The Wrongful Conviction of Charles Manson by Leonetti.pdf


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45.2LEONETTI_3.1.16 (DO NOT DELETE)

2015]

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

3/12/2016 2:40 PM

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from afar, through mind control. The only thing linking him to the murders
was the testimony of the murderers, whose version of events – Manson the
brutal cult leader that they blindly followed and could not disobey – was
patently self-serving, implausible, and contradicted at many points by other
evidence. Over time, however, the thin reed on which Manson was
convicted has become the trunk of a mighty oak. It is beyond question,
beyond discussion. When I tell people that I suspect that he is innocent,
they do not just disagree with me, they roll their eyes and refuse to listen.
Then, there are the matters of class and mental illness. In 1970,
psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia were not as well understood as they
are today, particularly among lay people. Much of what the State sold as
“ideology,” “mind control,” and “programming” in 1970 fairly obviously
constitutes symptoms of a serious mental illness today.
A similar observation can be made about the class and gender
disparities that animated the trial of Manson and his young, attractive,
middle-class, female “followers.” These are also topics about which society
is better educated today—the role that socioeconomics and mental-health
status can play in how people are treated, especially in the criminal-justice
system. In 1970, however, it was inconceivable that a bunch of well-bred,
college-educated young hippies would commit brutal murders without some
“understandable” explanation. Surely, the poor, illiterate, ex-convict with
whom they were living was at fault. But even with our more sophisticated
understanding today of class disparity and implicit biases, people still do
not want to talk about them in the context of Manson—how he was a
mentally ill, homeless drifter, convicted and today an elderly inmate locked
up for life by the say-so of privileged kids for whom he was an easy target.
II. FACTS
One of the interesting features of the Manson Family story is the way
that its facts, inferences, and conclusions interact. The inferences and
conclusions are based on facts, but, if you strip them away and look only at
the underlying facts, they are amenable to many interpretations. Manson’s
autobiography is surprisingly consistent with other accounts of the
“Family” and the murders, except for the final interpretation in which he is
a cult leader rather than merely an associate of the murderers. It is possible
that Manson was an evil and brilliant cult leader who commanded his
followers to commit murders using mind control. There are facts to support
the inferences that support that conclusion. But it is at least equally
plausible that Manson was a delusional mentally ill mascot to a romantic