Judge denies release of recorded interviews with Manson cult member

Los Angeles Times/September 13, 2017

By Matt Hamilton

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has denied the release of hours of recorded interviews with one of the convicted killers in Charles Manson’s cult.

The taped conversations between Charles “Tex” Watson and his late attorney were made in 1969 — shortly after Watson and other Manson acolytes were arrested. Observers of the case have long viewed the recordings as an unparalleled window into the barbarous slayings carried out by Manson and his so-called “family.”

The recordings have never been made public, and the Los Angeles Police Department said it only recently obtained them.

An attorney for Leslie Van Houten, who was convicted of killing Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, has been trying to unseal the Watson interviews as part of Van Houten’s bid for parole.

“Every shred of evidence [in the Manson case] is public record except those tapes,” said Rich Pfeiffer, Van Houten’s attorney. “They are the most reliable description of what happened.”

But the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has fought the tape’s release, saying that Van Houten cannot obtain evidence after her conviction because she does not face a sentence of death or life without parole.

RELATED: Where are they now? Charles Manson’s family, four decades after horrific murders

Prosecutors also say Van Houten, 68, could get evidence that would have been available only at the time of her trial. Because the tapes were protected by attorney-client privilege then, Van Houten would not have had access to them, prosecutors said.

In his ruling issued Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan agreed with prosecutors, adding that after reviewing a 326-page transcript, he did not find the content of the tapes relevant.

“But even if Van Houten was entitled to the Tex Watson Interview Tapes, they would add nothing not already well known,” Ryan wrote. “Watson does talk about in several places how Charles Manson had a powerful influence over him and other members of the Manson family, but that information is also very well known.”

Pfeiffer said he planned to appeal the ruling, and he has said in court papers that the tapes could help Gov. Jerry Brown make a “more informed decision” as he weighs whether to release Van Houten, who was again granted parole, from prison.

The district attorney’s office declined to comment on the judge’s ruling.

The D.A.’s office had claimed that the tapes’ release would compromise ongoing investigations, but an LAPD detective told the judge that no open investigations would be undermined by the tapes’ release.

Last week, a panel of state commissioners granted Van Houten parole. The panel’s decision is undergoing a legal review, and in about four months, the governor will have to decide whether to uphold, reverse or modify the parole decision. Brown also could send the decision to a full review by the full board of state parole commissioners.

Van Houten was not part of the Manson followers who on Aug. 9, 1969, stormed the Benedict Canyon home shared by pregnant actress Sharon Tate, 26, and her movie director husband, Roman Polanski, who was not at home at the time. Tate and four others were stabbed and shot to death that night.

Manson, 82, and other acolytes involved in the slayings are still behind bars. Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel each have been denied parole several times. Susan Atkins, who was denied parole 13 times, died in prison in 2009.

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