By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
IMAGINE THIS SCENE AFTER 15 weeks of Phil Spector’s murder trial: A cross section of men and women file into an empty courtroom at L.A.’s Criminal Courts Building. They’ve heard the evidence and must now decide the fate of a single individual. Deliberations immediately become heated, with some in the room taking the two-sided debate very personally. Four months of collegiality break down in minutes.
So much for Tuesday’s meeting of the trial’s reporters. Only one journalist could be chosen to represent all of them as a pool reporter at the jury field trip to Spector’s Pyrenees Castle in Alhambra. This little sideshow, which displayed a bared-fang rivalry between the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times, ended with a 15-7 vote in favor of the AP’s Linda Deutsch. (Later that day, Judge Larry Paul Fidler authorized a second reporter, the Times’ Peter Hong, into the pool, only to reverse himself after Spector objected to having to put the welcome mat out for anyone but Deutsch — whom his lawyers had publicly proposed.)
Thursday was the big visit behind the Wall of Sound (or, at least, the wall of cinder block that protects Spector’s home), and about 35 reporters, bloggers, camerapeople and various liaison staffers found what little shade there was under pepper trees a block down the hill. Hong, the runner-up in the pool verdict, provided Starbucks and bagels to his colleagues as three groups of six jurors and alternates visited the foyer of death they’d been hearing about for so long. They also studied the courtyard fountain whose noise may or may not have affected what Spector’s driver, Adriano DeSouza, heard shortly before dawn on February 3, 2003. On the witness stand, DeSouza recalled his dazed boss wandering out of the house holding a gun and muttering, “I think I killed somebody.”
Much of the trial has hung on that single moment, with the defense claiming DeSouza could not possibly have heard Spector correctly. The scene has often reminded me of the moment Orestes emerges from the palace to announce he has just killed his mother, Clytemnestra. As the mythologist Edith Hamilton retells Aeschylus’ story:
“When he came out again, those waiting in the courtyard did not need to be told what he had done. He seemed not to see them; he was looking at the horror beyond them. Stammering words came from his lips: ‘I am not guilty there .?.?. Did she do it or did she not?’?”
Did, indeed, Lana Clarkson shoot herself in the mouth, as the defense maintains, or not? That’s what the jury will begin deciding in about two weeks, and the pilgrimage to the House of Atreus — I mean, Spector — was crucial for them. As Deutsch later reported to the assembled media down the hill, the jurors seemed diligent in studying firsthand what they’d only heard about in the courtroom. They alighted from their vans to brush past Spector, dressed in sweats, long-sleeved T-shirt and sandals, and his wife, Rachelle. The couple stood still as Greek statues. Over the next 90 minutes, some jurors slumped, à la Lana, in a replica of the death chair while others sat, like DeSouza, in a Sheriff’s car next to the fountain.
Judge Fidler, however, drew the line on the jurors’ requests to conduct experiments involving sound re-creations and to wander about other parts of the house — requests that may well betray a sense of CSI-entitlement nurtured by watching too many TV crime shows.
ALMOST FROM THE START there has been a sense that the weight of the district attorney’s evidence, and its seamless presentation by prosecutors Alan Jackson and Pat Dixon, have produced a tilt of courtroom opinion against Spector’s defense. Now, as the trial shudders to its conclusion, that tilt has become vertiginous — one can practically hear deck chairs and champagne carts sliding across varnished planks. Much of this perception is based on such intangibles as juror body language, the demeanors of witnesses and, of course, a common-sense evaluation of the testimony.
The defense’s theory that Clarkson committed suicide in the home of a stranger has always sounded like a blame-the-victim yarn, much of the physical proof of which heavily depends on Clarkson’s body moving about after her spinal cord had been severed by a bullet. On Wednesday, a defense expert witness, neuropathologist Dr. Jan Leestma, even cited a study, conducted during the time of the French Revolution, on guillotined corpses to buttress his speculation. Some victims of the Terror, Leestma said, had moved about hours after execution.
From the outset, the defense swore it was not out to tarnish Clarkson’s memory, but faster than you could say The War Against Women, it pounded her image from that of a buoyant blond actress to one of a deeply depressed alcoholic whose inability to restart her career inevitably led to suicide. It’s also tried to portray her as salacious and vaguely trampy. In the Lana Unleashed video shown the week before, Clarkson was seen playing a Siegfried and Roy–type character discussing one of his big cats: “My pussy is extremely sensitive. I wash it, I trim it, I blow it.”