What Would Charlie Do? Part 9: Siding With Charlie

This series looks at the origins of American counterculture through the lens of Charles Manson and the murders credited to his name.

Charles Manson and the three others who had taken part in the murder at 10050 Cielo Drive were convicted of murder and sentenced to death, and yet, they were never put to death. Neither was the additional defendant that participated in the LaBianca murders, Leslie Van Houten. Manson’s sick “Family” killed an unknown number of people and there are still unsolved murders which Manson is suspected, yet, he lived under the care of the State of California for nearly 50 years and died in 2017. He outlived Susan Atkins who died in 2009. Patricia Krenwinkel, Charles “Tex” Watson, and Leslie Van Houston are still in prison. Robert Kennedy’s killer, Sirhan Sirhan, is also still alive and still being funded by the citizens of California as are hundreds of others.

How did this happen? The issue comes back again to cultural change and how a changing culture ultimately manifests itself as both laws and the interpretation and enforcement of those laws.

A series of court rulings in the sixties and into the seventies redefined the relationship of the convicted killer to the state. The judges on the California Supreme Court along with the justices on the notorious Warren Court at the Federal level, allowed the killers to survive.

In California, the decision to allow the killers to live was specifically repudiated by the courts after the rulings, and yet, since the culture had changed, the leading voices of that new cultural imperative also saw to it that the will of the majority was thwarted, and Manson lived long enough to see himself converted into an icon, and his willing followers became parents, authors and recording artists.

Here we look at the cases that spared the life of Charles Manson and have defined the treatment of criminal defendants and those convicted of murder since the great turning point in American cultural history. Much of the events that led the defendants to garner the death penalty are recounted in detail so that the full horror of their actions and what they were forgiven for can be contemplated.

And yes, they were forgiven. I think it is the right word. That is what allows them to live under state care for life means. Parole means they are free, and all is forgotten, except for the families of the dead, who do not forget. The state does not get to split the difference; it punishes one or the other. In Carlie’s time, the state changed sides, and they sided with Charlie.

Changeling

You can’t know where you are or where you are going unless you know where you came from. All histories work this way. To see the shift that occurred in California and around the US, we can look at how a criminal suspect was treated in the past. 

Gordon Stewart Northcott was a Canadian who moved the Los Angeles with his parents in 1924. With his father, he started a small chicken ranch in Wineville, a tiny town to the East of LA, and it was here that Northcott committed several murders of young boys. He admitted later to killing kids on his land after keeping them captives in his chicken pens.

Northcott would often abduct young boys and rape them, sometimes letting them go, but he also killed several and in one instance, beheaded a boy and made his young nephew, Sanford Clark, whom Northcott had also beaten and raped, burn the head in a firepit. Clark told his sister that he feared for his life and that Northcott had killed four boys on the ranch, and she notified the police. Northcott fled to Canada but was later extradited to the United States, where he was tried for murder. On February 8, 1929, he was found guilty of killing four perfectly innocent young boys whom he first terrorized and raped. On October 2, 1930, less than 2 years later, he was hanged at San Quentin Prison. 

The story of Northcott and what he did is as brutal as all the tales of barbaric butchery to follow, but it has a different end. Northcott was executed and the mother of one of his victims, Christine Ida Collins, was spared any more years of torment by this monster and pervert. Her son, Walter Collins, was murdered by Northcott. A boy in Iowa claimed to be her missing son, and he was brought to Mrs. Collins, and when she insisted that the boy was not her son, the police pressured her to ‘try the boy out’ to see if it was her son. She never accepted that the boy was her son and three weeks later, the boy admitted he was a runaway and not Walter Collins. Her son had since been murdered by Northcott.

The sad tale of Christine Collins is recounted in the 2008 move titled Changeling which was directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Angelina Jolie. It is a great movie and does us all a service by reenacting the execution of Gordon Stewart Northcott.

Note the men who took Northcott to the gallows, read him the verdict, pushed him up the stairs, put the noose around his neck, and delivered justice to Collins and the other murdered boys and sparred Mrs. Collins the misery of worrying that Gordon Northcott would ever go free, or worse yet, become a cult figure. This is the look of men confident in their judgment and intolerant of killers like Northcott walking in their midst. 

