TRIALS: The Magical Mystery Tour

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There is an exit even in the house of horrors that is the Charles Manson murder trial, but it is not possible to leave such a place in peace. As the end of their work finally neared, the jurors last week were shown a display of aberration that was bound to haunt them for a long time to come. It amounted to an unstated plea of insanity.

On view, getting the attention she so openly pleads for, was the first of the four defendants to appear before the jury. Susan Denise Atkins, sounding high, embarrassingly theatrical, rolling her eyes and screwing her face as if to focus her mind, held the witness stand like a prize of war for three days.

Describing her murderous night with a knife in the home of Sharon Tate, she demonstrated a disassociation, an unbridgeable chasm between the act and the emotions that should be attached to it. But—and it is a "but" of doubt that will never entirely leave the Manson story—she also showed an ability to make legal points that served a clear end: to absolve her leader and accuse the state's chief witness, Linda Kasabian.

Blood Writing. The jury, sitting for its 36th week, had already pronounced the guilt of Manson, Atkins and two other Manson followers, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. Now, under California law, a second trial is under way to determine the penalty. While the jury still will not hear a formal defense of insanity—Manson has forbidden it—the panel cannot escape the implications of the women's behavior and their words.

The jurors heard Susan Atkins describe herself murdering Miss Tate, who was in her last month of pregnancy: "She said, 'Please, all I want to do is have my baby.' I said, 'Don't move, don't talk to me. I don't want to hear it.' I just stabbed her, and she fell, and I stabbed her again. I don't know how many times I stabbed her." Atkins dipped a towel in Miss Tate's blood and wrote PIG on the front door of the house.

Did she feel hate toward any of the five persons who died that night? "No. I didn't know any of them. How could I have had any feelings—nothing. What I was doing was right. I was coming from love. I had no thoughts in my head. I have no guilt in me." How can someone be killed out of love? "To explain the feeling would be almost impossible to relate so that you could understand it. It was like, when I would stab. I was stabbing myself. The touching of a flower, looking at the sun, whatever I do and I know is right when I am doing it, feels good."

Legal Point. In the rest of her statements, Atkins calculatedly struck at the successful prosecution case. Earlier testimony, including her own before a grand jury and Kasabian's during the trial, had accused Manson of conceiving the murders. His motive was said to be a desire to make whites believe that a black uprising had begun.

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