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Wall of Years: The Spector Verdict 

And then he was gone, like Don Giovanni pulled into the underworld by the commendatore's ghost

Thursday, Apr 16 2009
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“I understand,” Judge Larry Paul Fidler announced at around 2 p.m. Monday in his downtown courtroom, “how emotions can run high at a time like this, but I do not tolerate outbursts from anyone — the verdict will be respected.”

Earlier in the day, spectators, members of the media, bloggers and D.A. staffers watched the proceedings in Department 106 of Los Angeles’ Superior Court with the knowledge that Phil Spector’s second murder trial could very well end again in a hung jury. Even with the new option to convict Spector of a lesser, involuntary-manslaughter charge — a choice not given to the first jury — there was always the chance that Spector would beat the D.A. again.

But it wasn’t to be.

click to enlarge You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling: Spector’s booking photo, April 13, 2009.
  • You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling: Spector’s booking photo, April 13, 2009.

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The first trial’s 2007 conclusion was a 10-2 deadlock in favor of the music producer’s conviction for second-degree murder. Now there was a verdict: a unanimous guilty vote in the death of Lana Clarkson, whom the Wall of Sound creator had been accused of shooting in the mouth in the early-morning hours of February 3, 2003.

In both trials, Spector’s attorneys put forward the theory that Clarkson, a 40-year-old sometime actress, had committed suicide on the fly after having a few drinks with Spector at his Alhambra mansion, the Pyrenees Castle. Prosecutors, of course, imagined her death had occurred under quite different circumstances, following Spector’s impromptu pickup of Clarkson after she ended her night-shift job hostessing at House of Blues on the Sunset Strip. In both trials, Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson claimed that Spector’s almost-folkloric history of menacing women with firearms fit the February 3, 2003, scenario in Alhambra to a T.

This jury agreed and found Spector guilty of second-degree murder, throwing in the enhancement of using a firearm in the commission of a crime. His young wife, Rachelle, broke into sobs upon hearing the verdict. It was difficult to see, from almost any angle in court, how Spector took the news, but he did seem to shrink slightly at the defense table. Before entertaining a sentencing date, Judge Fidler, continuing to be all business, quickly had the jurors polled on the verdict. Jackson immediately asked that Spector be remanded in custody, while Spector’s attorney, Doron Weinberg, requested that Spector be allowed to remain free on bond. Weinberg’s voice was uncustomarily soft during this exchange, as though he were trying to regain his wind after hearing the sentence. Spector, he told the court, was no flight risk and, besides, Weinberg would be filing a motion to have the verdict set aside.

Fidler was not persuaded and ordered that Spector be taken immediately to county jail. As the bailiffs hustled him out toward the courtroom’s side door used by inmates, the full impact of what was happening seemed to suddenly dawn on Spector, who shuffled forth in a daze. And then he was gone, like Don Giovanni pulled into the underworld by the Commendatore’s ghost.

At a media conference held about a half-hour later, Jackson explained that the 69-year-old Spector faces a mandatory life sentence, which, with the gun enhancement, would mean a minimum of 18 years in prison.

When asked if he thought the gender makeup of the second trial’s panel, which split evenly among men and women, boded better for a conviction, Jackson said: “I never try to rub that crystal ball.”

Still, the three jurors and three alternates who showed up at the conference were all women.

Their spokeswoman was Juror No. 1, the panel’s forewoman. She answered most questions with the same reply — that everyone had entered the deliberations with a neutral, open mind and had carefully considered all the evidence and testimony before making their collective decision. Juror No. 1 said that no one found Spector’s demeanor during the trial to be a distraction, and even praised his San Francisco attorney. It was then that she became emotional and wept.

“This entire jury took this so seriously,” Juror No. 1 said, “and could not have been more painful in our decision.” Then, turning to Spector’s attorney: “It had nothing to do with Mr. Weinberg’s ability — you were awesome.”

After the jurors left, Weinberg, having regained his fire, was declaring his confidence that he could have the conviction overturned on the basis of what he considered Judge Fidler’s incorrect rulings on evidentiary procedures — specifically, the inclusion of the testimony of five women who had previously been held against their will by an armed Spector. Still, Weinberg conceded, it was unlikely that Spector would be released on bond during his lengthy appeal process.

Finally, the press, lawyers and bailiffs left the courtroom. The Clarkson family would now proceed with their civil suit against Spector. Clarkson’s mother, Donna, and her sister, Fawn, appeared pleased with the verdict, though they did not speak formally to the press. During two trials, Clarkson had been held up by Spector’s lawyers as a suicide waiting to happen — a binge drinker and drug abuser whose career had been crippled by physical pain and psychological trauma. Prosecutors had countered with a portrait of a vivacious, optimistic talent cut down just as she was finding herself. At the end of this day, though, Lana Clarkson remains a tragic mystery to those who followed her story in court.

As Juror No. 1 put it, in a statement that might well have been the day’s most revealing, “I can’t say that I know her.”

None of us really can.

Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

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