Sunday 22 April 2018

Manson prosecutor Bugliosi dies

Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Charles Manson trial, who has died aged 80 (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)
Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Charles Manson trial, who has died aged 80 (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Charles Manson trial who went on to write the best-selling true-crime book Helter Skelter, has died at the age of 80.

His son, Vincent Bugliosi Jr, told the Associated Press that his father died of cancer at a hospital in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Mr Bugliosi Sr won convictions against Manson and three followers for the shocking 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others. He turned their trial into a marathon showcase for the bizarre lifestyle of Manson and his tribe of followers known as the Manson Family.

It was the longest and most expensive criminal trial in Los Angeles history at the time.

After the trial, Mr Bugliosi's biggest success came in true-crime and non-fiction books.

His death was first reported by KNBC-TV.

Mr Bugliosi Jr said his father had "an unflagging dedication to justice" in everything he did.

As an author, Mr Bugliosi Sr was best known for Helter Skelter, which was his account of the Manson Family and the killings of Ms Tate and six others by followers of cult leader Charles Manson.

Mr Bugliosi had prosecuted Manson and his female followers, winning convictions in one of America's most sensational trials.

He was an unknown Los Angeles deputy district attorney when, on August 9 1969, the bodies of Ms Tate, the actress wife of film director Roman Polanski, and four other people were found butchered by unknown assailants who left bloody scrawlings on the door of her elegant home.

The victims included members of Hollywood's glitterati: celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring; coffee heiress Abigail Folger; Polish film director Voityck Frykowksi; Ms Tate, who was eight and a half months pregnant; and Steven Parent, the friend of a caretaker.

A night later, two more mutilated bodies were found across town in another upmarket neighbourhood. The crime scene was marked with the same bloody scrawlings of words including "Pigs" and "Rise" and "Helter Skelter". The victims were grocers Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, who had no connection to Ms Tate and her glamorous friends.

Mr Bugliosi was one of those assigned to the team of prosecutors while the case was being investigated.

When members of the rag tag Manson Family were caught and charged with the crimes months later, a more veteran prosecutor, Aaron Stovitz, was named head of the district attorney's team and Mr Bugliosi was assigned the second chair. But before long, a dispute arose between Mr Stovitz and his boss over a remark he made to the media. He was summarily removed from the case and the intense, ambitious Mr Bugliosi stepped into the role of a lifetime.

The trial of Manson and three female followers, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, lasted nine and a half months and became a courtroom drama that rivalled any cinematic trial. It cost Los Angeles County 1 million dollars.

Mr Bugliosi set the tone in his opening statement and closing argument, denouncing Manson as a murderous cult leader and his followers as young killers willing to do his bidding. He called the women "robots" and "zombies," manipulated by Manson - "a dictatorial maharajah of a tribe of bootlicking slaves".

He first proposed the theory that Manson was inspired to violence by the Beatles song Helter Skelter, which the cult leader thought predicted a race war that Manson and his followers would foment.

Determined to show the breadth of the Manson Family's reach, Mr Bugliosi called 84 witnesses, most of them a parade of disaffected young people who joined up with Manson and fell under his sway.

The trial became an exploration of the cult and its drug- and sex-fuelled adoration of Manson whom members venerated as Jesus.

At times, the defendants sought to taunt the prosecutor, jumping up and singing in court or grabbing at his papers on his lectern. The trial went on for so long that a defence lawyer disappeared and was found dead in the woods. Mr Bugliosi maintained there was foul play but none was found.

Mr Bugliosi was born in Hibbing, Minnesota, in 1934 He attended the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Florida, on a tennis scholarship and graduated from the law school of the University of California, Los Angeles.

After the Manson trial, he wrote Helter Skelter with collaborator Curt Gentry, and it became one of the best-selling crime books of all time.

He tried running for public office and lost, tried his hand at practising defence law but ultimately returned to writing books. He wrote a dozen books, including the true-crime books, Till Death Do Us Part and And The Sea Will Tell.

His non-fiction efforts, which took on controversial subjects, included Outrage: The Five Reasons Why OJ Simpson Got Away With Murder and The Prosecution of George W Bush for Murder.

Mr Bugliosi Jr said his father was most proud of his nearly 2,000-page examination of the Kennedy Assassination, Reclaiming History, which took more than 20 years to write.

But Mr Bugliosi Sr remained most associated with the Manson case for the rest of his life. Reflecting on it 40 years later, he said: "These murders were probably the most bizarre in the recorded annals of American crime ... Evil has its lure and Manson has become a metaphor for evil."

Mr Bugliosi and his wife of 59 years, Gail, had two children, Wendy and Vince Jr.

Press Association

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