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Phil Noir: Phil Spector’s Dark Victory 

Trial wrap-up: A juror’s Lana Clarkson fantasies and failed casserole strategy as the Wall of Sound architect gets away with — what?

Monday, Oct 8 2007
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IF PHIL SPECTOR’S SEPTEMBER 26 mistrial was a stunning setback for the D.A.’s Office, it was a more ambiguous victory for Spector. Although this time around, the Wall of Sound architect beat a possible life sentence for the murder of struggling actress Lana Clarkson, there will be a retrial within a year, if not sooner. Spector is shopping for a new legal team, and, in a hearing this past Wednesday, Judge Larry Paul Fidler gave him three weeks to choose his lawyers. They will have to quickly prepare for a possible spring trial, knowing that the odds usually favor prosecutors in rematches because the D.A.’s Office will now have a better road map to juror thinking and defendants don’t have as much money for retrial. Still, the mere fact that Spector escaped prison this time was little short of miraculous.

From the moment the smoke from Spector’s .38 Special settled on February 3, 2003, his defense seemed crippled. Spector’s early statements to the police about Clarkson’s death, and the crime scene’s investigation by a team led by his first pretrial attorney, Robert Shapiro, had painted his future lawyers into a tight corner. The attorneys first had to convince jurors that their volatile client did not shoot Clarkson, despite an almost folkloric record of his waving guns at women at the end of dates and threatening to kill them. His lawyers also offered jurors not one but two incredible scenarios — that Clarkson had committed suicide on the spur of the moment or had accidentally shot herself with a gun that she’d provocatively stuck into her mouth.

Excluded from the defense mise en scènes were Spector’s accidentally discharging the weapon while the two engaged in some unimaginable game — or his deliberately firing the gun into the mouth of a passed-out Clarkson. A second-degree murder charge would have applied for either of these hypotheticals. Ultimately, the defense was burdened by essentially having to make homicide seem like a victimless crime — even as prosecutors showed photos of the dead and disheveled blonde, her mouth clotted with gore.

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Then there was the veritable landfill of forensic and anecdotal evidence presented by Deputy D.A.s Alan Jackson and Pat Dixon. Jurors heard Spector’s menacing phone messages to former dates, including the unforgettable line “I’ve got machine guns and I know where you live and you know what I can do with them.” He had also shared this meditation on the opposite sex with Joan Rivers’ security chief, Vince Tannazzo: “These fucking cunts. They all deserve to die. They all deserve a bullet in their fucking head.” There was above all the unshakable testimony of Spector’s driver, Adriano DeSouza, recalling how Spector had emerged from his home, gun in bloodied hand, proclaiming, “I think I killed somebody.”

Ten jurors were swayed to vote for conviction, but two dug in for acquittal. Even before the panel’s announcement of its first impasse on September 18, the Homer Simpson–esque phrase “stupid jury” was increasingly heard from some spectators because jurors were taking so long to settle a matter that most outsiders thought should be a slam-dunk decision. Soon there was dark speculation about jurors receiving Spector bribes or of secretly, against the judge’s orders, following the trial online.

Many, if not most, reporters believed in Spector’s guilt from the start, and some grew concerned as time passed that perhaps he would somehow elude justice. Indeed, some who sat in Department 106 day in and day out chose their “favorite” jurors early on and speculated about which way individual jurors were leaning months before testimony ended.

“Juror X worries me,” someone would say. “I just know she’s going to vote for acquittal.”

By contrast, nearly every observer loved Juror 10, who was seen as a beacon of note-taking scholarship — and a guilty vote. However, No. 10 (the eventual foreman) turned out to be one of two acquittal holdouts who hung the jury — and, when his true position leaked out to the media seats before the final deadlock, he was immediately reviled by his former admirers.

In the mistrial’s aftermath, TV lawbots, bloggers and radio jocks unleashed a torrent of recriminations against what was viewed as the jury’s rush fromjudgment. Court TV’s Ashleigh Banfield, who didn’t attend the trial but scored a coup by getting a phone interview with the foreman for her show, personified the post-mistrial rage.

“I’ve been ripping into you,” she barked at Juror 10, who had no idea what she was talking about. “Please tell me I’m wrong and tell me why.”

Banfield’s post-game, locker-room-interview approach epitomized the bleacher mentality of a TV republic that regards trials and elections as spectator sports — sports whose umpires are to be hissed and booed when they don’t rule the way people would like them to. Americans do not like ambiguity; we hate tied games and favor sudden-death playoffs and overtime victories. Following the years of not-guilty verdicts on such celebrities as O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Michael Jackson, Spector’s hung jury somehow seemed worse than an acquittal.

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