President Nixon may have freed Charles Manson-not by an act of executive clemency, but by one of errant stupidity.
Defense attorneys for Manson, Leslie Van Houten, and Susan Atkins-who face charges of murder stemming from the mass killings last August of actress Sharon Tate and six other persons-moved for a mistrial yesterday after learning that Nixon had said that Manson was "guilty, directly or indirectly, of eight murders without reason."
Trial Judge Charles N. Holder denied the motion pending an official version of the Nixon remarks, but a defense attorney said the judge was "alarmed" at the report.
Late last night, however, Nixon said flatly he did not mean to imply that Manson was guilty.
Nixon made the remarks during an impromptu press briefing at a law enforcement conference in Denver. He criticized the press, saying that it tends to "glorify and to make heroes out of those who engage in criminal activities."
Referring to the Manson case, Nixon said, "here is a man who was guilty, directly or indirectly, of eight murders without reason."
Nixon said that "as far as the coverage was concerned [Manson] appeared to be rather a glamorous figure."
In Los Angeles, defense attorney Paul Fitzgerald told reporters, "If we're going to have the chief executive of this nation categorically or uncategorically speculate on people's guilt, we ought to abandon this court system. Maybe President Nixon in a news conference ought to determine whether these people are guilty."
Pot Calls Kettle
Manson was said to have told his lawyers, "Here's a man who is accused of hundreds of thousands of murders, acousing me of being accused of eight murders."
Although the jury in the Manson trial is kept sequestered in a hotel and denied access to newspaper accounts of the trials, attorneys expressed concern that they might learn of the President's remarks through visits from relatives.
Immediately after Nixon made the remarks in Denver, Ronald V. Ziegler, Presidential press secretary, called reporters together to "clarify" the President's statement.
Ziegler said that Nixon "failed to use the word 'alleged'" in his statement. "The phrase he used could lead to some misinterpretation," Ziegler added.
Asked if the "clarification" was a retraction of the Nixon statement, Ziegler answered, "I believe I've done that."
Attorney General John N. Mitchell, who was present when Nixon made the statement, said later, "I don't believe the President made the charge or implied one."