It's an almost forgotten fact, but the murder retrial of legendary pop music producer Phil Spector, 68, is still unfolding in Judge Larry Fidler's downtown courtroom. You may remember that Spector's five-member legal team managed to win him a hung jury in 2007 — leading to Spector II, which began at the end of October and which resumed today after a long holiday break. The new environment is Department 106 is considerably different. Gone are the Court TV cameras, the battery of national reporters and the melodrama of day to day testimony. Missing too is Spector's impish hairdo, replaced by a down-the-back pelt that shows dangerous signs of evolving into a mullet.
Gone also is Spector's high-octane brace of lawyers, replaced by
Doron Weinberg, the cagey San Franciscan whose Bay Area colleague,
Dennis Riordan, caused so much legal mischief at the end of Spector I
when the jury instructions he crafted proved to be a near-poison pill
for the prosecution. Weinberg, 64, exudes an air of legal scholarship,
his professorial voice dryly contesting virtually every aspect of
prosecutors Alan Jackson and Truc Do's case over minutiae. Weinberg's
hairsplitting is probably why it's now 2009 and yet the jury is still
hearing the prosecution's case.
This morning nearly an hour
went by as Weinberg argued, during a so-called 402 hearing ,with jurors
not present, why he should be allowed to question prosecution witness
Dr. Louis Pena, an L.A. County forensic pathologist, about his decision
not to draw up a “psychological autopsy” on Lana Clarkson, the House of
Blues hostess whom Spector is accused of murdering. (The defense in
Spector I tried to portray Clarkson's death by gunshot inside the mouth
as an act of spontaneous suicide.) Every time Judge Fidler politely
explained why Weinberg could not turn his cross-examination of Pena
into a fishing trip, the Professor nodded and then proposed, in his
authorative voice, that he be able to do so — approaching the issue
from a slightly different angle.
Poor Dr. Pena sat outside in
the hallway while this was happening, no doubt recalling the grueling
cross-examination he endured during the first trial. The retrial
jurors, however, have no such memory of that or the trial's incredibly
dense technical defense, and so seemed very chipper as they chattily
assumed their seats when the hearing ended. They'll have a chance to
learn for themselves, however, just how tedious evidence can sound once
Weinberg begins the defense's case. Whenever that happens.