Irving Kanarek, the tenacious and bombastic criminal defense attorney who represented Charles Manson and who argued over the decades that his notorious client had nothing to do with the gruesome murders of Tate-LaBianca, died at the age of 100.
Kanarek, who had been fighting colon cancer, died in Garden Grove on September 2, said his daughter Irvina Kanarek. The cause was age, she said.
In the courtroom, Kanarek was a force of nature, sometimes to the extreme. During the Manson Trial, he was loud, argumentative, and repeatedly contradicted questions, answers, and even the prosecutor's opening statement. When he took up the case, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office feared the trial would be reduced to "a circus".
They weren't far away. The process took almost a year and was a spectacle from start to finish. Manson pounced on a bailiff and mocked the judge. Defendants Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel laughed, scribbled on notepads, and arrived in court with Xs in their foreheads. And by the third day of the testimony, Kanarek had already objected almost 300 times to questions that often roared in court.
When the state's star witness, Linda Kasabian, was called to the booth, Kanarek snapped: "I decline, your honor, for reasons that make this witness incompetent and insane."
Although prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi largely disapproved of Kanarek, he admitted in his book, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, that he viewed the lawyer as a worthy enemy. "The press focused on its bombast and lacked its effectiveness."
Manson and his supporters were convicted in 1971 and sentenced to death. 19-year-old Van Houten was the youngest woman to be put on death row at the time. The following year, her death sentences – along with sentences for all other California inmates on death row – were commuted to life imprisonment when the state Supreme Court briefly ruled the death penalty illegal. Atkins died in prison in 2013; Manson died in 2017, also behind bars.
The years after the Manson case were turbulent for Kanarek at times. He admitted that he "freaked out" after marching into the Torrance District Attorney and was eventually handcuffed by police and admitted to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center for a psychiatric evaluation.
Kanarek told former LA Times columnist Dana Parsons in 1998 that he had also spent several years in a "rest home" dealing with personal problems. When he returned to his law firm, it was in ruins. During his absence, prosecutors had paid off claims from three former clients and left him more than $ 40,000 in debt. Not long after that, he gave up his license.
"They did a Salman Rushdie on me," he said, referring to the author who was handed a death sentence by the spiritual leader of Iran for writing the book The Satanic Verses.
At the time, Kanarek said he lived in a Garden Grove motel, didn't have a car, and could get by on social security checks. Unlike Bugliosi and others, Kanarek refused to profit from his famous client, whom he repeatedly defended.
"He was a nice guy," he said of Manson. "He had nothing to do with these murders."
Kanarek stayed in touch with Manson over the years, his daughters said, insisting that writing a book or benefiting from the case would jeopardize his attorney and client duties and enable him to divulge what he believed to be looked at confidentially.
Kanarek was born in Seattle on May 12, 1920, as one of two children. He earned a degree in chemistry from the University of Washington and worked in the aerospace industry until he lost his security clearance after being falsely accused of being a communist. He sued and his security clearance was restored, along with his reimbursement.
Fascinated by the law, he attended Loyola University and was admitted to the California bar in 1957. One of his early clients was Jimmy Lee Smith, who with Gregory Powell abducted two police officers and killed one of them in an onion field near Bakersfield. The case was presented in Joseph Wambaugh's 1973 book "The Onion Field". Smith died in prison in 2007 while jailed for a parole violation.
The Manson case was an exceptional opportunity and challenge for Kanarek, offering the civil and criminal law veteran both national exposure and a difficult litigation. Kanarek insisted that the media, prosecutors, and ultimately the jury had biased his client as a hippie with a deep taste for drugs and sex. The choice of lifestyle has nothing to do with the case.
The consecutive nights of murder came in August 1969 when Manson ordered his followers to go into a house in Benedict Canyon and kill "everyone inside." The carnage was breathtaking. Actress Sharon Tate, eight months pregnant, was stabbed to death and hung from a rafter. Hairdresser Jay Sebring, aspiring filmmaker Wojciech Frykowski, and coffee heiress Abigail Folger were stabbed to death, as was a young man visiting the property's caretaker.
The following night Manson asked his followers to do it again, and this time he rode with them as they drove through town and finally randomly picked a house in Los Feliz. Inside, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were dozing on the couch as Charles "Tex" Watson and Manson forced their way out. They tied the couple tight and assured them it was just a robbery and no one would be injured. Then Manson stepped outside and the murder began.
During the long process Kanarek attacked the case of the state with vigor and took calculated risks. He even showed photos of the jurors of the barbaric murder scenes, arguing that they would see the pictures early enough during the deliberations. "Let's face the facts here," he told the court.
After Manson and his followers were put on death row, Kanarek filed a $ 11 million defamation lawsuit against Bugliosi. The case was ultimately dismissed.
Irvina Kanarek said her father was often portrayed unfairly for fleeting moments in a long career – including a nervous breakdown and financial hardship. "These are private moments that are part of many Americans' lives," she said.
The daughters said they remembered their father as a warm and fun person who always had “a one-liner in his back pocket”. He had a penchant for museums, especially Getty and Huntington, and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the streets of LA.
Later in life, Kanarek told the Guardian that he continued to ponder the Manson case. When asked why a lawyer would represent someone charged with such heinous crimes, Kanarek said he would do it again if he had the opportunity.
"I would defend a client who I knew was guilty of terrible crimes," he said. “You must be found guilty. I've had cases where people were guilty as hell, but they couldn't prove it. And if they can't prove it, he's not guilty. This is American justice. "
Kanarek is survived by two daughters, Irvina and Walesa.