “March 1970” section. BUG says that “Burton Katz” recalled the story.

grimtraveller said...

I had a sort of uncle that reminded me of Irving. I remember back in 2002 when a story made the news here about an American man that was suing KFC because of his heart condition. He used to go in there almost daily for years and quaff out on fried chicken and I think he had a heart attack. Anyway, when I commented on how ridiculous this was, this uncle {who was himself a lawyer} really flew into one and gave me this lecture on the importance of the law being tested and how the guy was right to sue.
There was something very Kanarek about his logic but I must admit, what he had to say was interesting and I've never forgotten it.
I still think the suing guy was being ridiculous !

kraut_iznota_knotsy said:

"Get me this Kanarek."

Irving Kanarek could be pictured, with sufficient stretching of the imagination, as almost the legal mirror image of Charles Manson. So it remains one of crime's hugest ironies that Kanarek refused to do what Charlie wanted done in terms of his defence.
Seriously. He was just like Charlie. Stubborn, tunnel visioned {acid notwithstanding}, taking orders from no one. He's what Charlie may well have been if he had been a lawyer but without the psychedelia.

AstroCreep said...

My opinion of Kanarek has changed over the years. Initially, after reading Helter Skelter, I believed him to be an obstructionist asshole but after seeing a few interviews with him, he’s a super detail oriented person and can’t answer even the simplest of questions without backstory and/or incredible detail and context.

I would also tend to believe that California lawmakers (in 1970) had some idea or heard rumblings that the death penalty would be overturned therefore making his defense more of a delay than any sort of “my client is innocent”. I could be wrong but something that I’ve always thought to be true.

He had a difficult task trying to defend Charlie. Likewise, Bugs made Kanarek out to be a formidable opponent probably more to make himself look more the victor than anything else. Linda sealed the case and try as he might, Kanarek couldn’t break her. I think he knew that and his delay tactic was the only option from Linda forward-

Dan S said...

If it was just cielo then there's a possible defense for CM. I don't see how you get him out of waverly. Once you establish he was in the car, and i believe this was admitted by everyone, he's knee deep in conspiracy.

orwhut said...

TabOrFresca,

Thank you. The story sounds like a tall tail but I guess it isn't.

Peter said...

If Manson had severed his trial and kept his mouth shut, he would have walked.

Peter said...

There would have been no physical evidence to corroborate any of the co-conspirator statements that he was at La Biancas. He wasn't at Tate's and that while case relied on "now is the time for helter skelter" and "leave something witchy". There was no physical evidence of him at Hinman's or with Shorty. He would have been back at Spahn in six months.

ColScott said...

http://online.ceb.com/calcases/CA3/108CA3d327.htm

this is must reading- Kanarek suing BUG for defamation. He lost but he's right imo

Peter said...

That's why you're not a judge.

Dan S said...

Manson keep his mouth shut...if the sun refused to shine....
Great point though about evidence. There was Only eyewitness testimony from coconspirators which needs corroborating evidence to be introduced

Dan S said...

"...purported non-fiction entitled Helter Skelter..."

ColScott said...

Peter- I am not a judge because my judgement is not for sale

Peter said...

Inter alia.

Trilby said...

Poor man. God rest his soul.

Trilby said...

Severe untreated mental illness is how (I suspect) you go from rocket scientist to lawyer to homeless, Colonel.

grimtraveller said...

AstroCreep said...

I would also tend to believe that California lawmakers (in 1970) had some idea or heard rumblings that the death penalty would be overturned

Well, it was an argument that was in the wind for a long while. That it was overturned after being overturned indicates that it wasn't a foregone conclusion before it was overturned !

therefore making his defense more of a delay than any sort of “my client is innocent”. I could be wrong but something that I’ve always thought to be true

Kanarek, unlike Paul Fitzgerald, maintained right to the end that not only did the prosecution not prove its case and that Charlie was convicted on hearsay, but that he was actually innocent. He was in there long before Nicholas Shreck, before Michael White, before George Stimson, before AC Fisher Aldag, before the Col.....I've read him say it in articles, I've heard him say it in interviews, and this long after the death penalty was overturned. He was saying it up until he died. He pretty much said it to Tom O'Neill, pretty much said it to Catscradle77. Perhaps he just couldn't accept that he lost and stuck to a "Manson is innocent" mantra, but I think he believed it which is partly why I think he was delusional in some aspects.

Linda sealed the case and try as he might, Kanarek couldn’t break her

Yet he was of the opinion in many interviews over the years that the prosecution didn't prove its case. He actually stated that is why he didn't bother to put on a defence. He felt there was nothing to defend against. Which is one of the reasons I wonder about him.

Unknown said...

Kanarek made another observation I've often wondered about. Irving told Cats that Grogan's brother was instrumental in getting him sprung from prison. His brother was in the California State Police and engineering the parole and extremely low key release from prison. Clem had been on the streets for a couple weeks before the public was aware he was out. Irving knew about this and I've never heard this from any other source

grimtraveller said...

Unknown said:

Kanarek made another observation I've often wondered about. Irving told Cats that Grogan's brother was instrumental in getting him sprung from prison. His brother was in the California State Police and engineering the parole and extremely low key release from prison

It was actually that interview that first alerted me to what might be Irving's deteriorating mental state. At the time I had no idea what had happened to him or anyone else connected with the case as I was fairly new to TLB blogsites and I'd not come across any books that took a long range backward view at the players in the saga and what had happened to them. There was a thread about it on Cats' site and I remember pointing out a number of things he said that were demonstrably untrue or highly suspect. It's a shame that site ceased to exist because there was so much valuable archive material in it and lots of really intelligent and well thought through discussion among a large host of characters. I always liked the way Cats would be so protective of Irving but wouldn't shut down points people made about him that weren't exactly complimentary.
As for the Grogan parole thing, I have my doubts that a cop has the kind of clout that can wiggle a parole at state level. I think Grogan's parole came through a combination of factors and that there was no media fanfare when he was released was a good thing. His remaining on the straight and narrow has long been the fly in the ointment for those that say that ex Family members couldn't get away from the mindset they were entrenched in back in the day and it's ironic that him of all people should end up being the poster child for second chances and redemption. When I first read "Helter Skelter" he was anything but.

Matthew said...

I sometime wonder if Grogan would have gotten paroled at all if Shorty was not pretty much alone in the world. He did not have a Doris Tate watching over him

Peter said...

That would make an interesting topic for a post. "Did the prosecution actually prove its case against Manson based on the admissible evidence." I think I would tend to agree with Kanarek that they did not. Regardless of the fact that I think Manson was guilty. I guess that's why Helter Skelter was so important, it was the only non-co-conspiritor testimony implicating Manson. All the testimony by Lake, DeCarlo, Melcher, Poston, Watkins, etc. What was the corroborating physical evidence? A pair of leather thongs? A broken sword that may have been carried at one time by Manson?

Peter said...

I assume ea motion was made for a directed verdict or whatever it is in a criminal trial, although Kanarek's motions were often not well argued or even well contemplated. And the decisions are just as often made off the cuff. I suppose the prosecution's closing argument would sum up the "evidence" and jury instructions would lay out the issues of fact to be decided. Do they have jury instructions in criminal cases?

Peter said...

The decision by the appellate court on Manson's appeal lays out what the corroborating evidence was. Seems pretty thin to me, but apparently pretty thin is all you need.

booboo said...

there are many characters, large & small, in thee manson saga, but the irv is a favorite of mine, & even though his life after manson was troubled, to say to the least, i was moved to read he reached 100 years. his ability to tear apart a question is beyond words. RIP