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Phil Spector's Trial Without End: "Now We're Back to Gist"


All around us there have been the signs of a change in seasons: Loquat trees are sprouting fruit, the Dodgers are in training and clocks have been set ahead. Even Phil Spector's second murder trial finally has its auguries of transition: The Associated Press' venerable Linda Deutsch was present today, as was the first trial's co-prosecutor, Pat Dixon. Could the end be sight after nearly five months? Although there had been some wild talk in December of the trial wrapping up by the end of the year, more sober assessments now put jury deliberations occurring late this month.

What Dixon saw today was a kind of parallel but different trial from the 2007 version he participated in with co-prosecutor Alan Jackson. While Spector I involved hours of narcotizing testimony about blood spatter and gunpowder stipple, today's subject was human memory, as Jackson (who is now partnered with Deputy District Attorney Truc Do), tried to respectfully chip away at expert defense witness Elizabeth Loftus. The reason is simple: Much of Spector II lawyer  Doron Weinberg's case revolves around what Spector's chauffeur, Adriano De Souza, remembered or didn't remember during the predawn hours of February 3, 2003. That's when De Souza says he heard a shot come from Spector's Alhambra mansion, called the Pyrenees Castle, and utter the trial five most disputed words: "I think I killed somebody."

The "somebody" was 40-year-old Lana Clarkson, a sometime film actress

whom Spector had met that night as she worked at the House of Blues as

a hostess. After she finished work Clarkson returned with Spector to

the music producer's home, where she died from a gunshot to the mouth

as she sat in a chair in the Castle foyer. Prosecutors say Spector

killed her, while he claims she committed suicide.


Weinberg has been hammering on the quote because of some discrepencies

in what De Souza, who speaks Brazilian-accented English, told the

police the morning of the shooting and what he would later recall for

the grand jury that indicted Spector. Jackson spent much of the day

cross-examining Loftus, a respected psychologist who specializes in

memory and how stress affects recall. The unintentionally funny theme

running through the questioning was how many times both Jackson and

Loftus either claimed to be unable to recall something or alluded to

their own faulty memories.


Jackson, for example, incorrectly remembered the name of one of Loftus'

books and, when couldn't quite remember a quote, looked around his

papers for it -- only to realize aloud that he'd never written it down.

Loftus repeatedly refused to agree with quotes from her own book that

Jackson read to her, claiming she needed to read the quotes in their

full context. Searching for some common ground of agreement, Jackson tried to steer her to what he called the

gist of an issue.


Weinberg, a tall man with white hair encircling a balding scalp, tends

to lean precariously far back in his chair, which seems too small for

him. His body remains still as he listens to testimony, though his

right hand is constantly on the move, tapping his lips, putting part of

his glasses in his mouth or straightening his tie. Today he let Jackson

get away with what seemed a bit of latitude before opening up with

objection after objection.


Jackson and Loftus appeared comically far apart on their views of how

memory operates under stress and how it remembers peripheral details

when an eye-witness confronts something more central, like a gun.

Jackson would quote a line from one of her books and ask, "Do you agree

with that?" To which, at best, Loftus would dryly reply, "I don't think

I disagree with that."


Finally, Jackson got her to admit that if a witness claimed to have

seen a blue car, then later said it was green, the witness would still

be in "the same color hue" if he even later described the car as

blue-green.


"Now we're back to gist," Jackson said after Loftus agreed, relieved to

have gotten this much from her.  Or perhaps he said "jest." The mind

forgets.

(Update: The defense rested after this was first posted.)