Execution scene from Changling

Perhaps Eastwood took some creative license with this scene, but a hanging is a hanging, and on some level, what is seen in the film is what the state did to Gordon Stewart Northcott, which was what he richly deserved. The men that hung Northcott did the public a service, and hopefully, slept well in their later years.

After World War 2, the slide in American society started. The legal system grew ever more complex, and a series of rulings made it harder for the police and the states to secure convictions. In many instances these new complexities did not revolve around the actual established facts or the guilt or innocence of a particular defendant. The new imperatives began as procedural hurdles put in place by lawyers who stated goal was to mitigate what the state did to the guilty.

Here are the cases that made the change, step by step, until Charlie had escaped the fate of Gordon Northcott.

The People v. Robert Arthur Anderson

What saved Charlie starts with another sick murder seven years before Manson’s 1969 killing spree and 30 years after the hanging of Gordon Stewart Northcott. There are two People v Anderson cases, and the second, the case most responsible for allowing Charlie to live, quotes this People v Anderson as part of its twisted reasoning. 

In this case, a 10-year-old girl named Victoria Hammond was brutally murdered at home with a knife wielded by her mother’s boyfriend. Quoting from the case, here is what happened: 

Defendant, a San Jose cab driver, had been living for about eight months with a Mrs. Hammond and her three children, Cynthia, aged 17, Kenneth, aged 13, and the victim, Victoria, aged 10. On the morning of the day of the murder, December 7, 1962, Mrs. Hammond left for work at 7:30 a.m., leaving only Victoria at home with the defendant.

At some point during the day, Anderson murdered the girl, and when the brother showed up and saw all the blood, Anderson said he had cut himself. When the girl’s mother showed up, he said the brother had cut himself. Eventually, the girl’s body was found in her bedroom.

Kenneth went back to his room to get a jacket. Because he had a “weird” feeling, he looked into Victoria’s room. He found her nude, bloody body under some boxes and blankets on the floor near her bed. Kenneth ran out of the room screaming that defendant had killed her. Mrs. Hammond, after seeing Victoria’s body, went next door to phone the police.

A classmate of Victoria, who was the last person to see Victoria alive, testified that she left Victoria in front of the Hammond house about 3:45 p.m. after the two of them had walked home from school.

The arresting officer found Victoria’s body on the floor near her bed. He found defendant’s blood-spotted shorts on a chair in the living room, and a knife and defendant’s socks, with blood encrusted on the soles, in the master bedroom. The evidence established that the victim’s torn and bloodstained dress had been ripped from her, that her clothes, including her panties out of which the crotch had been ripped, were found in various rooms of the house, that there were bloody footprints matching the size of the victim’s leading from the master bedroom to Victoria’s room, and that there was blood in almost every room including the kitchen, the floor of which appeared to have been mopped.

Over 60 wounds, both severe and superficial, were found on Victoria’s body. fn. 1 The cuts extended over her entire body, including one extending from the rectum through the vagina, and the partial cutting off of her tongue. Several of the wounds, including the vaginal lacerations, were postmortem. No evidence of spermatozoa was found in the victim, on her panties, or on the bed next to which she was found.

If ever there was a case for the death penalty, surely this would be it. What decent society would allow a man who would murder and mutilate a little girl to live? On appeal, the court found the following:

We test this evidence under both of the above theories to determine whether it is sufficient to support conviction for first, rather than second, degree murder. The evidence is insufficient to support a finding of premeditation and deliberation. It is well established that the brutality of a killing cannot in itself support a finding that the killer acted with premeditation and deliberation.

Anderson was drunk, and so evaded the death penalty and lived, while 10-year-old Victoria Hammond, tortured and mutilated, was not avenged. The reasoning was that he was drunk, and therefore, did not premeditate the killing, but did it spontaneously, and that act made it so the state could deliberately spare his life, Victoria Hammond be damned.

The People v Robert Page Anderson

That bring us to another killer named Robert Anderson. It was this ruling that ceased the death penalty from being applied to Charles Manson. What did this Anderson do? From the ruling:

Facts: About 10 a.m. on April 8, 1965, defendant entered a pawnshop in San Diego attended by two employees, Theodore Swienty and Louis Richards. He had less than $2.00 in cash and a diamond ring on which he still owed approximately $60 on a conditional sales contract and for which he realized he could obtain only about $10 cash.

