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On Trial

I was held in Atascadero State Hospital from October 31, 1970, to February 14, 1971. The ambulance that took me up from the county jail passed fields of pumpkins, and I thought of Halloweens at home when I was a kid. Late that night, as we pulled off the freeway in Atascadero, I remembered the speeding ticket Dean Moorehouse and I had gotten two and a half years before in Terry Melcher's XKE. How had all that talk of love brought me to this?

I was too weak to walk, so was taken inside on a gurney. There were only two things in my mind: the certainty that Christ, whatever and whoever He was, was with me, so everything would be all right, and a warning from Sam Bubrick not to speak to anybody about the murders.

When I woke up the next morning, strapped to a cot, there was something strange happening: daylight was pouring into the room. At both Los Angeles jails you never saw real sunlight, only the glaring electric bulbs that ran night and day.

When I got a little stronger (they were spoon-feeding me), I was moved to a new room that had nothing but a mattress on the floor and a hole in one corner for a toilet. It was to be my home for three weeks, while the doctors and medical assistants spent hours talking with me, or rather at me. I responded very little, especially when they would probe for information about the killings. Finally, one afternoon I blurted out to one of the doctors, my chief tormentor, that Charlie had me so programmed that I could kill anyone, on any day, even him. I meant, if Charlie told me to, but the doctor screamed to the MTAs (Medical Trained Assistants who served as combination orderlies and guards): "He just threatened to kill me; you heard him!"

At night I was stripped to shorts and socks and given one thin blanket in the apparently unheated room. Even in California, winter nights are cold, and my strongest memory of the place is shivering in the dark. Later, a guard would tell me that this room was the last place the state of California had to put you-after that there was nothing left but a box.

I was eventually moved to a regular cell, and each day the main activity was trying to get me to eat and checking my weight to see when I would be strong enough to return to Los Angeles. Some of the MTAs (who assisted at so-called group therapy where we would sit in a circle of eight and try to think of things to say that would please them) were certain that I wasn't eating meat because I wanted to stay too sick to go to trial. One afternoon they took me into an empty office and held a piece of beef under my nose.

"Eat this," one of them told me.

"No."

I suddenly doubled over as another one of them started karate-chopping me on the neck and ribs. Then he popped me just under the sternum, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in an oxygen mask, my face and limbs blue. When I was conscious again, the three of them took me back to my room and stripped me, checking for bruises. Later, a hospital psychiatrist would pass this off in court as "wrestling therapy" intended to bring out my aggressions so I could "deal with them." This peculiar therapy was not all that unusual in Ward 14. Patients who got out of hand, or sometimes were simply disliked by certain MTAs, often disappeared into one of the back rooms for a therapeutic beating.

I finally got a job setting up the "chow carts" and was allowed extra vegetables as a reward. By February my weight was back up to 128 pounds, so I was sent to Los Angeles on a bus with a number of other inmates. It was like a vacation, sitting at the window and watching the countryside slide by, full of light and air and life. Even the freeway made me want to laugh for joy.

I'd only been back in the County Jail for a few days when I was called down to the visiting room. It was Brenda (Nancy Pitman) and one of the young boys who'd hung around on the edges of the Family. All I could do was stare at their foreheads-they had torn ragged X marks in the flesh. Later I was told that they were copying Charlie, who did it to show the court that he had X-ed himself out of the establishment's world. I refused to see any Family members again.

On March 29, 1971, Charlie, Susan, Leslie, and Katie were all found guilty of first-degree murder with a penalty of death. Susan turned to the jury and screamed: "Better lock your doors and watch your own kids." On April 19, Judge Charles Older formally sentenced each of them to the gas chamber. When the decision was announced, one of the Family girls who'd been keeping vigil outside the courthouse skrieked into waiting television cameras: "Death? That's what you're all going to get!"

On May 10 I entered a plea of "not guilty by reason of insanity" before Judge Adolph Alexander, who by coincidence was a personal friend of Sam Bubrick's.

