Keith, who defended two members of the so-called Manson family in their
notorious cult murder trials, stepping in after the lawyer for one of them
disappeared under mysterious circumstances, died on Tuesday in Templeton, Calif.
He was 87.
His daughter Hilary Keith confirmed the death.
In December 1970, a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles appointed Mr. Keith to
represent Leslie Van Houten, one of three young women on trial with Charles
Manson for the gruesome killings of seven people over two August nights in 1969.
The first night’s victims were the actress Sharon Tate, who was married to the
director Roman Polanski and was eight and a half months pregnant; Abigail
Folger, an heiress to the Folger coffee fortune; Jay Sebring, a celebrity
hairstylist; Voytek Frykowski; and Steven Parent. They were killed by intruders
at Ms. Tate’s home near Beverly Hills.
The next night, a supermarket executive and his wife, Leno and Rosemary
LaBianca, were murdered in their Los Angeles home after returning from a
The trial had begun almost six months before Mr. Keith was appointed to the
case. Ms. Van Houten, who was accused in only the LaBianca murders, had been
represented by Ronald Hughes, but during a recess as the trial approached its
conclusion, Mr. Hughes vanished after a hard rainstorm while he was on a camping
trip. (His body was found several months later, and though no charges have ever
been brought, it has long been speculated that members of the Manson cult killed
Mr. Keith was given a short time to absorb about 18,000 pages of court
documents, and though he said he was familiar enough with the evidence to
proceed when the trial resumed just before Christmas, he asked the court to
declare a mistrial on the basis of his not having been present to hear witnesses
testify. The judge, Charles H. Older, denied the request, and Mr. Keith went on
to present a defense that separated Ms. Van Houten’s interests from Mr.
Mr. Keith contended that Ms. Van Houten and the other young women, Susan Atkins
and Pamela Krenwinkel (along with another member of the cult, Charles Watson,
who would be tried later), had been brainwashed by Mr. Manson and were incapable
of thinking or acting on their own. In his closing argument, he latched on to
how the prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, had referred to them as robots.
“If you believe the prosecution theory that these female defendants and Mr.
Watson were extensions of Mr. Manson — his additional arms and legs, as it were
— if you believe that they were mindless robots, they cannot be guilty of
premeditated murder,” Mr. Keith said.
In his book about the case, “Helter Skelter,” Mr. Bugliosi said Mr. Keith had
“delivered the best of the four defense arguments,” though it was to no avail.
The three women and Mr. Manson were convicted of murder, and in a subsequent
trial Mr. Watson, defended by Mr. Keith, was found guilty in all seven murders.
All were given the death penalty, but when California temporarily abolished
capital punishment in 1972, their sentences were reduced to life in prison.
Maxwell Stanley Keith was born in Pasadena, Calif., on July 16, 1924. World War
II interrupted his education at Princeton, and he served in the Pacific as a
bombardier in the Army Air Forces. He graduated from Princeton after the war and
from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Before becoming a defense lawyer in private practice, he worked in the district
attorney’s office in Los Angeles. In 1960, he and a partner defended Dr. R.
Bernard Finch, a wealthy physician from West Covina, Calif., who, in a
scandalous case that seized national headlines, was convicted of killing his
In addition to his daughter Hilary, Mr. Keith is survived by his wife, the
former Alison Cronkhite, whom he married in 1953; three other daughters,
Elizabeth Keith, Alison Stirling and Adelaide Muro; two sons, Gordon and
Alexander; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
In 1976, Ms. Van Houten’s conviction was overturned when an appeals court ruled
that Judge Older should have ordered a retrial when Mr. Hughes disappeared. Her
second trial ended without a verdict, but in 1978 she was convicted again. Mr.
Keith represented her throughout. Both she and Mr. Watson remain in prison.
She had been on the witness stand for some eight hours
spanning two days, recounting gruesome, emotional details of an evening in which
she said a police officer raped her, when a moment of levity interrupted.