There was some small talk and then:

Defendant first asked for .30-.30 ammunition, and when Swienty informed him that he had none, defendant inquired about some rifles on display. At defendant’s request, Swienty removed from its case a Remington .30-06 with a telescopic sight attached and handed it to defendant for inspection. After examining the gun, defendant asked its price and was told it was $105. Defendant remarked that the price was quite steep, but declared, “I’ll take it.” He then asked for a box of shells, which Swienty procured and placed on the counter with the gun.

While Swienty was totaling the price of the two items, defendant reached over and seized the gun and ammunition. When Swienty protested, defendant said he wanted to see if the shells fit and started loading the gun as he backed away from the counter. Swienty moved toward defendant, but halted when he heard the rifle bolt slam shut and found himself staring into the barrel of the gun. Pointing the loaded rifle at Swienty from point blank range, defendant said, “I’m going to blow your brains out, you son of a bitch.”

The other salesman, Richards, said to defendant: “If you want it, you can have it. Take it and go.” As defendant swung the gun away, Swienty ducked for cover below the counter and heard Richards exclaim, “Don’t shoot,” followed almost immediately by a rifle blast.

The one surviving pawn shop employee hid after calling the police and Anderson barricaded himself inside. The police arrived and the siege began.

Officer McClennon, of the San Diego Police Department’s burglary detail, arrived on the scene and, hearing that defendant had a gun, immediately took cover nearby. From his vantage point, he observed Officer Duncan edging toward the door of the pawnshop with handgun drawn. He could also see the victim on the floor and saw defendant inside carrying a rifle with a telescopic sight and moving toward the doorway.

Officer McClennon saw defendant stop as Officer Duncan moved to the entrance of the pawnshop. When the two men confronted each other, defendant raised his rifle and fired at Duncan. Duncan fired back; both men then retreated, neither apparently having been hit.

Eventually, Anderson was taken into custody and charged with murder and given the death penalty. He was not executed, however, and he lived under the care of the state for a long time. His case was the basis of setting aside California’s death penalty because, it was argued, the prosecution had deliberately rejected jurors who opposed the death penalty.

Robert Page Anderson was set free in 1976 and he lived in peace and freedom in Seattle until his death in 1999,

The People v Frederick Saterfield

Also wrapped into the complex rulings that kept Charles Manson alive was the case of The People v Frederick Saterfield. What did he do? From the case:

Shortly after 8 a.m. on November 26, 1965, an emergency telephone call for the police was received by the Santa Ana operator. The voice was that of a young female. She was crying, and said, “Give me the police, please.” The telephone was then hung up; the operator kept the line open, but no further sounds were heard. The operator then traced the call, obtaining the customer’s name and address. She called the number back, but there was no answer. She then contacted the police and turned over the information she had obtained.

In response to radio instructions, two police officers proceeded to the address from which the telephone call had originated. Receiving no answer to their knock on the front door, the officers entered through a half-open door at the side of the garage. They checked several empty bedrooms at the back of the house, calling out to learn if anyone was at home. In the kitchen they found the body of a woman, Patricia Washington, lying on her back about two feet from the sink. She had been shot in the head. In the master bedroom the officers found a second body, that of Patricia’s 16-year-old daughter, Mary Alice. She was sitting next to a nightstand, slumped against the wall, and had also been shot in the head. A telephone was nearby, with the receiver on its cradle. A search of the house failed to disclose any weapons.

Melanie Washington, 10-year-old daughter of Patricia, testified she awoke shortly after 8 a.m. that day. She was walking down the hallway when defendant appeared at the front door and asked to come in. At first Patricia did not want to let him in, but she finally did so. Melanie went to her brother George’s room and began reading a comic book. Defendant and Patricia started talking loudly, then Patricia screamed for Mary Alice. There was a shot, and Mary Alice ran into the master bedroom and called the operator. Defendant came down the hallway and entered the bedroom with a gun in his hand. Mary Alice cried out, “Please don’t, Daddy, please don’t,” but another shot rang out.

