By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A federal judge has ordered taped conversations from 1969 between Manson Family killer Charles "Tex" Watson and his now-dead lawyer turned over to Los Angeles police, who are investigating the cult's possible involvement in unsolved murders.
The written order by U.S. District Judge Richard Schell in Texas, made public on Tuesday, upholds a ruling last year by a federal bankruptcy judge. Watson had appealed the bankruptcy judge's order from the California prison where he is serving a life term, claiming that the tapes were protected under attorney-client privilege.
Some eight hours of discussions between Watson and his defense attorney Bill Boyd were recorded in 1969 after Watson was arrested in the Manson family murder of actress Sharon Tate and others in Los Angeles. The tapes surfaced years later, during federal bankruptcy proceedings in involving Boyd's now-defunct law firm in Texas.
"We're very pleased the judge ruled in our favor. We're looking forward to getting those tapes and thoroughly analyzing the contents," Los Angeles Police spokesman Andrew Smith said.
"This Manson Family crime spree is one of most notorious and heinous in Southern California history and we, the LAPD, believe we owe it to the victims and their families to ensure that every facet of this case is thoroughly and completely investigated, and we plan to do exactly that," Smith said.
If Watson does not appeal the ruling within 30 days, Los Angeles police detectives will travel to Texas to pick up the recordings which had been held pending the outcome of the bankruptcy case, Smith said.
"We've got many unsolved homicide cases from that era here in Southern California and we're hoping maybe something on these tapes may tie the Manson Family or any of these individuals to one of those homicides," he said.
A Fort Worth, Texas-based attorney representing Watson in the case could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Charles Manson, a charismatic ex-convict, assembled a group of runaways and outcasts, including Watson. In the summer of 1969, he directed his mostly young, female followers to murder seven people in what prosecutors said was part of a plan to incite a race war.
Members of the cult stabbed pregnant Hollywood actress Sharon Tate 16 times in the early-morning hours of August 9, 1969. Four other people were stabbed or shot to death at Tate's home by the Manson followers.
The following night, Manson's group entered the nearby home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, stabbed the couple to death and used their blood to write "Rise," "Death to Pigs," and "Healter Skelter," a misplaced reference to a Beatles song, on the walls and refrigerator door.
Manson and Watson were originally sentenced to death but were spared execution after the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional.
Manson, now 78, is serving a life sentence at Corcoran State Prison in California for the seven Manson Family killings and the murder of an acquaintance, Gary Hinman, who was stabbed to death in July 1969.
Watson waived his attorney-client privilege so Boyd's firm could sell them to a book author to satisfy unpaid legal fees after Boyd died in 2009. But in his appeal of the bankruptcy judge's ruling, he claimed the waiver was limited to the author, and that he did not okay their release to the LAPD.
The federal judge rejected that claim when he ordered the tapes released to the LAPD.
Smith said that LAPD detectives did not yet know if the tapes contain evidence of other killings.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb, editing by Scott Malone; editing by Andrew Hay and David Gregorio)