I spent the following summer talking to psychiatrist after psychiatrist, having electroencephalograms made, taking tests, telling Bubrick everything I could remember about my use of drugs, Manson's domination, and my mental state at the time of the murders. Bubrick was convinced we could at least have the charge reduced from first- to second-degree murder on the basis of diminished mental capacity, if not win an acquittal and have me hospitalized.

When I was alone, I'd read the Bible. Gradually, more of it began to open up to me. Things I should have known all my life-raised in a religious home and taken to a Christian church-somehow now started to make sense to me for the first time. My understanding was groping and incomplete, but I caught the first glimpses of what I would know more clearly later: that my own horrors were part of a larger horror, a whole world gone wrong because creatures made by and for a loving God (not the bearded judge I'd imagined when I was a kid) tried to be gods themselves and run their world without Him. That in no way took away my responsibility for what I'd done, what I'd allowed myself to become, but it explained why, when I had opened myself to whatever was around me in this broken world, what flooded the emptiness inside me was demonic and deadly.

I began to see, too, that even for guilt as gross as mine, a penalty had already been paid. A death penalty, carried by God Himself in His Son Jesus. I could see easily how the power of death and destruction ruled this present world, or seemed to-I'd served that power, expressed through one diabolical man who wanted to be a god. Slowly I began to see, as well, the power of God's love to overcome that death and destruction, to heal it, not just abstractly but immediately and specifically-for me. Even for me.

If my self had been shattered into a thousand disjointed pieces, the God who made that self to begin with could mend it. If I had so torn apart my consciousness by a dozen different mind-bending drugs that I was barely human anymore, God could heal what I'd done to myself.

But what about what I'd done to others, to seven others and one never born? Nothing could make that right. No, Chaplain Goffigan told me, but it could be forgiven.

Somehow, in all those years in church, I'd missed the incredible news that church was supposed to be all about: that the Creator of all there is had become part of His own Creation; that He did it for love and that He let His creatures, people like us, kill Him so that we could live-so that we could be free from the death that was the only thing left for us once we turned away from Life Himself. That was what love was all about: God, dying for us in His Son, to put an end to the death that is our living without Him and to make new life out of the death that seems to end our lives.

Charlie's trip had been death, but this Jesus promised life. Charlie had taught me to fear so I could love, but this Bible said in 1 John 4:18 that perfect love destroyed all our fear. If only it could be true. Yet it was! Hadn't I learned that when I was strapped to the cot in the hospital and He'd made it so clear that He was with me? That was what love was like, what I'd felt then.

Slowly-as I read and tried haltingly to talk to God with words in my head-the cross I'd seen in all those old Bible illustrations made more and more sense, because at that cross the Son of God had taken everything that mankind had bent and twisted and perverted in God's good Creation onto Himself.

If it was true, that meant that God didn't turn away from anything I'd dragged myself into. God didn't turn away from Family members squirming together in mindless sexual orgies-He took that on Himself and nailed it to the cross. God didn't turn away from the destruction I'd wreaked on my mind and body-that too was spiked through and crucified. He didn't even turn away from those two nights of butchery. He took all that anguish and horror. He took the guilt of my bloody hands, and that, too-even that, if I would let go of it-could be nailed up, done away with. It seemed impossible, too good to be true, but the Bible said it and Chaplain Goffigan said it. Something inside of me said it, too. There could be light, even in my darkness.

I might have to die for what I'd done, as Charlie and Sadie and Leslie and Katie were supposed to die, but even if I were executed, the eternal death, the death of the true Bottomless Pit that Charlie so appropriately distorted into his hellish vision of heaven, that death was broken by Christ for me. All I had to do was accept what had been done for me-say yes.

As best as I could in my mental state, I think I did say yes, I think the yes had somehow been said several months before as I lay strapped to that cot repeating Psalm 23 over and over. But it was a yes that would take time to have its effect.