Saterfield then took the 10-year-old and another child out for hamburgers and said he was taking them to their grandmother’s house in Los Angeles. But it was not to be:

Later that morning, Officer Brewton, one of the policemen who had discovered the bodies, returned to his patrol duties. He received a radio description of defendant and his car, a white and green Rambler station wagon. Such a vehicle drove past him, and the occupant fitted defendant’s description; he was looking in the general direction of the house where the killings had taken place. The officer made a U-turn and began following the Rambler at a high rate of speed. As he came within 100 yards of the Rambler, both vehicles were traveling about 75 miles an hour. The Rambler suddenly pulled over to the curb, and defendant alighted and began walking towards some houses. He stopped when Officer Brewton ordered him to halt, or he would shoot. At the officer’s direction defendant returned to his car and placed his hands on the roof. The officer asked him, “Where’s the gun?” and defendant said it was inside the car. In an immediate search of the vehicle a .32-caliber revolver was found lying on the floorboard on the driver’s side.

Officer Brewton then informed defendant he was under arrest for murder and advised him that he had the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent and did not have to say anything about what had happened. The officer then asked, “Fred, you understand what I’m telling you?” and defendant acknowledged he did. On reaching the police car, a second officer advised defendant of his constitutional rights, adding a warning that anything he said might be used against him in a court of law. En route to the police station, Officer Brewton asked defendant why he had shot Patricia, and defendant replied, “The damn bitch was always taking me for my money. She took everybody for their money.” The officer then asked defendant why he had shot Mary Alice, and defendant replied, “That damn bitch was the cause of most of our trouble.” When asked if he knew the victims were dead, he said he “figured” they were, adding “I did it” and “son of a bitch.” The officer testified defendant spoke in a very low tone of voice and sobbed at intervals.

At the police station, Fred Saterfield went into detail about his relationship with Patricia and how the murder had taken place:

Defendant then related that he had met Patricia in 1960, when she had seven children; he began living with her in a common law relationship, and another child was born. A week before the killings occurred Patricia and defendant separated, the latter moving into another house. Defendant “stated that the reason for the incident was that she was spending all his money. He was making between $1,200 and $1,300 a month, and putting it in the bank, and that she was spending it all plus borrowing money from her true husband, her mother and her friends; that she has written bad checks in the past, and he just couldn’t provide enough money for her.

“The reason for their separation was due to the fact that they had an argument regarding George Washington [i.e., Patricia’s lawful husband] and this money situation.

Then, the moment of truth, admitted to and recorded:

Defendant was then asked by Sergeant Curiale to demonstrate how he shot Patricia. He stated she was standing by the sink, washing dishes, when an argument developed about his use of the car and their money problems; that she turned around with a butcher knife in her hand and said, “This is what you need,” and he replied, “Don’t go threatening me with a knife”; and that he drew his gun from his waistband, extended his arm towards her, and shot her in the head. 

When asked why he shot Mary Alice, defendant said he “heard her on the telephone in the master bedroom … calling for the police.” He then “proceeded from the kitchen area down the hall into the master bedroom and over the bed, with his left hand extended, cut the phone off. He then reached over and shot her.” Defendant stated he did not know why he shot her and was sorry he had done it.

The Saterfield case revolved around his admission of guilt and wither he had been read his rights not to incriminate himself, even though he was sobbing and confessed of his own free will.

Witherspoon v Illinois

Not to be outdone, the US Supreme Court issued several relevant rulings as well, all in favor of the killers. There was Witherspoon v Illinois. Good luck finding out what Witherspoon did if you search for it; nearly all searches will turn up the Supreme Court case about jury selection.

What he did was established and in his first of many appeals in 1963, this is found:

The defendant does not contend that the evidence was insufficient to establish his guilt and it is therefore not necessary to review the evidence at any great length. We believe, however, that an understanding of some of the issues presented on this writ of error requires a brief summary of the evidence.

On the night in question, police officer Mitchell Stone and his partner, Gerald Marzillo, were on patrol duty in a squad car. They stopped at a traffic light and a woman approached the car and pointed toward the defendant, stating that he had a gun. The officers observed the defendant walking across the street towards a parking lot and they proceeded in their car down an alley adjoining the lot. The officers got out of the car and searched for the defendant, and in the course of the search the two officers became separated. Marzillo heard a shot and shortly thereafter he found officer Stone in the parking lot, mortally wounded. Marzillo radioed for help and gave the officers who responded to his call a description *485 of the defendant. The defendant was apprehended a short time later in a nearby service station and his gun was found in the washroom of the station. The defendant was taken to the hospital where he was identified by Stone and Marzillo. Officer Stone died shortly thereafter. The defendant subsequently confessed that he had killed the officer, although he refused to sign a written confession. The defendant testified in his own behalf and admitted shooting the officer but claimed that the gun went off accidentally.

