DNA Testing Denied in Charles Manson Estate Litigation

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DNA testing was rejected in the the attempt of a claimed grandson of Charles Manson to be recognized as an heir of his estate, in In Re Estate of Charles M. Manson, B303594, unpublished, (2nd App. Div. 2021).

The Estate of Charles M. Manson

Charles Manson died in 2017.  A man claiming to be a grandson of Charles Manson, Jason Freeman, petitioned the court to be recognized as the sole adult next of kin of Mr. Manson, among other relief requested.  Michael Channels, the sole named beneficiary of one of Mr. Manson’s wills, objected.

Charles Manson was married to Rosalie Handley, who gave birth to a son named Charles Manson, Jr.  In 1986, an Ohio court entered a default judgment against Manson, Jr., determining that he was the natural father of Freeman.  Manson, Jr. committed suicide in 1993.

In a dispute regarding the disposition of the remains of Manson (Sr.), the trial court ruled that Freeman is the sole surviving adult next of kin.  Channels then filed a motion to compel genetic testing of Freeman and Mason (Sr.)’s remains to determine if they were genetically related.  The trial court granted the genetic testing, also ruling that the Ohio default judgment was not binding because of the lack of evidence that Mason, Jr. had actually received notice of the proceedings.

Determining a Natural Parent Under California Law

On appeal, the resolution turned on the interpretation of California Statute Section 6453.  That statute states as follows:

For the purpose of determining whether a person is a “natural parent” as that term is used in this chapter:

(a) A natural parent and child relationship is established where that relationship is presumed and not rebutted pursuant to the Uniform Parentage Act (Part 3 (commencing with Section 7600 ) of Division 12 of the Family Code).

(b) A natural parent and child relationship may be established pursuant to any other provisions of the Uniform Parentage Act, except that the relationship may not be established by an action under subdivision (c) of Section 7630 of the Family Code unless any of the following conditions exist:

(1) A court order was entered during the parent’s lifetime declaring parentage.

(2) Parentage is established by clear and convincing evidence that the parent has openly held out the child as that parent’s own.

(3) It was impossible for the parent to hold out the child as that parent’s own and parentage is established by clear and convincing evidence, which may include genetic DNA evidence acquired during the parent’s lifetime.

(c) A natural parent and child relationship may be established pursuant to Section 249.5 .

No Genetic Testing

In vacating the order requiring genetic testing, the appellate court reasoned as follows:

There is no reference to genetic testing in section 6453.  While section 6453, subdivision (b)(3) refers to genetic evidence, that is only with respect to evidence offered during an action under Family Code section 7630, subdivision (c) to determine parentage. Section 6453, subdivision (b)(3) does not authorize a probate court to order genetic testing; rather, it specifies a condition allowing an action under Family Code section 7630, subdivision (c) to establish a natural parent/child relationship for purposes of intestate succession. We conclude that the trial court erred as a matter of law when it ordered genetic testing under the auspices of section 6453.

The court further rejected genetic testing under California’s Family Code, because the statute does not authorize testing to determine a grandparent – grandchild relationship:

It bears pointing out that any civil court has the power to order genetic testing under Family Code section 7551, but that power is limited. The statute provides, “[I]n a civil action or proceeding in which parentage is a relevant fact, the court may, upon its own initiative or upon suggestion made by or on behalf of any person who is involved, . . . order the woman who gave birth, the child, and the alleged genetic parent to submit to genetic testing.” (Fam. Code, § 7551.) It does not authorize a civil court to order genetic testing of a person and the remains of another to prove or disprove a grandparent-grandchild relationship. (See Williams M. v. Superior Court (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 447, 450 [interpreting similar statutory language in former Evidence Code section 892 and stating that it “does not provide authority for the court to order . . . putative paternal grandparents to submit to blood tests”].)

Given the widely accepted accuracy of DNA testing, one wonders why the purported grandchild of Charles Manson would object to having the test performed in the estate.  In the vast majority of estate litigation over determining who the heirs are, it is the claimed heirs who want the testing to establish paternity, and other interested persons who typically object.

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