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Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi says Susan Atkins' exact role in Tate murders unclear

September 26, 2009 |  8:14 am

With the death of Manson follower Susan Atkins, the man who prosecuted her for first-degree murder said Friday that one of his lasting images was that of a "heartless, bloodthirsty robot."

Vincent Bugliosi, however, said that image has become more ambiguous with the passage of time.

Atkins, who died Friday, played a central role in the 1969 slayings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and others in a two-night rampage in the Los Angeles area. She later said she killed Tate even as the woman pleaded for mercy.

It's possible it will never be known exactly what happened inside the home in Bel Air that night. And though Bugliosi said he has questions about Atkins' specific actions that night, it had nothing to do with her legal culpability.

"She's still guilty of first-degree murder as an aider and abettor and co-conspirator. If we were back in 1971, I would still seek the death penalty against her. She was a very hard-core member of the Manson family who was willing to do his bidding."

Atkins had given conflicting statements around the time of her trial, Bugliosi said. Still another version is found in the book by Charles "Tex" Watson, the main killer in both the Tate and LaBianca murders.

Watson said that Atkins boasted about killing Tate and her unborn baby to get attention but that Atkins actually held her down while he stabbed her. 

"It was my hand that struck out over and over until the cries of 'mother, mother' stopped," Watson wrote.

Atkins told two cellmates after her arrest for the murder of Manson family associate Gary Hinman that she stabbed Tate telling her, "Look, bitch, I don't have any mercy for you." She repeated the claim to Bugliosi the night before he called her before a grand jury.

Later, in the penalty phase of the murder trial, after Atkins was convicted of first-degree murder, she then testified she killed Tate.

Atkins told co-inmates and Linda Kasabian, who was the star witness who testified against the Manson family, that she had lost her knife inside the Tate residence, Bugliosi said. 

Bugliosi said a short buck knife was found within three feet of Tate's body and the Los Angeles Police Department's forensic investigators were unable to find any blood on the knife including the blade.

-- Andrew Blankstein

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