So, he did it, was convicted and sentenced to die. But that was not all. His lawyers then filed an appeal that stated that the prosecution had deliberately excluded jurors who said they were against the death penalty, which was perfectly legal under Illinois law. That law was challenged in court, and it was the law, not the actions of the killer, that made it to the highest court.

The case is summarized as such:

Does a state statute that provides grounds for the dismissal of any juror with “conscientious scruples” against capital punishment violate the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of an “impartial jury” and the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of due process?

And the answer, as handed down by the highest court in the land in 1968 said yes, it did violate Witherspoon’s rights. The infamous Warren overturned the Illinois law. This summary describes the findings: 

In an opinion delivered by Justice Potter Stewart, the Court held 6-3 that Witherspoon’s death sentence was unconstitutional. The Court reasoned that a jury composed after the dismissal of all who oppose the death sentence was biased in favor the death sentence; such a jury was not impartial and thus violated the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court held that while jurors who say they will not impose the death sentence can be dismissed, jurors who simply oppose the death sentence as a personal belief may not. Justice William Douglas, concurring, argued that it also unconstitutional to dismiss prospective jurors who say they will never impose the death sentence.

Justice Hugo Black, with whom Justices John Harlan and Byron White joined, dissented. Douglas argued that the Constitution allows the dismissal of all jurors who oppose the death penalty personally, because they will be necessarily biased against the death penalty. In a separate dissent, White argued that the Illinois legislature was allowed to exclude “those with doubts” about “one of the punishments among which the legislature sought to have them choose….”

Again, no one doubted the facts and neither did Witherspoon. He admitted what he did. His case was cited in the case against Robert Page Anderson, and it was the case that saved his life, and it was that case that created the set aside which saved Charles Manson.

Which brings us to the biggest cultural change case involving the death penalty, decide by the same Warren Court just a few years later.

Furman v Georgia

This full case here actually has a longer title since it rolled up three cases into one. The official title is William Henry FURMAN, Petitioner, v. State of GEORGIA. Lucious JACKSON, Jr., Petitioner, v. State of GEORGIA. Elmer BRANCH, Petitioner, v. State of TEXAS

Here is the remarkable text, with reference to race, in the decision that describes what these men were convicted of.

Jackson, a black, convicted of the rape of a white woman, was 21 years old. A court-appointed psychiatrist said that Jackson was of average education and average intelligence, that he was not an imbecile, or schizophrenic, or psychotic, that his traits were the product of environmental influences, and that he was competent to stand trial. Jackson had entered the house after the husband left for work. He held scissors against the neck of the wife, demanding money. She could find none and a struggle ensued for the scissors, a battle which she lost; and she was then raped, Jackson keeping the scissors pressed against her neck. While there did not appear to be any long-term traumatic impact on the victim, she was bruised and abrased in the struggle but was not hospitalized. Jackson was a convict who had escaped from a work gang in the area, a result of a three-year sentence for auto theft. He was at large for three days and during that time had committed several other offenses—burglary, auto theft, and assault and battery.

Furman, a black, killed a householder while seeking to enter the home at night. Furman shot the deceased through a closed door. He was 26 years old and had finished the sixth grade in school. Pending trial, he was committed to the Georgia Central State Hospital for a psychiatric examination on his plea of insanity tendered by court-appointed counsel. The superintendent reported that a unanimous staff diagnostic conference had concluded ‘that this patient should retain his present diagnosis of Mental Deficiency, Mild to Moderate, with Psychotic Episodes associated with Convulsive Disorder.’ The physicians agreed that ‘at present the patient is not psychotic, but he is not capable of cooperating with his counsel in the preparation of his defense’; and the staff believed ‘that he is in need of further psychiatric hospitalization and treatment.’

Branch, a black, entered the rural home of a 65-year-old widow, a white, while she slept and raped her, holding his arm against her throat. Thereupon he demanded money and for 30 minutes or more the widow searched for money, finding little. As he left, Jackson said if the widow told anyone what happened, he would return and kill her. The record is barren of any medical or psychiatric evidence showing injury to her as a result of Branch’s attack.