The defense lawyer questioning her, Joseph Tacopina, was asking her on Friday if
she had “falsely” accused his client, Officer Kenneth Moreno, of contacting her
mother and brother.
The prosecution objected, and the judge suggested that “mistakenly” might be a
better characterization. The woman, staring pointedly at Mr. Tacopina, told him
with the aplomb of a seasoned jurist, “Sorry, rephrase.”
Laughter broke out through the courtroom, and the woman cracked her first
discernible smile from the witness box.
Friday was the first full day of the much anticipated cross-examination of the
prosecution’s star witness — the 29-year-old accuser — in the rape trial of
Officer Moreno and his partner, Officer Franklin Mata.
Typically, the cross-examination of the central witness in a prosecution is an
opportunity for defense lawyers to smear the witness’s credibility, ruffle the
witness and be combative. It is often a time for courtroom theatrics.
But not on Friday. The woman remained calm and confident, flexed her intellect
and even went on the attack in a few instances.
Mr. Tacopina, for his part, appeared to make a strategic decision to be gentle —
the notion being that hostility toward a sympathetic figure might not play well
with the jury. When he began his questioning on Thursday, Mr. Tacopina even told
the woman to let him know if she needed a break at any time.
Edward Mandery, the lawyer representing Officer Mata, said the same thing when
he began his cross-examination late Friday afternoon. Mr. Mandery will resume
his questioning on Monday.
Despite their approach, the defense lawyers were still aggressive in trying to
portray the woman, who has testified to having been very drunk the night she
said she was raped, as someone who could not remember details of what happened
and who had an ulterior motive. She has a $57 million lawsuit pending against
the city and the officers.
Mr. Tacopina read from e-mail and Facebook messages the woman exchanged with
friends in the days after the officers escorted her up to her fifth-floor
apartment in December 2008 and she says she was raped, pointing out minor
inconsistencies between what she said then and what she was saying now.
Of an e-mail to her roommate, who was in London, the woman testified that she
wrote that she was “O.K.” and that the episode was not “violent or aggressive.”
She also testified that she had told a nurse at the hospital she went to that
she was not physically hurt. But, she explained, she thought the nurse meant
from an act like being punched. And she said she had tried to play down the
episode to her roommate so as not to worry her.
“When something like this happens to you, the shock is so surreal,” she said,
her lips quivering in her most visibly emotional moment of the day.
“When you are just trying to figure out what you need to do afterwards,” she
added, “you tell people you’re O.K., even though you’re not, because you’re
trying to get through it.”
Mr. Tacopina got the woman to concede that she had told hospital staff members
that she believed the assault was between midnight and 1 a.m., even though she
testified during the trial that she had no recollection of time.
Officer Moreno and Officer Mata had been sent to the woman’s East Village
address after a cabdriver reported she was too drunk to get out of the taxi.
The woman acknowledged on Friday that in a surveillance video of her walking
into her apartment building with the officers, it appeared that she was moving
her lips, perhaps bolstering the defense argument that she was coherent enough
to have a conversation with them. (Mr. Tacopina has said Officer Moreno was
counseling the woman that night about her drinking.)
Mr. Tacopina tried to show that the woman was less certain about what happened
that night than she had let on in court. He introduced several statements she
supposedly made to friends, memorialized in e-mails or investigators’ notes.
In one of the statements, the woman supposedly told a friend that “I think I was
just raped” and that she was “pretty sure it was by a cop.”
But the woman insisted she had never expressed uncertainty about what had
happened that night.
“I never said I believe I was raped,” she testified. “I knew I was raped.”
She added that several of those statements were notes written by an
investigator, not her.
“Honestly,” she said, “everybody was so shocked that it was the cops, it seemed
The capital-defense lawyer who will represent Jared L. Loughner in the
shootings in Tucson, Judy Clarke, is a well-known public defender who gets life
sentences in cases that often begin with emotional calls for the death penalty.
