Phil Noir Bulletin: Deadlock


The air suddenly went out of Department 106 when Judge Larry Paul Fidler told the courtroom Tuesday afternoon that the Phil Spector trial jury was deadlocked. Apprehension had been building with each passing day that the nine men and three woman were at an impasse. Then, about 11 a.m. this morning, court media and spectators were jolted by two buzzes from the jury room — indicating the jurors had a question for the judge. (Three buzzes would have meant they had reached a verdict.)

The mood in court quickly changed over the next few hours from one of drowsy tedium to nervous dread as the case’s prosecutors, defense lawyers and, finally, Spector himself arrived at the Criminal Courts Building for the afternoon “proceeding” that had been called by Judge Fidler. Deputy D.A.s Alan Jackson and Pat Dixon looked ashen and showed none of the ambling self-confidence that had marked their many presentations and cross-examinations. Members of Team Spector also looked as though they expected disaster.

The judge then summoned the jurors and asked its foreman, Juror 10, if he thought some re-reading of testimony or instructions would help the jury move toward a unanimous decision.

“We discussed that at some length,” the foreman, who is a county civil engineer, said flatly. “At this time I don’t believe anything else will change.”

Fidler polled all the jurors, finding several who disagreed — three indicated that it might help if the judge would clarify the difference between “doubt” and “reasonable doubt.”

Another bombshell dropped when the foreman revealed a 7-5 schism among the jurors — the deadlock, in other words, was not the result of some 11-1 holdout, but an almost even split. While many assume the 7-5 divide was in favor of conviction, there is no evidence of that. Although the jurors avoided eye contact with media and spectators as they filed into court, this was not a case of jury indecision. Its 12 members were very decisive — so much so that none would change their minds after four ballots.

After sending the jurors and alternates home for the day, Fidler asked lawyers for both sides to submit arguments to him Wednesday regarding what kind of instructions he will give the jury. He can, as the defense called upon him to do, declare a mistrial. But this is unlikely given the five months that have gone into the trial. He can read back certain instructions and further explain the intricacies of doubt and reasonable doubt, although, as he said after the jury had been dismissed, this “seldom produces positive effects.” Or he can reverse his own earlier ruling and permit the jury to consider Spector liable for the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Some might say that Judge Fidler has himself to blame for the deadlock. By insisting on an all-or-nothing decision on second-degree murder, he made it harder for jurors to send an old man to prison for the rest of his life — something they were reluctant to do after his lawyers had planted enough doubt about Spector’s guilt in their minds. The odds are on Fidler now allowing Spector to face this lesser charge, which means the lawyers for both sides would have to present new closing arguments, tailored around involuntary manslaughter, on Thursday morning.

Phil Spector didn’t blink when Fidler announced the impasse and the defense retinue retained its stony-faced façade all the way to the elevators after court was dismissed. Still, they must have been secretly rejoicing.

“We’re not allowed to speak to the media,” said one member of the entourage. “But if one of us did, it would be to say that the absence of bad news is good news.”

More Phil Noir:Killing Time: Listening to Phil Spector’s basement tapes The Dark at the Top of the Stare: Phil Spector’s trial reaches its endgame

Murder of an Anatomy: Spector’s surreal surrebuttal

Court Gesture: Dr. Baden’s ah-ha! moment Avenue of the Scars: The jurors see Lana Unleashed Spattered: Doctor Death’s trigger-nometry lesson, plus reluctant witness Sara Caplan speaks to L.A. Weekly

In a Lonely Place: With friends like Punkin Pie...

Theater of Pain: What made Lana run?

Doc Day Afternoon: Cross-examination holds DiMaio

The Heart of the Spatter: Jurors get put on a strict science diet

The Human Stain How Spector left his mark on Lana Clarkson

Like Watching Blood Dry  A slow trial suddenly goes ballistic

The Tooth of Crime A coroner gets examined and cross-examined

Doth the Doc Protest Too Much? Criminalist Henry Lee lashes out at critics

Hassle in the Castle The night the cops had Phil Spector by the short hairs

Murder As a Second Language As questions about defense attorney Bruce Cutler’s effectiveness circulate, immigrant witnesses place new accents on shooting timeline

Marlowe vs. CSI? The Tycoon of Teen’s Gun Problem The Phil Spector verdict is months away and Bruce Cutler’s wardrobe has not yet begun to fight

Accidental Suicide Guns, slips and semiotics

A Spectator at the Spector Trial Tell it to the judge: Bruce Cutler's California adventure


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