Irving Kanarek, a Los Angeles attorney who defended Charles Manson in the cult murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others, and Jimmy Smith, whose murder of a police officer was horrifyingly recounted in Joseph Wambaugh's 1973 bestseller "The Onion Field," died in Garden Grove on Wednesday. He was 100 years old.
His nephew Kany Levine confirmed the death.
These murders were among the most notorious crimes of the 1960s, and the national limelight focused on their trials made Kanarek's disruptive circus of court tactics almost as intriguing as his bizarre clients – Manson, the cult leader with a "family" of young drifters, and Smith, a little thief who didn't know exactly how to operate the automatic pistol he was carrying.
For Kanarek, the trials were the culmination of three decades of training devoted to a more routine number of personal injuries and claims for damages. The law wasn't even his first calling. He had been an aerospace engineer for North American aviation but had lost his Air Force security clearance and job after being falsely accused of communist associations in the 1950s. He erased his name, but the experience had tainted him in science.
His first major case occurred on a March night in Los Angeles in 1963 with a routine traffic disruption due to a broken taillight on a car with Smith and Gregory Powell. As two officers, Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger approached, Smith and Mr. Powell drew guns, disarmed the officers, and drove them 90 miles north to a remote onion farm near Bakersfield, California.
Wambaugh's fictional treatment described Campbell's killing:
"Gregory Powell raised his arm and shot Ian's mouth," he wrote. “For a few incandescent seconds the three watched as he was lifted up by the blinding ball of fire and slammed on his back with his eyes open and watched the stars. He probably never saw the shadow in the leather jacket above and never really felt the four bullets blaze in his chest. "
Hettinger fled into the darkness and escaped. Powell and Smith were caught, charged with murder, convicted and sentenced to death.
But the case turned into a seven-year marathon of appeals, lawsuits, reversals, and reinstatements. Kanarek won Smith's first turnaround and defended it in other cases, but he was eventually fired by Smith who threw a chair at him.
Those death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment by a 1972 California Supreme Court ruling that temporarily suspended the state's death penalty. Smith was paroled in 1982 but was released from prison for the remainder of his life for parole violations. He and Powell both died in prison in the late 1970s.
Kanarek's next and last famous customer was Manson. On August 9, 1969, a cleaning lady entering a house in Benedict Canyon in North Beverly Hills, California found the mutilated bodies of Tate, 26, pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, as well as three friends and a casual visitor. All had been stabbed and shot many times, and Tate had been hung from a rafter.
A day later, the bodies of a food tycoon, Leno LaBianca, and his wife Rosemary were found in their Los Angeles home. They had been killed in violent attacks that left little doubt that they had been killed by the same people who killed Tate and her companions.
Within a few months, Manson and four supporters were arrested and implicated by Linda Kasabian, an accomplice who admitted her role in the crimes. Kasabian was granted immunity and became the state's star witness in a trial that began in July 1970 and lasted six months. (Charles Watson, a cult member who joined in the killings, was admitted to a mental hospital and not tried with the others.)