After nearly a year of legal wrangling, the Los Angeles Police Department will be able to obtain the decades-old taped conversations between a Manson family disciple and his attorney, a federal judge in Texas ruled.
U.S. District Judge Richard A. Schell of Plano wrote in an order Sunday that Charles "Tex" Watson waived his right to attorney-client privilege when he allowed his lawyer to sell the eight cassette tapes to an author nearly 40 years ago for a book about the convicted murderer's life.
The judge’s ruling affirms a bankruptcy judge's decision that Watson – who is serving a life sentence in California for his role in the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others – sought to overturn.
LAPD is prepared to send detectives to Texas to pick up the tapes as soon as they are available, Cmdr. Andrew Smith said Tuesday. However, they will wait until a 30-day window for an appeal passes.
"The LAPD is pleased that the judge ruled in our favor," Smith said. "We are looking forward to getting these tapes and thoroughly analyzing their contents."
Smith has said previously that the LAPD believes the tapes could yield clues to unsolved murders. But Watson has indicated that the Manson family wasn't responsible for any other killings.
Watson's attorney, Bill Boyd, died in 2009. The tapes were discovered last year by the trustee handling the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case of the law firm where Boyd was a partner.
Fort Worth lawyer Kelly Puls, who is representing Watson in the tapes matter, said Tuesday he would talk to Watson about appealing Schell's ruling.
"We're going to be looking at all our options," Puls said.
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Schell said Watson, now 67, gave up his right to attorney-client privilege when he allowed Boyd to sell a copy of the tapes to Chaplain Raymond G. Hoekstra with the International Prison Ministries in 1976.
The $49,000 Boyd received was a partial payment for legal fees. The taped conversations became part of Hoekstra's book "Will You Die for Me? The Man Who Killed for Charles Manson Tells His Own Story: Tex Watson as told to Chaplain Ray."
Moreover, a previous court filing in which Watson said he's willing to allow the LAPD to listen to the tapes “alone constitutes a waiver of attorney-client privilege,” Schell wrote.
In putting the case in front of Schell, Watson was appealing a ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Brenda T. Rhoades last May that gave the trustee, Linda Payne, permission to comply with a written request from the LAPD that the tapes go to the department.
The LAPD sought to use a search warrant to obtain the tapes from Payne last October, but Schell blocked that effort, characterizing it as an attempt to circumvent his order that made the tapes off-limits until he could rule on them.
Watson, a native of the small North Texas community of Copeville, was a key figure in the Tate-La Bianca murders, one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century. He, Manson and three others were sentenced to death, but the sentences were commuted to life in prison when the death penalty was briefly outlawed in California in 1972.
Watson was portrayed in trial testimony as Manson's chief lieutenant, a cruel killer who stabbed Tate, the pregnant wife of film director Roman Polanski, as she begged for her baby's life.
Boyd fought unsuccessfully to prevent Watson's extradition from Texas. When Watson was returned to California, he was ruled insane and committed to a mental institution before it was determined he was fit to stand trial.
Associated Press writer Greg Risling in Los Angeles contributed to this report.