Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted cult leader Charles Manson, dies

Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted cult leader Charles Manson and members of his so-called "family" for seven murders, then wrote books on everything from the Kennedy assassination to God, has died aged 80, his son said on Monday.

Bugliosi, whose book "Helter Skelter" about the Manson case became one of the best-selling true crime books of all time, died on Saturday evening at a Los Angeles hospital after a long battle with cancer, his son Vincent Bugliosi Jr. told Reuters.

He was a 35-year-old Los Angeles deputy district attorney in 1970 when he prosecuted Manson and several of his followers for the murder of seven people in a two-night spree in August 1969.

Bugliosi called them the "most bizarre, savage, nightmarish murders in the recorded annals of crime" and their random nature brought a climate of fear to Southern California.

Manson assembled a group of hippies, runaways and petty criminals who bought into his anti-establishment rhetoric and twisted mysticism and lived with him at the Spahn Ranch, a former movie site outside of Los Angeles.

On the night of Aug. 8, Manson sent his lieutenant Charles"Tex" Watson, along with Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel, to the home of actress Sharon Tate Tate and four guests were beaten, shot and stabbed to death.

Manson then accompanied his followers the next night to the home of Leno LaBianca, a grocery executive, and his wife Rosemary, who were repeatedly stabbed. The killers used their victims' blood to write on the walls on both nights.

The 9-1/2 month trial and was as "bizarre as the murders,"Bugliosi said.

Bugliosi argued that Manson orchestrated the killings as part of his master plan called "Helter Skelter," a name borrowed from a Beatles song. He hoped the murders would be blamed on blacks militants and eventually trigger a race war that would leave his "family" as the dominant survivors.

Manson and three followers were condemned to death but their sentences were commuted to life in prison after a 1972 California Supreme Court ruling overturned the death penalty. Bugliosi said later that Manson deserved to be executed.

Manson's name would become a synonym for evil and Bugliosi said strangers would still approach him to discuss the case more than 40 years later.

Bugliosi went on to become a best-selling author with books about major legal cases and issues.

He tried to put an end to conspiracy theories about the John F. Kennedy assassination in his 1,600-page book "Reclaiming History" that re-examined evidence, testimony and scenarios to conclude Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president. "Because of these conspiracy theorists who split hairs and proceeded to split the split hairs, this case has been transformed into the most complex murder case in world history,"he told the Los Angeles Times. "But, at its core, it's a simple case." Bugliosi grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota and attended the University of Miami on a tennis scholarship. After graduating from UCLA law school, he joined the Los Angeles district attorney's office, where he won 105 of 106 felony trials as a prosecutor and had a 21-0 record in murder cases.

After twice running unsuccessfully for Los Angeles County district attorney, he turned to writing books in a style one reviewer described as prosecutorial, aggressive and sarcastic.

He blasted prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge for their handling of the double murder trial of former football star O.J. Simpson in "Outrage".

In "The Betrayal of America", he said the U.S. Supreme Court had robbed the voting public when it sided with the Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore in the disputed 2000 presidential election. "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder" blamed the president for the deaths of U.S. troops in the Iraq War because Bugliosi said he had lied about the reasons for the war, which he called "the most serious crime ever committed in American history." In "Divinity of Doubt: The God Question," he took the agnostic middle ground, saying neither atheists nor theists had evidence to support their beliefs. He concluded God is a mystery beyond human comprehension and should only be a question.