Ms. Clarke has helped a number of infamous defendants avoid death sentences,
including Theodore J. Kaczynski, the Unabomber; Eric Robert Rudolph, the Atlanta
Olympics bomber; and Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her
Over a legal career of more than 30 years, Ms. Clarke has become perhaps the
best-known federal public defender in the country, with a reputation for taking
on cases that seem impossible.
“She has stood up to the plate in the kinds of cases that bring the greatest
disdain from the public,” said Gerald H. Goldstein, a San Antonio lawyer who has
known her for years.
Ms. Clarke has an aversion to the news media and an unassuming courtroom style
that masks an encyclopedic knowledge of criminal law. Her low-key style and
pageboy haircut can make her seem at first to be a junior member of the legal
But lawyers who have worked with her say she is a master strategist in
“She is known for being the criminal defense lawyers’ criminal defense lawyer,”
said Norman L. Reimer, the executive director of the National Association of
Criminal Defense Lawyers.
In recent years, Ms. Clarke has been in private practice in San Diego with her
husband, Thomas H. Speedy Rice, a law professor, but has continued to take
Ms. Clarke did not respond to requests for comment, but friends said she would
be drawn to the Tucson case. She is an opponent of the death penalty, they said,
not only as a political position but also because of her experiences delving
into the tangled stories of her clients.
“Judy would probably say if the public saw everything she sees, it would look at
the client or the case differently,” said David I. Bruck, a veteran
death-penalty lawyer and a professor at Washington and Lee University in
Lexington, Va., who has known Ms. Clarke since law school.
Mr. Bruck brought her in to work with him in defending Ms. Smith in the drowning
case in the mid-1990s. Ms. Clarke’s approach often turns death-penalty
defendants into confidants who must trust her with their lives. But it does not
necessarily win friends outside of the courthouse.
After Ms. Clarke arrived from the West Coast to take on the Smith case, the
South Carolina Legislature passed a law banning the future appointment of public
defenders from out of state in capital cases.
After Ms. Clarke completed Ms. Smith’s case, she returned to the state the
$82,944 fee that the trial judge had approved for her work, saying it was needed
for the defense of other indigent people facing charges.
Ms. Clarke grew up in Asheville, N.C., in a conservative Republican family. She
has said her parents tried to foster independent thinking. That came to the fore
in the 1990s, when her mother, Patsy Clarke, helped lead a campaign to unseat
Jesse Helms, the longtime Republican senator.
Mr. Helms had infuriated the family by telling the Clarkes in a letter that a
brother of Judy’s, Mark Clarke, who had died of AIDS at 31, had “played Russian
roulette in his sexual activity.”
Quin Denvir, a public defender who handled the Unabomber case with Ms. Clarke,
said she had worked carefully to avoid a capital sentence, though Mr. Kaczynski
ultimately turned against his lawyers. “She has a great sense,” Mr. Denvir said,
“of how to put a case together to go for life instead of death.”
NEW HAVEN — A prosecutor at the trial of one of the two men
accused of invading a home and murdering a woman and her two daughters contended
on Friday for the first time that it was the defendant, Steven J. Hayes, who
ignited the fire that killed the girls.
In his closing argument, the prosecutor, Michael Dearington, reminded jurors of
testimony that Mr. Hayes ran from the house following the other suspect, Joshua
“The last one out is the one who lights the fire,” Mr. Dearington said.
In a courtroom darkened so jurors could see slides of the victims and their home
in Cheshire, Conn., which was ruined by an arson fire after a home invasion,
rape and murder in 2007, Mr. Dearington repeatedly emphasized that no matter how
much of a role Mr. Komisarjevsky had in the crime, Mr. Hayes played a crucial
role and personally committed many of the acts involved.
Mr. Komisarjevsky has been a central focus of Mr. Hayes’s trial, though he has
not been in the courtroom.
