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Promises to Keep : Patti Tate Leads a Justice Crusade in the Name of Her Sister Sharon


Patti Tate is thinking back.

It's the summer of '69, and she's got her hands on her sister's stomach, feeling the baby inside kick. She was 11 years old then and her 26-year-old sister, actress Sharon Tate, was two weeks away from having her first baby. But on a hot August night, followers of Charles Manson killed seven people, including Sharon Tate, who was repeatedly stabbed as she pleaded for her life and that of her unborn child.

"My sister was everything to me," said Tate, 36. "She was so sweet and such a gentle soul. She was a movie star and beautiful, and in my eyes she was just so big. There wasn't anything I wouldn't have done for her."

Twenty-four years later, there still isn't.

For her sister, Patti Tate has launched a national boycott against Geffen Records after Guns N' Roses, which records on the Geffen label, refused to remove a song written by Manson from its new album, "The Spaghetti Incident?"

Tate said the record company "is putting Manson up on a pedestal for young people who don't know who he is to worship like an idol." She and other members of the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau are asking people to write and fax letters of protest to Geffen Records as well as to phone the record company.

Ed Rosenblatt, Geffen Records president, has told The Times that the company "would have preferred that the song wasn't on the album, but given our belief in freedom of speech as well as the clear restraints of our legal agreements with the band, it is not our decision to make. That decision belongs solely to Guns N' Roses. We genuinely regret the distress the situation has caused."

Geffen Records has said neither Manson nor Guns N' Roses will collect any money from the song, and royalties will be funneled to the son of one of Manson's victims and to various environmental and crime-victim organizations. But that doesn't satisfy Tate, who three weeks ago faced Geffen executives in a private meeting.

"Nothing came out of it," she said, "but it was necessary for me to sit down with them, face to face and ask them, 'Do you realize what you are creating here?' This isn't about whether or not Manson is making money or who is making money. This is about Manson still profiting by becoming a cult hero, an idol to a lot of young kids out there who will buy the album. And that's where violence and crime is hitting us the worst right now, with our kids.

"I wanted to go in there and state exactly where I stood and that I would continue on with the boycott. I needed to touch them with my story, with my sister's story, with her memory."

Throughout her life, Tate, a friendly, soft-spoken woman, has fought to keep the memory of her sister alive because "you don't want people to forget what Manson and his cult did and what others like them are capable of doing," she said.

"Keeping Sharon's memory alive keeps this senseless tragedy alive in the minds of many. We can't go around thinking that 'this won't happen to me, it only happens to other people,' because one day it's going to hit home.

"The fact is that one out of every four people in California (is) going to be a victim of a serious crime: murder, rape, mayhem. We are all going to be touched by crime eventually, and it is going to get worse unless we start making our officials start changing some laws, like stiffer penalties for criminals, and laws that protect and give us, the victims, rights also."

It is also for her sister that Tate crusades for justice on behalf of crime victims, through the efforts of the nonprofit Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau in Sacramento. The bureau, which advocates passage of legislation for victims and their rights, was founded in 1992 by Doris Tate, who helped forge the crime victims' movement nationwide after her daughter Sharon's murder. Doris Tate died in July, 1992, from a brain tumor at the age of 68.

Patti Tate was at her mother's side.

"I promised my mom before she died that I would continue on. This got started because it was her dream to pull together all the victims' groups to make a difference in government and so that we can all stand united," she said.

Tate also promised her mother that she would stay on top of any information regarding her sister's murderers, who also killed wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, the night after Sharon Tate was stabbed and hanged Aug. 9, 1969.

Late last month, Patti Tate attended the hearing for Patricia Krenwinkel, a member of the Manson gang up for parole for the 11th time from the California Institution for Women in Frontera. Sitting at a small table facing Krenwinkel, 46, convicted in seven of the Manson cult slayings, Tate told authorities why once again the woman should be denied her freedom. (Leslie Van Houten was up for parole for the 10th time, but Tate said she was not allowed to speak at that hearing because Van Houten was convicted only of conspiring to kill Tate, not of the murder.)

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