By Brian Melley | Associated Press
(AP) — A grandson of cult leader Charles Manson won the bizarre California court battle Monday over the killer's body.
Kern County Superior Court Commissioner Alisa Knight ruled that Jason Freeman can retrieve the remains of Manson that have been on ice in the Bakersfield morgue since he died in November.
Manson, 83, had been hospitalized in Bakersfield while serving a life sentence for orchestrating the 1969 killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and eight others.
The fight over his corpse devolved into a circus of sorts with friends filing competing wills purportedly signed by the infamous inmate while kin began to come out of the woodwork to also stake a claim to the killer's body and an estate that could include lucrative rights to songs Manson wrote or to license his image and other material.
While the decision clears the way for Manson to be cremated or buried, the battle for the body foreshadows what lies ahead as competing camps wrestle for control of the estate.
The case in Kern County was brought by the coroner's office, which said it wanted to quickly resolve the matter because bodies were piling up at the morgue from the methamphetamine and opioid epidemics.
The three-way fight for the body included Freeman, a man who said he was fathered by Manson, and a pen pal who was friends with Manson and has filed what he said was the cult leader's will.
The three all tried to cast doubt on the authenticity of the competing claims and Freeman largely won out because of problems with the other petitions.
Knight cited problems with the will submitted by buddy Michael Channels because he was one of the two witnesses while also the sole beneficiary, which is suspect. It was also ambiguous about what would be done with Manson's body other than for Channels to use his judgment.
Brunner's mother was an early member of the so-called Manson family and he was fathered by the cult leader, according to his birth certificate, though it misspelled Manson's middle name. Knight said Brunner had shown evidence he was fathered by Manson, but he lost his right to be deemed an heir because he was adopted by his grandparents.
Freeman, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter from Florida, is the son of the late Charles Manson Jr., who was the child of Manson and his first wife.
Although some raised question about whether Freeman was really Manson's grandson, Knight determined he was "the surviving competent adult next of kin."
Channels befriended Manson by writing him letters in prison and he later became a regular visitor and avid collector and trader of memorabilia given to him by Manson. The 2002 will he filed names him as the executor and sole beneficiary of the estate.
Another purported son, Matthew Lentz, who claims he was fathered by Manson during a Wisconsin orgy, supported Brunner's petition. He is named as the sole beneficiary in a 2017 will that Manson apparently signed and sent to Ben Gurecki, another friend and memorabilia collector, who is named as executor.
Knight noted that the will did not appear to be properly executed and that Lentz forfeited his claims as an heir because he was also adopted.
Most of the people vying for the body have said they would cremate it, though Freeman and Channels balked at that suggestion when Deputy Kern County Counsel Bryan Walters suggested having the coroner cremate the body and allowing the parties to continue their court fight over the ashes.
Some adversaries have suggested others want to profit off the death by selling morbid photos of the corpse to tabloid publications.
To prevent photos of the body from being leaked, the coroner's office stored Manson's remains under a pseudonym and only two employees were told its true identity, Walters said.