A few months ago we talked to the world's most infamous lawyer Giovanni di Stefano, aka The Devil's Advocate, about how it felt to count Slobodan Milosevic as a friend and stand up in a court room and argue that guys like Saddam Hussein were innocent. His phone book just got even more exciting with the addition of Charles Manson, who he intends to bust out of jail, so I gave Giovanni a call to ask him what's up.
VICE: So you're defending Charles Manson now, Giovanni?
Giovanni di Stefano: In my own, personal opinion the case is pretty unanswerable. Based upon the trial that took place in 1971, he should not be in prison. The important thing is figuring out if the Sixth Amendment been violated, and it's quite clear that it has. You have a Sixth Amendment right to choose to defend yourself, but if I'd been there advising Manson in 1971, I'd have told him he was crazy to defend himself. There are too many complicated issues of law, one of which is something called 'Joint Enterprise' which no one at the time bothered to address.
He was convicted on a charge of direct murder but it’s wrong, and I’ll give you an example why. Say you and I have an agreement with another person – I say: “Listen Mr Langston, you and Mr X go and bash your editor up and take his wallet”. You agree to that plan but you end up killing him in the process. You have now gone outside of our original agreement and yourself and Mr X are guilty of murder but I’m guilty of fuck all because I only told you to "bash him". Manson is not guilty of murder in the first or second degree because all he told them to do was go and do something "witchy". That is a far cry from asking them to go and murder someone, so he is in fact not guilty of anything. At the original trial this was never addressed. This case is very similar to the accusations that Mr Bin Laden is guilty of the 9/11 attacks in America. If you apply the Manson principle then he is guilty, but it’s the wrong principle. I would call it a fallacious argument, and by that I don’t mean anything to do with sucking.
So did you get a call from Manson himself, or did you just want to add him to your awesome roster of clients?
I was approached about nine months ago by an attorney from Sacramento, California to look at the case and make a report and they gave me his number then. That report has now been sent to Mr Manson and there are two options we could go for – firstly, we could take the case to a Federal Court as he’s having no luck at state level where they keep throwing out his parole cases with no reason given. But to do that we’d need to petition, so another option we have is to go to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (which is like the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg) and they decide if there have been any breaches or violations of the law. It’s quite an effective tool but not many American practitioners know about it. I do because I’ve used them when defending Tariq Aziz.
OK. What’s your opinion on the case?
As controversial or absurd as you may think this is, because Manson's spent more than 40 years in jail there's no point in a re-trial, as most of the witnesses are dead and the passage of time is too great for anyone to remember the fine details. It's uncontested that he said "Go and do something witchy" – no one ever said "Go and murder some people". In cases like these, America rarely respects its own law, let alone international law, but Mr Manson should be released and his conviction quashed for the reasons I've explained. I'm willing to help him if I can.
Do you think he’d be a danger to society if he was released?
Well he’s 77 – at what level is someone still a danger? Society needs to make a decision. Does it release people because the law hasn’t proved its case, or do they retain anyone they believe is a danger? You’re a danger, I’m a danger – believe you me, if I went home and found another man in bed with my wife I’d kill both of them without a doubt, and possibly the dog too as a witness. We are all living time bombs, all possible murderers and it all stems from Cain and Abel in the Bible. The moment we are born we could all be killers.
So has Manson agreed to your defence?
I'm yet to hear back from him, but I could at any point. Knowing Mr Manson from reading all 11 of his parole hearings, he always states that he wasn't actually at the scene of the murders, and under the laws of the US if you are convicted of murder and you were not there, the maximum time they can keep you without granting you a parole hearing is 19 years. But they've just carried on keeping him, illegally, because it's Manson; the Ian Brady of the US.
Do you think the government are fearful of a massive public backlash if they release him?
The first person to say something about me wanting to defend Manson was my cousin, who said: "You've got to be joking, keep that mad man in prison, he'll be a target once he's released." To be fair, he does have a point – Ian Huntley's girlfriend was stabbed in her home, for example. But what kind of sick society do we live in where we keep a person in prison for their own safety?
What do you think of Manson personally?
I’ve not spoken to him personally yet, but from what I can see from the parole hearings he’s certainly had a great time. He was screwing any woman he could find – if it stood still he painted it, and if it moved he fucked it. Lucky him.
What happened to his original lawyer?
His name was Hughes, and he went missing while on a camping trip 15 days before the final arguments were due to be heard. They eventually found his decomposing body wedged between two boulders on the day death penalty verdicts were returned for all involved in the Manson case. I mean they kill lawyers don’t they? I think it was Shakespeare who said “Kill all the lawyers” and he wasn’t far wrong with that. He can start with me.
Cool. So what else are you working on at the moment?
Starting this week – and this is an exclusive by the way – I will help negotiate the return of the fugitive, Ian Strachan, to the UK after he broke his probation conditions and fled the country last summer.
Can you briefly explain the Strachan Case?
Ian Strachan was convicted of blackmailing a member of the British Royal Family over gay sex allegations. Basically he had filmed this Royal commiting a sex act on a male member of his staff and taking copious amounts of cocaine. He then tried to sell the footage to the News of the World, but they wouldn't give him enough so he went back to the Royal and demanded loads of money, and was promptly turned over to the police for blackmail. This is where it gets really interesting – the NOTW were the prime prosecution witnesses, and in November I got a call from the police saying the NOTW had tapped my phone while the trial was ongoing, which raises all sorts of questions about the legitimacy of the original trial. So Strachan ended up doing two and a half years and was released, but there were certain probation conditions he didn't enjoy so he fled the country.
What’s he been up to while on the run?
He’s been living in a country which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United Kingdom and he’s given a few interviews claiming that he’s had loads of plastic surgery to hide his identity which of course I can’t comment on yet, but you’ll be able to see for yourself when he comes back.
So what will happen once you’ve got him back?
He only had 29 days left on his probation, so he’ll come back to the UK and serve a further 29 days and then he’ll be a free man.
That sounds too straightforward to be true, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.