During my trial, Prosecutor Bugliosi would insist that my claim to feel remorse was untrue, just as my apparent mental collapse was a fake as far as he was concerned. But he was wrong. As much as my scarred conscience was capable of feeling anything at the time, I had genuine sorrow for what I had done, for the unspeakable pain I had caused both the victims and those who loved them. But he was right if he meant that what I felt was still far less than what a person who had not spent two years blasting all trace of humanity out of him would feel. When I came to trial on August 2, 1971, I was more than I had been when Manson had reduced me to nothing, but I was a long way from what God, by His grace, would make me, and farther still from what I trust I'll someday be in Him.

It was strange, but sitting in judge Alexander's courtroom, listening to the trial that would presumably determine whether I lived or died, I felt practically nothing. Even the fact that my mother was in the audience each day, seeing and hearing all the horror of what the son she'd been so proud of had done and become, even that didn't really touch me. When she came up to, the defense table one morning early in the trial and put her arms around me, I pulled away. I didn't want to feel any more than I had to, there was enough reason for anguish already.

The first witnesses were Paul Tate, Sharon's father, and Steven Parent's dad, Wilfred. Watching them, listening to them give evidence as to when and where they'd last seen the people they'd loved so much, the people I'd destroyed, I felt more deeply than ever before the reality of what we'd done those nights, but I couldn't show it. What was going on inside me was somehow unconnected with my body. I sat quietly in my chair at the defense table each day-dressed in the shirt and tie and blazer that Bugliosi was so sure were for effect-sat with my Bible in front of me and my mouth sagging in an attempt to breathe. In the holding tank during recesses and before court started in the morning, I'd read that book, trying to draw out all the life that was in it for me.

Sometimes on days we weren't in court, Bubrick would bring my mother to visit me at the jail, but there was little I could say. She was hearing too much in court as it was, sitting almost motionless behind the dark glasses she always wore in case she wanted to cry. She never did cry in that courtroom, even with the enormity of what she heard. She saved her tears for nighttime in the squalid little room she'd rented in the Astor Apartments on Hill Street, within walking distance of the court in downtown Los Angeles. She didn't have access to a car, so each day she trekked to the court and every Sunday she'd walk several miles to a large Methodist church in the heart of the city. She never missed a Sunday, even though the minister made a point of ignoring her after her first visit, when she introduced herself in hopes he might give her some spiritual support and encouragement. "I guess city Methodists just aren't like country Methodists at home," she once said wistfully.

For someone who grew up on Perry Mason television dramas, the pace of an actual murder trial was excruciatingly slow. I did learn some things I had not known before, however. One was that in our orgy of death we'd missed the caretaker William Garretson, who was a few hundred feet away, across the swimming pool in a guest house listening to music while the slaughter went on. I had actually heard about him from one of my lawyers before the trial began, but now I saw him: a nervous, thin boy about my age. He avoided my eyes. I'm still amazed that he didn't hear the shots or Frykowski's screams for help, but as Bugliosi later said in his book, sounds did strange things in the canyons.

I also found out we'd missed almost a hundred dollars in cash in the Tate house, most of it in Jay Sebring's wallet, and I learned for the first time the full extent of our ferocity. Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi laid it out carefully in his precise, high-pitched voice: Sharon Tate, stabbed sixteen times (any five of the wounds in and of themselves fatal); Abigail Folger, stabbed twenty-eight times; Voytek Frykowski, stabbed fifty-one times (seven of the wounds fatal), struck over the head with a blunt object thirteen times (the wounds collectively fatal), and shot twice. It went on and on, Deputy Medical Examiner David Katsuyama replacing Noguchi for descriptions of the LaBianca victims. I kept wondering how I could have, we could have, struck so many times. Later a defense psychiatrist, Dr. Ira Frank, would explain that speed sometimes creates a phenomenon called "preservation"-the mechanical repetition of a manual act or series of acts. That was how it had been, over and over, again and again, my arm like a machine, at one with the blade.

Dean Moorehouse made an appearance. I had not seen him since the day over three years before when he'd taken off for his second trial in Ukiah. He had not changed. When asked to state his occupation, he answered: "Turning people on to the truth." The former Methodist minister went on to say in his testimony that the more acid I'd taken the more and more beautiful a person I'd become. I wondered how beautiful Dean would have thought I was at 10050 Cielo Drive on August 9, or at 3301 Waverly Drive the following night.

