Saturday 16 December 2017

Sharon Tate's lasting legacy as the face of victims' rights

The actress's brutal murder led to the voices of victims and families being heard in the legal process

Actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant when she was murdered by Manson's gang.
Actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant when she was murdered by Manson's gang.

Theresa Vargas

Sharon Tate begged for more time before she was murdered. She was due to give birth to a son a fortnight later and pleaded: "Please don't kill me. I just want to have my baby."

One of Charles Manson's followers then stabbed the actress 16 times, and with a towel dipped in her blood, wrote "PIG" on her front door. Fifteen years after her daughter's death, Doris Tate recalled that plea in front of a Manson Family member convicted of killing Tate and four others at the star's home.

"What mercy, sir, did you show my daughter when she was begging for her life?" Doris Tate asked Charles 'Tex' Watson during his 1984 parole hearing.

"When will I come up for parole? Can you tell me that? Will the seven victims and possibly more walk out of their graves if you get parole?"

The moment was powerful not only because of the words Tate chose, but because of what they represented: the first victim impact statement in California, which eventually became a worldwide phenomenon and arrived in Ireland in 1993 with the Criminal Justice Act.

Manson will be remembered for many things: his ability to manipulate, his failed musical aspirations and his capacity for evil.

But his legacy will also include an unintended, positive consequence that has benefited countless people in the decades since Tate's death. Because of the work her mother began and her sisters continued, victims' voices carry a weight in many nations' legal systems and none of Manson's minions, including Watson, have seen freedom.

Doris Tate helped get the Victim's Rights Bill, which allowed for victim impact statements, passed in California in 1982.

All 50 American states now allow victims to speak either written or orally at certain phases of the legal process, according to the US National Centre for Victims of Crime.

"Victim impact statements are often the victims' only opportunity to participate in the criminal justice process or to confront the offenders who have harmed them," the National Centre's website reads. "Many victims report that making such statements improves their satisfaction with the criminal justice process and helps them recover from the crime."

Doris Tate wasn't a natural activist. She spent more than a decade after her oldest daughter's brutal death devastated by her grief.

She came forward publicly only after she learned that one of Mason's devotees, Leslie Van Houten, had gathered 900 signatures in support of her obtaining parole.

Tate helped to gather 350,000 signatures against Houten's parole.

Tate later founded the Coalition on Victims' Equal Rights and worked the rests of her life toward victims' rights.

In 1992, before her death that year at 68, President George HW Bush honoured her as one of his 'thousand points of light', an initiative recognising clubs and volunteer organisations

"You can't make sense out of the innocent slaughter of Sharon and the other victims," Tate once said.

"The most that I, or any person touched by violence, can hope for is acceptance of the pain.

"You never forget it, not even with the passage of time. But, if, in my work, I can help transform Sharon's legacy from murder victim to a symbol for victims' rights, I will have accomplished what I set out to do."

Sharon Tate was the oldest daughter of Doris and Paul Tate. She was only six months old when her beauty first gained her recognition. She was named a Miss Tiny Tot of Texas.

Later, when she was a teenager, as the daughter of an Army colonel, she appeared in a bathing suit on the cover of the military publication Stars and Stripes.

As an actress, even when she appeared in poorly reviewed films, critics noted how striking she looked. Hollywood embraced her and she counted among her close friends Mia Farrow and Tony Curtis.

She met director Roman Polanski while filing The Fearless Vampire Killers and she wore a white mini dress when she married him on January 20, 1968.

Later that year, she became pregnant and the two started looking for a larger home. They found one in 10050 Cielo Drive.

Manson knew the address. He had been there before. Record producer Terry Melcher had lived there, and Manson had hoped Melcher, who had auditioned him, was going to sign him to a record deal. But he didn't.

"Manson was mad about that," Michael McGann, a detective involved in the investigation, recalled. "It's no accident he sent his group to Cielo."

Vincent Bugliosi, who led the prosecution of Manson and his followers and later wrote a best-selling account of the case, also said Manson deliberately targeted the house.

Bugliosi said Manson told a group of his followers the afternoon before the murders, "Now is the time for Helter Skelter", referring to the race wars he hoped to provoke after the killings. "Go to the former home of Terry Melcher and kill everyone on the premises."

Bugliosi said Watson then gathered Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian to help with the task.

Killed alongside Tate were Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger and Steve Parent. Polanksi was out of town at the time. The next night, Manson followers killed two more people - Leno and Rosemary LaBianca - and wrote "Healter Skelter" in blood on a refrigerator.

The murders left Hollywood shaken. Stars reportedly moved, and in two days, a Beverly Hills sporting goods store sold 200 firearms, according to media reports. Manson and the others were convicted and sentenced to death in 1971.

Because the California Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972, their sentences were changed to life in prison.

After her mother's death, Tate's sister, Patti Tate, continued to fight for victims and to keep the Manson family in prison. When Patti died of breast cancer in 2000, her sister, Debra Tate, took on that role. She wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times earlier this year that ran under the headline 'Why members of the Manson family still don't deserve parole after murdering my sister'.

Tate wrote the piece after attending the 14th parole hearing of Krenwinkel, for which she had gathered 98,000 signatures in 13 days opposing the release. More than 10,000 people also wrote letters. "Look up the word 'sociopath'," Tate wrote. "You will see there is no cure for this affliction. There is no medication, no programming that can relieve it... Krenwinkel - and all the members of the Manson family - should never be granted parole."

© The Washington Post

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