A Noir Opening to Phil Spector Murder Trial

Spector arrives at Los Angeles Superior Court with his wife, Rachelle, and bodyguards.
Spector arrives at Los Angeles Superior Court with his wife, Rachelle, and bodyguards. (By Damian Dovarganes -- Associated Press)
By William Booth and Sonya Geis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 26, 2007

LOS ANGELES -- Another creepy and sad celebrity murder trial began here Wednesday morning as the troubled genius and record producer Phil Spector appeared before jurors in a courtroom down the hall from the one where O.J. Simpson was tried and acquitted.

The 67-year-old diminutive musicmaker arrived wearing a blond wig cut in a pageboy style, dressed in a cream-colored suit with a cranberry shirt open at the collar and a matching pocket handkerchief. He was accompanied by three burly bodyguards in pinstripes.

Spector is on trial for the murder of Lana Clarkson, a tall, blond 40-year-old B-movie actress who attained cult status in the 1985 Roger Corman production of "Barbarian Queen." Clarkson died in Spector's 10-bedroom Pyrenees-style chateau more than four years ago. Prosecutors say Spector shoved a pistol in her mouth and shot her. If convicted, he faces 15 years to life in prison.

As prosecutor Alan Jackson opened with stories of the defendant's "very rich history of violence" -- of drunken threats against women, how Spector would allegedly whip out a gun and force them into his bed or forbid them to leave -- Spector slouched in his chair at the defense table, sleepy-eyed and licking his lips. Occasionally he would shake his head or snort in a pantomime of disagreement or disbelief.

Spector and his lawyers say Clarkson killed herself in his foyer in an apparent "accidental suicide." On Wednesday, defense attorney Bruce Cutler said that even before police "had a cause of death, let alone a manner of death, they had murder on their mind." But, Cutler said, "the evidence indicates this was a self-inflicted wound."

He disparaged the accusations made by women who said Spector waved guns at them. "Fame and success come back to haunt you," he said of Spector's past encounters. "The evidence will show this was a tragic accident." The defense will resume its opening Thursday, after Cutler spoke for about 45 minutes on Wednesday.

Prosecutor Jackson's presentation was as crisp as the part in his hair, and at times he employed the language and cadence of an L.A. noir novelist. "On February 3, 2003, a single gunshot cracked the silence of the normally very quiet community of Alhambra, California," he began, at the "almost palatial home" Spector lives in, a hilltop mansion he calls "the castle," where Clarkson died from a bullet to the head from a .38 Colt Cobra. "Lana Clarkson will have to tell her story from the grave," Jackson said.

The prosecutor described Spector's prowl across the city on the night of her death, riding in his chauffeured black Mercedes sedan from the Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills to Trader Vic's at the Beverly Hilton to Dan Tana's in West Hollywood -- until he finally arrived at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip just before closing time. During the long evening, investigators contend, Spector, accompanied by two different women, downed three daiquiris, two Navy Grogs (containing three shots a glass) and a final tumbler of Bacardi 151 rum at the House of Blues, where he first met Clarkson, who was working as a hostess for the Foundation Room, reserved for VIPs.

"It was at that velvet rope," Jackson told jurors, "that Lana Clarkson would meet her killer." Jackson revealed that Clarkson at first blocked Spector from entering. She mistook him for a woman, a "Mrs. Spector."

Then "Phil Spector recited the mantra of the rich and famous: 'Do you know who I am? I'm Phil Spector,' " Jackson said. "Treat him like you would treat Dan Aykroyd," the actor who was a founder of the House of Blues, Clarkson's managers told her. "Treat him like gold."

So Clarkson fawned, Spector flirted. Around 2:20 a.m., they left the club together and were driven to the Spector home by chauffeur Adriano De Souza. There was a bottle of tequila involved. "There were candles lit, the lights were dimmed, he put on soft music," Jackson said. "The evidence will show what he had in mind. Phillip Spector had romance in mind that night."

At 5 a.m., De Souza, who was sleeping in the Mercedes, heard a loud noise. "Within two minutes of that gunshot ringing out, the back door creeped open. Phillip Spector was standing there. In his right hand, a pistol. Between his fingers ran blood. Phillip Spector looked at Adriano De Souza and confessed, 'I think I just killed somebody.' " De Souza freaked and drove to the estate's gate. He first called Spector's personal assistant and then 911, in which he repeated that "I think my boss killed somebody."

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