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Full Court Press: Dominick Dunne's Cameo at Phil Spector Retrial; Anand Jon's Explosive Evidence of Juror Shenanigans 

Wednesday, Mar 4 2009
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Before his midlife career as a novelist and celebrity murder-trial correspondent for Vanity Fair, Dominick Dunne was a Hollywood TV and movie producer. He regularly flies into Los Angeles for the Academy Awards (he’s an Academy voter) and for his magazine’s post-Oscars party. This year was no different. But in between Oscar events and visiting friends, he checked in on the recent resumption of the murder retrial of music-producer legend Phil Spector and found a changed landscape.

Dunne arrived at Department 106 of the Los Angeles criminal-courts building solely for pleasure. After sitting through the first trial in all its melodramatic glory in 2007, he has no plans to report on the new proceedings. Instead of speculating on Spector’s chances of acquittal, he shared his thoughts on Barack Obama (he’s an ardent supporter — “and I’m going to keep backing him!”), on Sean Penn’s podium comments after winning Best Actor (“It was a great speech. He didn’t make a meal out of it”), and on the Academy’s decision to play down glamour at the Oscars (a mistake — “This is when we need it the most”).

In a way, the Vanity Fair party’s new venue (the Sunset Tower on the Sunset Strip) reflected the changed Hollywood that Dunne found upon his return — long-standing VF party haunt Morton’s of Beverly Hills has closed down, like so many other businesses in L.A. And on some levels the second Spector trial represents more of the same diminution of glamour and expectations that greeted Dunne during his visit. This is, after all, a recession-era sequel that promises few of the kinds of surprises unveiled in the first trial.

Spector and his young wife, Rachelle, appeared in court for the first day of the retrial at 9:45 a.m., accompanied by only one bodyguard, and not the two or three who followed them everywhere in 2007. (To get an idea of his incongruous entrances during the first trial, picture the tiny Spector flanked by a trio of Notorious B.I.G. impersonators.)

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Then again, Spector only has one lawyer, Doron Weinberg, instead of the five who won him a hung jury two years ago. There are seldom any reporters present from the mainstream media, with the job of recording the trial falling to the Trials & Tribulations blogger known as Sprocket. Even the newer jury seems to lack the interesting idiosyncrasies and interpersonal dynamics that marked its predecessor.

Jury trouble, however, occupied the start of the morning session. Juror No. 5, a 30-something man who last week requested to be cut from the panel on financial-hardship grounds, answered a few questions by Judge Larry Paul Fidler before being thanked for his time and sent home. He was replaced through a random draw by Alternate Juror No. 3, a woman. How this gender balancing of the panel might affect Spector’s chances is unclear.

“If the defendant is a classically handsome guy, women might be sympathetic to him,” says USC law professor Jean Rosenbluth. “But it depends on the crime. Spector definitely doesn’t want women on the jury, with what he’s charged.”

Spector, remember, is accused of the murder of bit actress Lana Clarkson in the wee hours of a February night in 2003. And he is being painted by prosecutors Alan Jackson and Truc Do as a violent misogynist who had a habit of threatening dates with guns. Over Weinberg’s objections, Do was allowed to play a recorded telephone interview between Sheriff’s Department detective Richard Tomlin and Vince Tannazzo, a former New York detective who worked as Joan Rivers’ personal-security aide. During one memorable encounter in the mid-1990s, Tannazzo was called upon to escort Spector from a Christmas party after Spector began brandishing a gun.

On the audio CD, Tannazzo says that during the elevator ride down from Rivers’ apartment, Spector confided to him his innermost feelings toward Rivers’ manager, Dorothy Melvin, and the fair sex in general:

“These fucking cunts all deserve to die! I should put a fucking bullet in this cunt’s head!”

The interview’s sound quality was on par with that of a flight-recorder box recovered from an airliner crash, but jurors followed along with a transcript and heard the hardened ex-cop marvel, “Every other word out of his mouth was ‘this fucking cunt!’”

Spector stared at the table in front of him as the recording was played in court, occasionally sipping from a bottle of orange drink.

During redirect, after Do finished playing the interview, defense counsel Weinberg went to town on Tomlin for not checking out Tannazzo’s story (which the ex–New York detective had suddenly offered shortly before the first trial began) and accepting it at face value — even though Melvin, in several interviews with Tomlin, had never mentioned the incident. Then Weinberg, who has proven himself a master of sowing doubt, asked Tomlin to explain some discrepancies in the testimony of Spector’s Brazilian-born driver, Adriano De Souza, regarding the chaotic moments following the gunshot that killed Clarkson — a gunshot Spector claims was self-inflicted but that prosecutors allege Spector fired.

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