The two men face the possibility of the death penalty. Mr. Komisarjevsky is to
be tried later.
Mr. Dearington, speaking unemotionally but somberly, reminded jurors that soon
after his arrest Mr. Hayes told an officer that “things got out of control.”
“It wasn’t ‘things,’ ” he continued. “It was two people acting together.”
Mr. Dearington also reminded the jurors that Mr. Hayes admitted to having had
sex with and then killing the mother of the family, Jennifer Hawke-Petit.
“Hayes had sex — having sex is not the right term — brutally raped” her, the
In his summation, Mr. Hayes’s lawyer, Thomas J. Ullmann, offered a defense that
seemed geared toward saving his client from the death penalty, but not
establishing his innocence, while putting the blame on Mr. Komisarjevsky.
Mr. Ullmann conceded many of the charges against his client, including those
that he raped and killed Ms. Hawke-Petit.
Speaking softly and occasionally shaking his head at the acts his client
committed, he also said Mr. Hayes had committed arson, burglary and larceny.
And Mr. Ullmann conceded that Mr. Hayes took part in the kidnapping of all four
members of the family, including the two girls, Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17,
who died from smoke inhalation, and their father, Dr. William A. Petit Jr., who
was beaten but survived.
But Mr. Ullmann said that Mr. Komisarjevsky was the one controlling events; he
portrayed Mr. Hayes as someone who never could have committed the crimes.
He said Mr. Hayes had not known that Mr. Komisarjevsky would change what he said
had been their plan: break in, tie up the family, take money and get out.
Instead, Mr. Ullmann argued, Mr. Komisarjevsky changed the plan first by beating
Dr. Petit and then by raping Michaela.
“The psychopath in this case is Joshua Komisarjevsky, not Steven Hayes,” Mr.
“He should pay the price for what he did,” Mr. Ullmann argued about his client,
“but not for what he did not do.”
Connecticut law generally requires what lawyers call “death plus” for a crime to
warrant capital punishment.
As a result, Mr. Hayes could be sentenced to life in prison for killing Ms.
Hawke-Petit, but committing a murder during the course of the rape would be a
Mr. Ullmann argued that the rape of Ms. Hawke-Petit that Mr. Hayes confessed to
might have been separate from his later strangulation of her.
Killing Michaela would make Mr. Hayes eligible for the death penalty because it
is a capital offense under Connecticut law to kill a person who is younger than
Mr. Ullmann devoted a good deal of his remarks to arguing that Mr. Komisarjevsky
had a motive to kill the child: to cover up his sexual assault.
The 12 jurors and 2 remaining alternates were attentive to both arguments. In
keeping with the reserved tone of the lawyers, they appeared unemotional.
A few of them nodded as lawyers for both sides pieced together narratives from
what has often been disjointed, emotional testimony during the three-week trial.
Deliberations are to begin on Monday after the judge, Jon C. Blue of State
Superior Court, gives the jurors legal instructions.
If Mr. Hayes is convicted of capital offenses, the same jury will hear a
separate penalty phase of the trial.
The lawyers for both sides acknowledged the wrenching nature of the case.
Mr. Dearington displayed a family photograph of Ms. Hawke-Petit and her
daughters for the jury on a large screen. But he referred to other photographs
in evidence, like those of burned bodies.
He thanked the jurors for enduring “what has been indescribable evidence.”
Mr. Ullmann said the “the tragedy of this incident has affected us deeply — all
When he claimed that Mr. Hayes had killed Ms. Hawke-Petit “at the behest of” Mr.
Komisarjevsky, Mr. Hayes, who was slumping at the defense table, did not stir.
In the end, Mr. Dearington argued, it did not really matter precisely which
intruder took which action. Both were responsible, he said.
And, he said, both men had a problem because of the series of crimes they had
“The solution was to destroy the house,” the prosecutor said to the jurors,
“and, you may find, the people in it.”