He was a little man, not more than five feet four, with thin brown hair and large ears. His eyes had no particular color. They were just eyes, and very wide open and quite dead.
—Raymond Chandler, “Goldfish”The Spector trial, like the baseball season, remains in its springtime infancy, still green with mystery and possibility. The verdict is months away and Bruce Cutler’s wardrobe has not yet begun to fight. One thing, however, has become clear: This trial is going to be a CSI ghoul’s paradise. Born of science and several TV series, CSI has become a secular faith — the couch potato’s passionate belief that the last hours of a murder victim’s life can be reconstructed from a burned-out match or discarded toothpick.
It’s been said that the D.A.’s office lost the case against Robert Blake because its lab coats couldn’t prove with TV-show certainty that Blake had killed his wife. If the first few weeks of Spector testimony are any indication, it’s going to be déjà vu all over again for the district attorney. Prosecutor Alan Jackson’s opening presentation had strongly suggested that Spector had the means and habit of waving a gun at Lana Clarkson on her last night alive. Jackson also gave us photos of the dead Clarkson with gore smeared around her mouth like some terrible lipstick mishap, her dress luridly hiked up her legs as Clarkson sat slumped in the foyer of Spector’s Alhambra castle.
But this was pulp science, whereas the defense has given us CSI. It’s given us tooth fragments found on Spector’s stairway and blowback gases that, as Linda Kenney Baden unforgettably demonstrated by puffing out her cheeks for the jury, make a mouth-shot victim “look like a chipmunk” at the moment of discharge. The defense has also promised us a world of forensic possibilities contained in a chipped acrylic nail tip. Those teeth, that nail, Kenney Baden implied, will place the muzzle of Spector’s gun deep inside Clarkson’s mouth, proving a self-inflicted wound — not, as the prosecution says, between the lips and incisors, which would indicate an assailant. And, where the D.A. claims that the few flecks of blood spatter on Spector’s white evening jacket tersely narrate Spector’s guilt, the defense counters that Clarkson’s blood-soaked clothing amounts to a Jackson Pollock canvas of suicide.
Not surprisingly, recent evidentiary motions have exposed a parallel trial that has been quietly taking place outside the jury’s view. The prosecution’s main charge in this secondary trial is that the defense has been Bogarting its discovery evidence, providing the D.A.’s office with only copies (and not originals) of the documents and photographs its investigators and criminalists have amassed and, more seriously, it’s alleged that renown criminalist Dr. Henry Lee is holding in his possession a missing nail tip. (At the moment Lee seems to be taking a very slow boat from China, where he is visiting, back to L.A. to answer these allegations.)
Last week’s emphasis, however, shifted from the science of death to what noir writer Raymond Chandler called “the simple art of murder.” Noir is the opposite of CSI and abandons science to study the chinks in the moral armor of characters; it seeks clues in the dark corners and mean streets of motivation. The trial resumed with the testimony of three of the four women who’d dated Spector only to allegedly be held prisoner at his Southern California homes and at New York’s Carlyle Hotel. There was Dianne Ogden, a Hollywood talent coordinator of indeterminate middle age who wore a helmet of blonde hair and spoke, strangely enough, in a teenage-girl’s lispy, giggly voice. Melissa Grosvenor, a onetime New York waitress platonically befriended by Spector, had been convicted of bank embezzlement in Georgia before meeting the music producer.
Between Odgen and Grosvenor, however, came Stephanie Jennings, a rock-music photographer who claims Spector held her prisoner in a room he’d provided for her at the Carlyle following Rock and Roll Hall of Fame event. Jurors and reporters stared in disbelief at a photo of Jennings with Spector, taken in 1994, that was projected on a courtroom screen. For one thing, the pair was standing almost exactly in the same pose and clothing of an earlier photograph of Spector and onetime girlfriend Dorothy Melvin — right down to the same tinted glasses and red commemorative ribbon worn by Spector.
For another, though, there was the terrible contrast between the vivacious-looking Jennings of 1994, and the woman who sat today in the witness box, two years after a car crash had wiped the smile from her reconstructed face, a button mushroom lump of flesh replacing her nose. The women’s stories all had a common thread: Phil Spector, a witty and generous man when sober, had taken them on a date, become very drunk, pulled a gun on them when they expressed a desire to go home and held them prisoner for hours.
“He reminded me of my stepfather who was so mean to me,” said Ogden.
Throughout much of their testimony, Spector sat motionless, his large lifeless eyes staring into space as these women described Spector’s gun-waving, his Jekyll-Hyde mania, his wigs and elevator boots. His former dates even quoted his phone messages.
“I’ve got machine guns and I know where you live and you know what I can do with them,” Grosvenor said he left on her answering machine.
Watching the spectacle, one couldn’t help wonder about the long-snuffed affections that bound these women to Spector, or remember Phillip Marlowe’s description of a Santa Monica night as being “colder than the ashes of love.”
Until Dr. Lee and Spector’s other lab artillery arrive, all the defense can do is reflexively hammer the reputation and motives of these women and ask them such lame questions as, How did they know the guns pointed at them were even loaded, and, even worse, to ask them if Spector had jammed the muzzles of his guns into their mouths. There is, of course, one woman they cannot ask that question, because she is not talking.
More Phil Noir:
Accidental Suicide, May 3, 2007
A Spectator at the Spector Trial, April 27, 2007