He had previously been convicted of felony theft and found to be a borderline mental deficient and well below the average IQ of Texas prison inmates. He had the equivalent of five and a half years of grade school education. He had a ‘dull intelligence’ and was in the lowest fourth percentile of his class.

Of course, the dead giveaway is the repeated invoking of race of the defendant and the accused, which was brought up repeatedly in the arguments throughout the case. This was not a case about the death penalty but about society, which was Charlie’s reasoning when he was asked about his actions. Did the American civilization still have the will and the confidence in its own goodness and authority to say what was right and good and demand it of the country’s citizens? In essence, the Warren Court, the same one that was to decide the Roe v Wade case in a few more months, said no, the country could not wield death as a punishment as it was too corrupt.

Three of the justices released this gem:

These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual. For, of all the people convicted of rapes and murders in 1967 and 1968, many just as reprehensible as these, the petitioners are among a capriciously selected random handful upon whom the sentence of death has in fact been imposed. My concurring Brothers have demonstrated that, if any basis can be discerned for the selection of these few to be sentenced to death, it is the constitutionally impermissible basis of race. But racial discrimination has not been proved, and I put it to one side. I simply conclude that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed.

Two of the other five that made the majority did declare the practice of imposing the death penalty, a penalty that had been in place for centuries, to be unconstitutional and inconsistent with “evolving standards of decency.”

 All these cases and a few others were involved in a series of overlapping rulings that resulted in the rejection of the sentences given to Manson and his followers. In reaction, the citizens of the state of California tried to go beyond the evolving minority culture and explicitly state what they wanted. Thus, Proposition 17 was passed with 67% of the vote. It reads:

All statutes of this state in effect on February 17, 1972, requiring, authorizing, imposing, or relating to the death penalty are in full force and effect, subject to legislative amendment or repeal by statute, initiative, or referendum. The death penalty provided for under those statutes shall not be deemed to be, or to constitute, the infliction of cruel or unusual punishments within the meaning of Article I, Section 6 nor shall such punishment for such offenses be deemed to contravene any other provision of this constitution.

Culture, however, leads politics and law, and so the will of the majority could be thwarted by the cultural vanguard elite, with Charlie among them. In 1979, in a stunning display of cultural dominance, Proposition 17 was ruled unconstitutional because it ‘revised’ rather than ‘amended’ the state constitution and was thus, invalid. The majority justices admonished the voters of the state for not being sufficient with it and falling behind the times.

All these crimes and cases were swirling around in the same period Manson was active. It was in the culture that somehow, the justice system was not just and the traditional penalties for murder were not warranted or wanted. This was just another break Charlie got. Had he committed the same crimes in 1957, he likely would have gotten death. Had he committed the same crimes in another state, say, Texas, in 1987, he may have been put to death. He committed the crimes in California in the same window in which it was said society was ‘evolving’ and so, he escaped the death chamber, and he lived a long life, was interviewed repeatedly by the national press, received fan mail, and towards the end of his life, was the object of affection by a high school girl who wanted to marry him. The families of the dead have had to show up at the parole hearings year after year for Manson and all his co-conspirators to plead with the state not to release them. 

What is the purpose of a legal system that fails on a level this spectacular? Perfectly innocent people, kids like Victoria Hammond, die most horrifically and their killers, perfectly well known, live, and in most instances walk free and die in their homes, decades later. 

There is no justification good enough to warrant these outcomes, but it was a part of the era when the counterculture rose that these outcomes would be tolerated because they claimed, it was the mainstream culture that was the problem. It was in this period that a catastrophic loss of confidence was made manifest in the legal system, and the cases that would have been rejected, or not filed because the petitioner would already be dead, began to produce winners, which encouraged the legal system to take the next step, and then the next step, and before you know it, “Tex” Watson can marry from prison and have four kids and is living a mostly normal life, while the Hinman, Tate, Sebring, and LaBianca families must plead with the state not to release those that murdered their family members.

Charlie died at 83, having lived most of his life under state care, and this is because the culture sided with him and his like. 