Linda Kasabian was the star witness for the prosecution and she repeated the story she'd told at the trial of Charlie and the girls. It was the truth and it was horrible. My mother sat stiffly in the back of the courtroom, hearing the details for the first time. On her way down the corridor afterward, a photographer snapped her picture. She managed to get away before a reporter could ask her how it had felt to hear Linda's description of her son battering a man to death.

Later, my mother-along with Richard Carson and the onion farmer I'd worked for so many summers-testified about the kind of person I'd been before I left for California. Rich went on to say that once I'd joined the Family, I seemed to have lost my identity and any capacity for emotion.

Then I took the stand. Despite some of the truth I'd begun to see through reading the Bible and talking to Chaplain Goffigan, self-preservation won out in court and I admitted only what I felt I had to, what the prosecution already knew. I admitted shooting or stabbing everyone at the Tate house except Sharon. I denied killing her since Bugliosi and a previous jury were convinced Susan Atkins had done it. I claimed that Linda had driven to 10050 Cielo Drive, and tried to lay all the evidence of premeditation on Charlie or one of the girls. Also, since all the other witnesses to the events outside the LaBianca house had said that Charlie went in alone to tie up the victims, I went along with that story, figuring it made me look that much less responsible. I closed my testimony by saying that, at the time, the murders and the events around them had not seemed real to me, and that only since then had I developed an awareness of the reality of what I'd done and begun to feel remorse for it.

As both sides anticipated, the real focus of the trial was a battle between psychiatric experts as to whether or not I was insane. The defense called eight witnesses who testified that I was a paranoid schizophrenic (from intensive and chronic ingestion of drugs and hallucinogenics), that I had suffered organic brain damage, that my I. Q. had sunk from 120 to 89, that I was an insecure, dependent, immature personality type, and that I had been part of a folie a deux (a shared madness between two or more intimately related people). The witnesses all spoke with absolute assurance and presented various medical, neurological, and psychiatric tests to prove that I was insane and therefore not truly responsible for what I had done.
The prosecution had its own slate of expert psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurosurgeons. They were equally certain that I was either faking mental illness or suffering a psychological disturbance that was not so severe as to render me unable to commit deliberate, premeditated murder and know what it meant, morally and legally. There was no doubt, they said, that under the law I was fully responsible for what I had done on those two nights.

The jury believed Mr. Bugliosi's experts, but apparently Judge Alexander found ours more convincing. As Bugliosi later complained, the judge did show enormous skepticism toward the prosecution witnesses and equally obvious confidence in ours, and he did say, on the day I was sentenced, that if he had tried the case without a jury, he would possibly have arrived at a different verdict.

Long before the trial ended, I was quite certain that I would be convicted (though somehow I didn't think I would be sentenced to death). Bubrick must have also felt we were fighting a losing battle, since in his summation he suddenly resurrected a theory which the girls had tried to use in the earlier trial. He accused poor Linda Kasabian of being the primary culprit, the real ringleader who directed the murders at Cielo Drive and was rewarded for her success by driving the car the next night. It was patently ridiculous, but Bubrick closed his remarks by, pointing out that while I was in high school "back in Texas playing football, what was Linda Kasabian doing? She was going from commune to commune, traveling from man to man, living off boyfriends, shooting speed, selling drugs, living by her wits." The jury still found her testimony compelling-and on October 12, 1971, found me guilty of seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder.

The sanity phase of the trial was short, and the verdict a foregone conclusion. On October 19, after only two and a half hours of deliberation, the jury decided I was sane when the murders were committed.

On October 21, it took them six hours to determine that I deserved the death penalty. It had begun with music and love in a Sunset Boulevard mansion and now it would end with Charlie and me together again on San Quentin's Death Row.

Chapter Eightteen Table of Content Chapter Twenty

(Will You Die For Me? Copyright 1978, by Ray Hoekstra. Published by Cross Roads Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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