Webinar presenter Judge Brandon Birmingham answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Tex and Charlie: The People of California v Charles “Tex” Watson. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Leno was a World War II vet. How did Charlie control him?
Judge Brandon Birmingham: He put cords. So, what he did was, he explained and testimony that he went in, he held them at gunpoint. He told him, “If you’re calm, if you’re relaxed, this will all be fine.” And that’s when he came out and then he tied up, tie their hands behind their back, and then he left. He comes out, and he tells everybody before, this is how you’re supposed to do it, you don’t want to scare them to death, because they’re going to run away like those the night before. So, that’s how he got them to be calm, “If you do everything I say, then this will go well for you.” He put a pillowcase over Leno’s head, and if I’m not mistaken, there was also a pillowcase over her head. So, basically, he left them as vulnerable as you could possibly be for Tex and the 2 other women.
Audience Question: Tex Watson doesn’t appear to be a socially marginalized person. How did he fall under the spell of Charles Manson? Or is it just as simple as the excessive use of drugs?
Judge Brandon Birmingham: I think it’s a combination of both. I mean, there are two things that stick out about that to me. Number one is, Tex is the poster child for, he was sort of every boy in America —— at the time, a college student. —- Drugs has to have something to do with it. But so does Charlie Manson. And you know, there was, it wasn’t like Tex and these three other women that we’ve talked about today were the only ones in the family, the family was huge. Tex recruited some, and some of the people we tried to recruit didn’t work. Some of the women that were involved in the family were down on their luck and they were sort of traveling around and had no real roots and Charlie got a hold of them. I mean, he had a way with manipulation. And Vince Bugliosi will tell you that the scariest part for him is on this very point which is, we don’t quite understand how Manson got so many people to follow along or others like him, and perhaps that’s the scariest thing for all of us.
Audience Question: Judge, when you’re looking at doing an analysis like this or a case retrospective, like this, like Tex and Charlie. How do you select the cases that you decide to research? Are they predominately all connected to Texas in some way, or are they predominantly death penalty trials? What is it that motivates you to do the research on these topics?
Judge Brandon Birmingham: It’s not necessarily that they were they have Texas’ ties although that sort of started this at the beginning. I mean Jack Ruby just because I used to see that file when I worked in the Cold Case Unit. I always wanted to go in there, and I was going prove once, and for all, by the way, when I got ahold of those files that there wasn’t a conspiracy. But it’s just, it’s a passion project that really is it. Something about this trial, something about the way Timothy McVeigh, I mean I remember when that happened, something about the eyeball killer. It’s the way that they’re so devious in the outstanding work by the lawyers, and not only presenting the case, but the police investigating it. But then, also, the lawyers on the other side, who do excellent cross-examinations, and they poke holes, and it gets you to really think it’s like somebody who loves watching, or listening to a piece of music, want to learn how to play it, want to understand how it was made, I think that’s probably the interest for me.
Audience Question: Can you go through the discussion around an insanity defense? So, for those of us who aren’t lawyers, and we don’t even play them on TV, what’s involved in that insanity defense? And why didn’t it particularly work?
Judge Brandon Birmingham: It’s very easy. I mean, the insanity defense is very easy to understand it is simply that at the time of the killing, because of a severe mental disease or defect, that the person didn’t know right from wrong. Every state in the country has some form of that, some combination of that. Basically, the one for jurors, and I think the one that we all think about whenever we’re thinking about a case, whether somebody’s insane or not is that last part, that they know right from wrong. So how do you know that? How do you know that they do right from wrong? Well, wiping fingerprints, taking a weapon to the crime scene, lying about your involvement. Tex did that when he was arrested, I didn’t go over that part, but when he was arrested, he gave a fake name, and he tried to hide in some bushes. Those indicators. Premeditation will also help defeat insanity. They cut the wires. Why did they cut the wires, why didn’t they ring the bell, why did they climb over the gate? Because they had a goal in mind. They didn’t want to alert the people on the inside. If you push the button on the gate that somebody was coming, they cut the wires, why they cut the telephone wires because they knew that once they started doing what they were doing, somebody might want to call for help, but they wanted to cut that off, too. So those signs of mental calculus go to prove that the person knew right from wrong.
Audience Question: What are some of the key things that investigators, or prosecutors, and or prosecutors. What are the things we really should be taking away from this case, and learn and get the benefit from analyzing this case?
Judge Brandon Birmingham: Number one, is that the law enforcement agencies need to communicate with each other. In Bugliosi’s book, he talks about how one agency was conducting the investigation of Sharon Tate, another agency was conducting the investigation of the LaBiancas. And when you look at the pictures, you think these are obviously connected, but there was no communication for the longest time that hindered the completion of the investigation. Number two, is you can see how the same bank of information that you collect at a particular crime scene can be used throughout the life of the case. Sometimes the purpose changes, it’s fluid. At first, this was a who done it, who’s going to believe Susan Atkins, right? I mean, she heard that somebody died this way, I was there that night. Well lawfully, that’s doesn’t amount to much. But once you find Tex’s fingerprint and you try to match up the way the crime scene was discovered with what she says then you can build a pretty strong case. Then he takes a stand that says, “Basically I was insane”. Well, now you’re using that same evidence and you’re showing premeditation, planning and those things that we identify would be used to defeat insanity. It’s multi-purposed evidence that’s collected from a crime scene at the very beginning of the investigation that changes purpose over the course life of the case.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Tex and Charlie: The People of California v Charles “Tex” Watson.