Few wrote with such disdain for the morality of those that wanted to reject the killers and their deeds by killing them more forcefully or revealingly than California Justice Stanley Mosk. In the case of People v. Frierson, he wrote: 

The people of California responded quickly and emphatically, both directly and through their elected representatives, to callously declare that whatever the trends elsewhere in the nation and the world, society in our state does not deem the retributive extinction of a human life to be either cruel or unusual. … That as one individual I prefer values more lofty than those implicit in the macabre process of deliberately exterminating a human being does not permit me to interpret in my image the common values of the people of our state.”

OK, great, Mosk is better than the rest of us. So, what was this case about? Here are the facts:

This case arises from Frierson’s 1978 kidnaping and robbery of Edgardo Kramer and Guillermo Bulnes, and his execution-style murder of Kramer. The California Supreme Court described the events leading up to the shootings as follows:

On January 3, 1978, Kramer and Bulnes, two Peruvian airline employees, drove to the Holly Aire Motel in Inglewood to visit a woman named Chris. Bulnes knocked on the door to room 18 and told the young woman who responded, later identified as Zondre Wooley, that he was looking for Chris. Wooley later said that Chris would arrive shortly. Bulnes and Kramer then sat in Bulnes’s car parked across the street from the motel. Soon thereafter, Frierson approached the car and asked if they were waiting for Chris. When Bulnes said that they were, Frierson drew a gun and pointed it at Bulnes. He entered the back seat behind the two men, and ordered Bulnes to lock the door, close the windows, start the car and begin driving.

During the ride, Frierson demanded and obtained property from both victims. After traveling a few blocks at Frierson’s direction, Frierson ordered Bulnes to park the car. He then shot both Bulnes and Kramer in the backs of their heads. Kramer was killed. The bullet directed at Bulnes hit him above the ear but did not penetrate his skull. He was able to grapple with Frierson and disarm him. Bulnes pointed the gun at Frierson and left the car.

After running a few steps, Bulnes fell to the ground. Frierson grabbed him around the neck and tried to retrieve the weapon. During the ensuing struggle, Bulnes emptied the gun’s chamber by firing shots into the ground and threw the gun away. When [Frierson] released his grip, Bulnes ran to a nearby street, flagged down a passing motorist, and was driven to a hospital.

At the retrial, Bulnes positively identified Frierson as the assailant. He had observed nothing suggesting that Frierson was intoxicated. Frierson and Wooley were arrested a few hours after the crime in room 18 at Holly Aire Motel. Distinctive watches owned by the victims, Frierson’s bloody clothing, and other incriminating evidence was found in the motel room.

An inmate who had been at the county jail when Frierson was initially apprehended testified that Frierson had recounted the entire crime to him, admitting that he had robbed and shot the two victims.

The had the right guy. Here is a summary of the trails:

On parole for killing a rival gang member, Frierson forced Kramer and Bulnes into their car at gunpoint and robbed them of their wallets and watches. Frierson then shot both execution style.

Wounded, Bulnes wrestled the gun away, fired the remaining bullets into the ground, and survived to identify Frierson.

Jurors convicted Frierson and he was sentenced to death, but the state Supreme Court reversed the conviction in 1979, faulting Frierson’s attorney for not presenting a case.

Jurors at a second trial also convicted him. The state Supreme Court upheld the conviction but overturned the death penalty conviction because Frierson’s attorney did not offer a diminished capacity defense.

Frierson again was prosecuted in 1986, convicted and sentenced to death. The court upheld his death sentence in 1991.

And finally, the end of this sorry saga:

California’s longest-serving death row inmate had his sentence overturned for the third time Thursday after a federal appeals court ruled a defense lawyer failed to present evidence that could have kept his client from being condemned.

Reversing a lower court, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said lawyer Arnold Lieman “rendered constitutionally defective assistance” by failing to tell jurors that Lavell Frierson had a history of mental retardation, child abuse, brain damage and drug use.

“There is a reasonable probability that, had the jury been able to consider this evidence, the outcome of the penalty proceedings would have been different,” Judge Richard A. Paez wrote for a three-judge panel.

In so many ways, Charlie was on ‘the right side of history’ as the left likes to say, and he lived a long time with free housing, education, and health care.

Gordon Stewart Northcott
Christine Ida Collins
A San Diego police officer pulls Louis Richards to safety, but the man was already dead. His killer lived, and was later set free.
Furman, later set free
Warren Court liberal, Potter Stewart

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