Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Manson: Speaking from Inside

The Devil's Advocate

Charles Manson prison photo.
Charles Manson prison photo.

Internationally famous attorney Giovanni Di Stefano is nicknamed "The Devil's Advocate" because of his roster of publicly reviled high-profile clients. He has represented Saddam Hussein and his associate Ali "Chemical Ali" Hassan al-Majid. He currently represents Moors Murderer Ian Brady, Britain's notorious serial murderer of children -- although Di Stefano is not trying to win Brady's freedom but to help him transfer from a prison mental hospital to a regular prison so he can starve himself to death.

In 2010 a California attorney asked Di Stefano to look over Manson's case and make a report on it. Di Stefano's research convinced him that Manson's conviction was unlawful, in part because he had been denied his Constitutional Sixth Amendment right to represent himself.

Di Stefano filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asserting Manson had been illegally convicted. Manson's petition is P-76-11. Lawyers for the IACHR are backlogged so it is likely it will take years for them to issue a report on the petition. Even if that report were favorable to Manson, it would only constitute non-binding advice to the U.S. government.

Di Stefano made a formal request for remission of sentence for Manson to President Barack Obama. In the letter, Di Stefano states, " The Applicant is now 76 years of age and has served 43 years on what at worst should have been no more than nineteen even if one could sustain that he had received a fair trial."

In an interview with CNN, Di Stefano called the Tate-LaBianca slayings "horrendous." He said his involvement in the case was based solely on the constitutional issue of whether or not the judge had the right to rescind Manson's right to act as his own attorney. "This is a question of law," Di Stefano stated. "I have no interest in the facts of this case. The law is the law."

However, despite his assertion that he had "no interest in the facts of this case," in this same interview Di Stefano cited certain disputed facts as indicating there "was a lack of proof that Manson told his followers to commit murder."

In an interview with Vice magazine, Di Stefano said that witnesses testified at Manson's trial that he suggested people "do something witchy" on the evening of the Tate murders, a phrase capable of varied interpretation and hardly a command to murder.

Di Stefano asserts that a fresh examination of the evidence shows a lesser role in the slayings for Manson than is generally believed and a larger role for Charles "Tex" Watson.

Di Stefano claims Watson was not ordered to commit the murders but did them on his own initiative and for his own motives.

Di Stefano further states that recently discovered evidence implicates Watson in the murder of a man named Karl Stubbs in Olancha, California -- a murder committed on November 12, 1968, before Watson was deeply involved with Manson. Although the exact date on which the pair met is unknown, all accounts indicate that they met sometime late in 1968 and Watson began living with Manson at Spahn Ranch in early 1969.

In 1970, Jerry LeBlanc suggested a possible connection between the Stubbs murder and the perpetrators of Tate-LaBianca in the book 5 To Die.

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