Phil Noir: Hassle in the Castle

BY NOW, THE FOYER OF PHIL SPECTOR’S home is about as familiar to jurors as the elevator corridor in The Shining. The entrance’s details, repeatedly shown in photographs projected on a courtroom screen, are luridly indelible because they are so ordinary: the bland red carpet, a huge, ornate mirror, the big vase halfway up the wooden staircase. And Lana Clarkson’s black-stockinged legs, cut off in the frame just before a voyeur can see the rest of her dead body. Last week, the prosecution brought testimony to the place Clarkson died in a chair — to Spector’s Alhambra mansion, known as the Pyrenees Castle. Spector sat stone-faced in court, forced to relive those early-morning hours in 2003 when he was no longer the lord of a castle overrun by cops and emergency crews.

Paramedic-fireman David Riggs arrived at that Boschian crimescape to go through the motions of searching for Clarkson’s vital signs and notice, on the foyer floor, the leads and wires of Taser darts — fired into Spector earlier, when he proved uncooperative with police. Hours later, according to Alhambra P.D. officer Sean Heckers, a much more cooperative Spector allowed a nurse to remove Spector’s pubic and anal hairs from his body, and to photograph his genitals as part of a sex-assault examination.

Some courtroom spectators could not help but wonder why the 5-foot-4 suspect would have to be Tasered by Alhambra cops — a point the defense had clearly stressed in its opening statements, noting that Spector had been knocked down with a police ballistic shield and hogtied.

A grand-jury transcript of an Alhambra Police Department audio recording of Spector’s confrontation with the cops shows him as alternately hostile, whimsical and contrite, even as he lay pinned to the floor.

“I own this castle,” he says at one point. “I live here, and I’m sorry this happened.”

By the time last week’s testimony recessed early for the Memorial Day holiday, none of the cops who were first to arrive at the castle had been called by the prosecution, which may be part of a strategy to deny Spector’s side the opportunity to bring up how the tiny tycoon was manhandled and thereby win juror sympathy. Size — and the lack of it — is everything to Spector’s lawyers, who have harped on his physical vulnerability and Clarkson’s superior height. By trial’s end, they will probably spin Clarkson’s shooting as a case of self-defense — Spector v. the 50-Foot Woman.

One person not buying the need to Tase Spector was Steve Dunleavy, the colorful N.Y. Post columnist who, he said, had “parachuted” into L.A. to observe the trial for a few days.

“I have the distinction,” Dunleavy said, “of being the only person in this room to have punched out Phil Spector.”

Indeed, according to both Dunleavy and various annals of published gossip, in 1992 the Post scribe did cuff Spector at Elaine’s in New York. In any event, Spector did not wave to Dunleavy in court.

THE NIGHT OF FEBRUARY 2 TO 3, 2003, is the meat of the prosecution’s case against the music mogul, and it couldn’t have come a moment too soon for bored court spectators. The previous week, jurors had followed, minute by minute, the adventures of Spector and his chauffeur, Adriano DeSouza, as they traveled from Alhambra to Studio City, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and back, picking up and dropping off various women along the way, ending with Clarkson.

At every turn in this odyssey, however, Spector’s lawyers ground the proceedings to a halt by picking apart the tiniest details of that fatal night. “A needless Alexandrine ends the song,” Alexander Pope wrote nearly 400 years ago, “that, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.” Pope may as well have been describing Roger Rosen’s cross-examinations of waiters and nightclub managers, which in my mind began to sound something like this:

“Now, ma’am, the House of Blues’ Foundation Room is known to have pillows — very big pillows, in fact. And these are not ordinary pillows, the kind you and I might own, these are in truth very expensive and soft pillows, and it would only be natural for someone like Lana Clarkson to want to fluff them in the presence of someone like Phil Spector . . .”

Rosen was teamed up with Bradley Brunon, whose professorial bearing and calm, sonorous voice seemed to belong to a planetarium guide. (“And here, in the western sky, just past Orion’s belt, we see Adriano, the Driver . . .”) No wonder, after three days of cross-examination, in which Brunon hammered both DeSouza’s command of English and his right to even be in the United States, the hapless chauffeur’s English seemed to completely break down.

“Like that you said is okay for me,” DeSouza replied to one of Brunon’s questions, vainly trying to placate his tormentor.

Spector’s lawyers, of course, are not paid to entertain the press galley, but to examine every possible event and object that may win their client’s freedom by creating enough juror doubt about his guilt. Still, the behavior of both prosecution and defense counsels is a reminder that most courtroom proceedings are theatrical performances in which attorneys, armed with sincere gestures, exaggerated decorum and silk ties, only pretend to be engaged in a Socratic inquiry that will bring everyone to the truth.

And so the details of Lana Clarkson’s death will continue to be scrutinized and debated. Roger Rosen even groused over a 911 dispatcher’s decision to assign a Code 187, indicating homicide, to DeSouza’s phone call for help. Rosen seemed personally affronted that there wasn’t a more accurate penal code available for use — one presumably indicating Depressed Former Actress Has Accidentally Committed Suicide at Rich Guy’s House.

Perhaps prosecution witness Esther Rodriguez, an Alhambra cop called to Spector’s castle that night, provided the most down-to-earth description of the crime scene. When defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden asked just why the Alhambra P.D. would presume to designate the castle “a crime scene of murder,” Rodriguez was refreshingly to the point:

“Because there was a handgun next to a body that was dead.”


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