Phil Noir: Phil Spectors Dark Victory
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.
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.
IN THE DAYS AFTER JUDGE FIDLER dismissed the deadlocked jury on September 26, Ricardo Enriquez, previously known only as Juror 9, opened a fascinating window into its deliberations when he began speaking to the media and bloggers alike, answering our nagging questions and describing the secret proceedings that began with five jurors voting for acquittal, four for conviction and three undecided, and ended with the 10-2 guilty ballot. He said that the alpha males in the group quickly became apparent.
“Each one had their own fan base,” he explained, adding that he had campaigned to be elected foreman. “It was Big Brother. I knew I wanted to be the jury leader, the cruise director.” Enriquez said that he learned from a hypnotist that the best way to control a group is to feed its members and give them activities. For a while he brought the jurors casseroles and other homemade food, but stopped when the deadlock became apparent.
“I didn’t bring crap after deliberations began,” he said ruefully. “The jury became a real dysfunctional family. These people were so weak, wishy-washy. They wanted to be nurtured.”
Dysfunctional, maybe, but not sloppy. If anything, the jury was thorough to the point of neurosis as some jurors got lost in esoteric explanations that either exonerated Spector or pointed to the impossibility of ever knowing what happened that night in his mansion. Enriquez began to despair that some of his colleagues believed the defense’s 11th-hour theory that Clarkson’s body had involuntarily moved about after the bullet smashed through her spinal cord. He also grew angry over one juror’s insinuations that Clarkson was a fallen woman.
“She was made out to be a whore,” Enriquez said. “My task was to protect her fucking honor.” Today he admits to having vivid dreams of Lana at night.
IN THE END, LANA CLARKSON, whose acting career peaked early, became another enigmatic murdered female in a city filled with Black Dahlias and Dorothy Strattons. In the essay collection Women in Film Noir, E. Ann Kaplan seemed to have Clarkson in mind when she wrote in the 1970s: “Women in film noir are above all else unknowable . . . [they] stand outside the male order and represent a challenge to it. They symbolize all that is evil and mysterious.”
Certainly, throughout this trial, Clarkson was little more than an erotic surface, and nearly all of her activities were portrayed as vaguely transgressive or aberrant by the defense. Spector’s lawyers made every glass of wine she raised, each doctor’s prescription she filled, and any and all professional and personal setbacks she encountered seem like ominous portents of madness and suicide.
There is a moment in Robert Aldrich’s 1950s film version of Kiss Me Deadly when the character Dr. Soberin explains the post-atomic age — a definition appropriate for the Hollywood whose attention Clarkson feverishly worked to win back.
“As the world becomes more primitive,” says Soberin, “its treasures become more fabulous.” Lana Clarkson strove for Hollywood’s fabulous treasures only to die a lonely death in the house of a stranger.
And so, still free on $1 million bond, Phil Spector and his young wife, Rachelle, bide their time at his castle, with its cracked cinder-block walls, awaiting the next trial. In a sense, Spector is merely taking a backstage break from a legal spectacle unique to Los Angeles — the permanent trial. A mixture of passion play, policier and soap opera, the permanent trial is a creation of a paparazzi-ized news media — and a public that craves watching its movie stars, musicians and other entertainers shuffle from the red carpet to the perp walk. It began with the O.J. Simpson case in 1994 and has morphed into a single unending event in which the cast of celebrity defendants changes, but not the continuity of public shame.
More than once, Judge Fidler paraphrased Lincoln’s famous comment about General McClellan snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and, while it’s tempting to lay this same charge at the district attorney’s door, it wouldn’t be fair to the prosecutors, who meticulously prepared what had seemed to many — including Ricardo Enriquez — an airtight case. What let the air in was the learned testimony of defense expert witnesses who lent their reputations to support convoluted theories regarding the blood spray from Clarkson’s wound as well as assessments of her mental state based on a selective reading of her e-mails and other correspondence. The erudite opinions of Spector’s pathologists and forensic experts, combined with the very human doubts found in all juries, simply combined to make two jurors skeptical enough to not vote for a guilty verdict.
About an hour after Fidler dismissed the jury for the last time on September 26, three members, including Enriquez and the anonymous foreman, held a news conference. Then, after 21 minutes, bailiffs opened a back exit door and they were gone. We in the media, after five long months, were suddenly left in the stillness of a room with no judge, lawyers or jurors. Some of us stood about for a moment like sleepwalkers, then lurched to the elevators, which took us to the courthouse lobby that was filling with blinding sunlight at its southern exits. There, some people said their goodbyes, others instinctively followed the cameras trailing Vanity Fair correspondent Dominick Dunne, the trial’s best-known writer. A flame had been extinguished, and, like moths, we now drifted aimlessly, searching for the next spectacle to light up the headlines.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.