Last Friday legendary music producer Phil Spector, 69, was sentenced for the second-degree murder of Lana Clarkson, the sometime actress whom Spector brought home late one night in 2003 after she left her shift hostessing at House of Blues. In both the first trial, which ended in a hung jury, and the retrial, prosecutors argued that Spector, a man with a history of menacing women with guns after drinking alcohol, had gone too far this one time and pulled the trigger of a .38 Colt Cobra.
Deputy District Attorneys Alan Jackson and Truc Do claimed Spector had jammed the gun’s muzzle in Clarkson’s mouth and fired as she sat in a chair in Spector’s Alhambra mansion. And, like Spector’s first defense team of five lawyers, retrial attorney Doron Weinberg argued that Clarkson, 40, was a troubled woman whose failure to succeed in show business had brought her to spontaneously commit suicide in a stranger’s home during a moment of despair.
Unlike the second trial’s April 13 verdict reading, Spector’s sentencing hearing Friday was the definition of “anticlimax.” In fact, Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler had little leeway — Spector’s second-degree-murder conviction carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years to life in prison; a concomitant charge of using a firearm to kill Clarkson brought with it at least an additional three years. As Department 106 began filling up just before 11 a.m., Fidler’s only real choice was to grant the prosecution’s recommendation of adding four years for the gun charge (the crime’s “midrange” term) or Weinberg’s request for the three-year minimum — which, he claimed, could affect where Spector serves his time.
Before sentencing, Donna Clarkson, Lana’s mother, rose in court to read a statement in which she mourned the loss of her daughter. “Lana was my first child, my oldest child, a precious gift,” she began. “She lit up a room when she walked into it. She viewed life as the glass half-full. She was the eternal optimist ...”
Moments later she touched on something that everyone who’d sat in court during the trials must have wondered about as they watched the bereaved mother sitting with her lawyers and her other daughter Fawn day in and day out, many times turning away from gruesome crime-scene photos but never able to block out the forensic testimony and speculations — or the often unflattering portrait of Lana Clarkson sketched by some of her acquaintances.
“The pictures were extremely shocking and painful,” she conceded. “It was hard for us not to correct all the misinformation we heard concerning Lana. As I sat in the courtroom, I just wanted to raise my hand and say, ‘Excuse me, your honor ... may I clarify these points?’”
A few minutes later, in one of those macabre and banal but necessary bits of court business, Weinberg informed Judge Fidler he had with him two checks to present to the court: one, for $16,811.82, to be given to Clarkson’s sister Fawn, to cover her funeral expenses; the other, for $9,740, to go to a state restitution fund.
Co-prosecutor Jackson, who had so deftly presented most of the D.A.’s case in the first trial, only to see it deadlocked because of two holdout jurors, was successful the second time around, and argued last Friday for a sentence of 19 years to life, because Spector was “a serious danger to society.” About 20 minutes into the hearing, Jackson got his way and Judge Fidler, as if wishing to be done once and for all of the Spector case, his handling of the first trial having brought him some criticism, raced through his sentence pronouncement as he gave Spector 19 years to life.
Spector is often characterized as appearing emotionless and, at his sentencing, was described as showing no expression. This isn’t quite true. Although he declined to address the court and made no outward gestures to reveal his feelings, Spector’s face conveyed plenty. His eyes desperately searching the bench for a sign of hope — perhaps that his lawyer had found some overlooked technicality that would spare Spector from spending the remainder of his life in a cage — he seemed like a trapped animal looking for an escape. It was not to be.
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About an hour after the verdict was read, the defense held a press conference in the hallway of the 12th floor of the Criminal Courts Building, a preferred location for such events. Even now, a somber Doron Weinberg opened with his oft-repeated statement that Phil Spector did not shoot Lana Clarkson. He denied that there were any fears that Spector would harm himself. In the end, he had to admit that his case had never recovered from the early, devastating testimony of five women who had claimed that Spector had threatened them with guns.
The San Francisco attorney’s tenacious defense of Spector, combined with his professorial bearing, had won the grudging respect of many spectators, who’d been appalled by some members of Spector’s first team of lawyers. His client having been sentenced, there was little more for Weinberg to say, beyond the obligatory announcement that he will appeal the conviction. Perhaps as a harbinger of what is to come, respected appellate lawyer Dennis Riordan stood listening next to one of the hall elevators. Riordan played a prominent role in the crafting of instructions to the jury in Spector’s first trial, and, among other things, is baseball player Barry Bonds’ lawyer.
Then Spector’s young wife, Rachelle, stood before the cameras and mikes and was asked how she felt. “My reaction is, ‘Oh, my God, I cannot believe this,’” she answered, anger slowly building in her voice. “My husband has been tried in [the court of] public opinion and not in the courtroom. This is a miscarriage of justice. This is a sad day for all. The Clarksons have lost a daughter and a sister, but I have lost my husband and my best friend. My husband did not shoot Lana Clarkson, and it’s unfortunate that people cannot admit that a family member could kill themselves.”
It was one last dig at Lana Clarkson, but one that Donna and Fawn did not hear, for they’d left the building long ago. The Clarksons are not through with Phil Spector, though, for with his conviction they will finally move forward with a civil suit charging him with responsibility for Clarkson’s death.