Accidental Suicide? New Involuntary-Manslaughter Option in Phil Spector Murder Retrial | A Considerable Town | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Accidental Suicide? New Involuntary-Manslaughter Option in Phil Spector Murder Retrial 

The final arguments: Shifting sand dunes, or rock-solid mountains?

Wednesday, Apr 1 2009
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When Phil Spector, his wife, Rachelle, and Spector’s bodyguard emerged from a black Lexus last Monday morning, it was, finally, to an awaiting squad of TV-news cameramen huddled at the top of the L.A. Superior Court’s pedestrian ramp. After half a year of testimony that went largely ignored by the media, Spector’s second trial for second-degree murder was concluding with final arguments. Spector and his wife entered a packed courtroom, whose tiny door windows were covered with black paper; after a few comments from Judge Larry Paul Fidler, the prosecution began its close.

Deputy District Attorney Truc Do, dressed in somber charcoal, began by stressing the two worlds represented in the trial: One, Phil Spector’s, was a world of wealth, power and, Do implied, male privilege. The second belonged to Lana Clarkson, a 40-year-old woman eking out a living as an actress, and a hostess at the House of Blues. This was a world in which working people, especially working women, were always at the mercy of the rich, even in death.

In a startling coup de théâtre, Truc Do’s PowerPoint presentation included slides of the Mui Ne sand dunes, located, she said, in the part of Vietnam her family is from.

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“This is not a screen saver,” Do said. More pointedly, she likened the slides’ shifting sand mountains to what she claimed were defense attorney Doron Weinberg’s ever-changing position regarding the trial’s expert-witness testimony. Again and again she hammered home her belief in the reliability of witness Adriano DeSouza, Spector’s driver on the night of Clarkson’s death, who told police Spector emerged from his mansion holding a gun and uttering the words, “I think I killed somebody.”

Do, who has co-prosecuted several high-profile cases over the past few years, including the Golay-Rutterschmidt Black Widows murder case and the Chester Turner serial-killer trial, undeniably made some good, subtle talking points. Spector, in Do’s portrait, was a venomous old toad who had snatched Clarkson, a total stranger to him, away from her late-night shift at the House of Blues and whisked her to his Alhambra “castle,” where, Do asserts, he fatally shot her in the mouth during the early-morning hours of February 3, 2003. You could practically hear Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” playing in the background. Spector has had similar gun dates with five other women over the years — women who were lucky to have escaped with their lives, according to Do, in what she likened to a sick game of Russian roulette.

And yet I wasn’t feeling Do’s star power. She appeared tentative at the opening of her peroration to the jury. But her argument seemed to have some effect on Weinberg, who asked for, and was granted, a delay until the next day to begin his final argument.

The following morning, Weinbergbegan his presentation in a slow, methodical voice, facing the jurors about six feet from the jury box.

He opened by countering Do’s image of Spector as some kind of Alhambra royalty who believed his droit du seigneur included shooting women in the mouth. The rich, Weinberg said, are not different from you and me, and they do not enjoy an unfair advantage when cornered by the law. Nor, he said, were the defense’s expert witnesses hired mercenaries willing to say anything for a paycheck.

“The case that Miss Do argued before you yesterday had nothing to do with the case the prosecution has made,” Weinberg told jurors. “It relies on the starting proposition that [Spector] is a bad person and must have done it. They then set out to prove he did it.”

Throughout the morning Weinberg, in his deep, mellifluous voice, drove home his theme that lazy county criminalists had found themselves with a body on their hands, in Spector’s home, and did everything they could to skew their analysis away from a theory of Clarkson committing suicide (the defense’s position) and toward second-degree murder committed by Spector. In other words, according to Weinberg, the county lab coats wanted the facts to conform to a homicide so they could then turn over the findings to their law-enforcement colleagues.

“Crime-lab investigators work with the Sheriff’s Department,” Weinberg said. “They are a team, and this influences the opinions and the judgments they make. It’s not dishonesty but it’s bias — institutional bias.”

As Weinberg laid out what he considered 14 factual points that exonerated his client — which by now, in this second trial, has taken on an almost folkloric recitation of blood spatter, gunshot residue and tooth-fragment trajectories — he seemed eager to accent or ignore certain bits of scientific evidence. At one juncture, he showed a slide projection of Clarkson’s wrists, with red circles superimposed over what he claimed were blood flecks, which caused co-prosecutor Alan Jackson to interrupt him. Jackson pointed out to Judge Fidler that not only did this particular photograph not have those helpful circles Photoshopped over it when it was introduced during the trial but that the concomitant testimony at the time made no acknowledgment that there was blood where Weinberg said there was.

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