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
I’ve lost track of time, as we all have.
—Defense lawyer Roger Rosen
PHIL SPECTOR ATTORNEY Linda Kenney Baden returned to court last week after a three-week illness. She looked good, appearing younger, relaxed and a little lighter than when she left. Even the unruly Baden split ends had been quelled. Bruce Cutler also returned after an even lengthier absence — to announce his withdrawal from the case. On Monday, when the trial’s testimony finally ended, Cutler’s short exit statement was a long-overdue admission of what had been obvious since May 7, when Spector permanently benched his high-profile lawyer following a disastrous cross-examination of witness Dianne Ogden. (After Ogden had testified that Spector had attempted to rape her, Cutler loudly and derisively dismissed the petite mother’s charges, only to be reprimanded by Judge Larry Paul Fidler.)
Before Cutler’s exit — the New York lawyer called it quits after Spector told him he had someone else in mind to present the defense’s closing arguments to the jury — he and Baden must have felt like two Rip Van Winkles as they rejoined a trial dominated in its last days by eye-glazing arguments over the microscopic differences between bullet diameters, the widths of spinal cords and how much of a spinal cord not completely obliterated by a .38-caliber slug could possibly survive to send impulses to a corpse’s heart and lungs. The corpse in question, of course, belonged to Lana Clarkson, who, in 2003, came to Spector’s home for a nightcap and left in a body bag.
How did it come to this? Four months ago lawyers with crisp silk kerchiefs tucked into tailored chalk stripes promised an unambiguous narrative of guns, booze and madness that would condemn or redeem Spector. Toward its end, however, the trial became lost in the trackless wastes of esoteric expert testimony, as well as in pointless debates over whether or not Clarkson was drunk two Christmas Eves before her death. In four months Lana Clarkson was transformed from a person to a body to an anatomical concept. In other words, this trial became a runaway train.
Although it had begun to subtly stray sometime in late July, the trial unmistakably unraveled two weeks ago when defense pathologist Dr. Michael Baden (Linda Kenney Baden’s husband) introduced the astounding theory that the bullet fired from a Colt .38 special did not completely sever Clarkson’s spinal cord and that the shattered cord’s vestigial cabling permitted minutes of “agonal” breathing. The defense’s earlier scenario had Clarkson exhaling one last gasp — Spector’s lawyers now claim a perimortem coughing fit could account for the flecks of blood found on their client’s cream-colored jacket. Dr. Baden seemed uncomfortable ventriloquizing this novel opinion, as did Dr. Werner Spitz, recalled to the stand to counter Dr. John Andrews, the prosecution’s rebuttal witness to Baden. Gone was the sardonic certainty of Spitz’s earlier appearance, replaced by flailing, almost apologetic allusions to a medical textbook that he claimed buttressed Baden’s testimony — but which Spitz had only first encountered the night before.
The trial, which for weeks suffered its own form of agonal breathing, finally ended its evidentiary phase on Monday after several days of surrebuttal, in which defense witnesses rebutted the prosecution’s rebuttal witnesses. This saw the return of earlier defense witnesses — not to restate their original testimony, but to refute the expertise or memories of those whom prosecutors had called in to contradict them. The nonscientific surrebuttals concentrated on whether or not Clarkson was a drinker and pill popper, if she had been hurtfully ignored at a party by film director Michael Bay and if her overall state of mind was so deeply depressed that she lived one snub or drink away from committing suicide.
To prove this last matter, defense attorney Roger Rosen called Dr. Mary Goldenson, a Brentwood psychologist who admitted that, yes, Clarkson once had called to inquire about scheduling an appointment shortly before the actress’s death. Rosen also called back paramedic Daniel Stark to dispute his partner’s report that Clarkson was sober when they responded to a 2001 slip-and-fall accident.
But wasn’t it the defense’s Bruce Cutler, way back last spring, who told the jury it wasn’t a crime for a person to enjoy a few drinks at night, that cocktails and late-night dinners were not a recipe for death? If all the testimony about Clarkson’s party habits was meant to persuade the jury that Clarkson sometimes drank too much, then perhaps the defense succeeded. But to get jurors to believe that, while the cops had murder on their minds in regard to Spector’s connection to her death, Clarkson had suicide on hers seems far-fetched. And even if Michael Bay had deliberately turned his back on Clarkson or told her to talk to his hand a few weeks before her death, how could that conceivably push her to kill herself? The defense may as well cite Clarkson’s purchase of stationery as proof of her intent to write a suicide note.
DAYS BEFORE THE END of final testimony, Judge Fidler asked Spector if he wanted to waive his right to take the stand on his own behalf. Spector’s voice sounded like wind escaping from a crypt: “Yes,” he rasped, and with one word answered the question that had dominated hallway conversation for weeks.