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
“THE JURY BELIEVES THEY ARE HUNG.”
The air suddenly went out of Department 106 when Judge Larry Paul Fidler told the courtroom Tuesday afternoon that the Phil Spector trial jury was deadlocked. Apprehension had been building with each passing day that the nine men and three women were at an impasse. Then, about 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, court media and spectators were jolted by two buzzes from the jury room — indicating the jurors had a question for the judge. (Three buzzes would have meant they had reached a verdict.)
The mood in court quickly changed over the next few hours from one of drowsy tedium to nervous dread as the case’s prosecutors, defense lawyers and, finally, Spector himself arrived at the Criminal Courts Building for the afternoon “proceeding” that had been called by Judge Fidler. Deputy D.A.s Alan Jackson and Pat Dixon looked ashen and showed none of the ambling self-confidence that had marked their many presentations and cross-examinations. Members of Team Spector also looked as though they expected disaster.
The judge then summoned the jurors and asked their foreman, Juror 10, if he thought some rereading of testimony or instructions would help the jury move toward a unanimous decision.
“We discussed that at some length,” the foreman, who is a county civil engineer, said flatly. “At this time, I don’t believe anything else will change.”
Fidler polled all the jurors, finding several who disagreed — three indicated that it might help if the judge would clarify the difference between “doubt” and “reasonable doubt.”
Another bombshell dropped when the foreman revealed a 7-5 schism among the jurors — the deadlock, in other words, was not the result of some 11-1 holdout, but an almost even split. While many assume the 7-5 divide was in favor of conviction, there is no evidence of that. Although the jurors avoided eye contact with media and spectators as they filed into court, this was not a case of jury indecision. Its 12 members were very decisive — so much so that none would change their minds after four ballots.
After sending the jurors and alternates home for the day, Fidler asked lawyers for both sides to submit arguments to him Wednesday regarding what kind of instructions he will give the jury. He can, as the defense called upon him to do, declare a mistrial. But this is unlikely, given the five months that have gone into the trial. He can read back certain instructions and further explain the intricacies of doubt and reasonable doubt, although, as he said after the jury had been dismissed, this “seldom produces positive effects.” Or he can reverse his own earlier ruling and permit the jury to consider Spector liable for the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Some might say that Judge Fidler has himself to blame for the deadlock. By insisting on an all-or-nothing decision on second-degree murder, he made it harder for jurors to send an old man to prison for the rest of his life — something they were reluctant to do after his lawyers had planted enough doubt about Spector’s guilt in their minds. The odds are on Fidler now allowing Spector to face this lesser charge, which means the lawyers for both sides would have to present new closing arguments, tailored around involuntary manslaughter, on Thursday morning.
Phil Spector didn’t blink when Fidler announced the impasse, and the defense retinue retained its stony-faced façade all the way to the elevators after court was dismissed. Still, they must have been secretly rejoicing.
“We’re not allowed to speak to the media,” said one member of the entourage. “But if one of us did, it would be to say that the absence of bad news is good news.”
BEFORE TUESDAY’S DEADLOCK, the days had been long ones for Department 106 court watchers. Friday morning arrived with grave disappointment when some panel members filed in wearing jeans and T-shirts — indicating they were more likely to spend the weekend at Lake Havasu than announce a verdict and face the media. In the courtroom, a few journalists read newspapers or whispered comments to each other while trying not to draw reprimands from bailiffs or court media handlers. Occasionally, we’d drift upstairs to the 18th-floor press office next to the D.A.’s office, where there’s a TV and DVD player. Vanity Fair’s Dominick Dunne obtained and donated for viewing a 1967 I Dream of Jeannie episode co-starring Phil Spector as himself. The L.A. Times’ Peter Hong delivered Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Lana Clarkson’s first film) and the Godfather trilogy (intra-oral gunshot homicide in the second film); City News Service’s Ciarán McEvoy brought in Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which also features a gun-in-mouth murder. More important, the Meyer movie’s freakish, homicidal character, Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell, was supposedly modeled on Spector.
Dunne caused a stir Friday when a group of TV and radio reporters heard him discuss, outside the courtroom, videotapes made by Spector and his then-assistant, Michelle Blaine, in which Spector walked through possible alibi scenarios. Dunne, in his October Vanity Fair article, wrote about how these tapes were rumored to have been shot at the Beverly Hills Hotel over the course of eight days immediately following Clarkson’s death — but declared the rumor to be untrue. (The tapes were actually made a year later and not at the hotel.) Nevertheless, local media, in the dry white season of waiting, jumped on the news as though it were true.