washingtonpost.com
A Noir Opening to Phil Spector Murder Trial
Judge Allows Testimony By Four Women About Other Gun Incidents

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."

Spector "never called for help," Jackson said. Instead, the prosecutor claims that Spector made "a pathetic attempt" to clean up the crime scene, discarding his bloody clothing, wiping off the gun, placing the weapon under the chair where Clarkson sat, dead and bloodied, her purse hanging from her shoulder. When police arrived, Spector refused to raise his hands, they said, so he was tasered -- twice -- and then pinned to the ground.

In a serious blow to the defense, prosecutors won permission from Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler to present four women who will testify that Spector has a history of pointing guns at his dates. As outlined by Jackson, with help from PowerPoint slides listing common elements of their stories printed in red:

· Dianne Ogden-Halder, a talent coordinator for the Grammy Awards, tries to leave Spector but he presses the barrel of a gun to her face, cheek, neck, forehead. He orders her upstairs onto his bed, where she lies next to him until they fall asleep.

· Melissa Grovesnor, a waitress: When she tries to leave, Spector erupts in anger, produces a gun, points it at her face and forces her to spend the night.

· Dorothy Melvin, the personal assistant for Joan Rivers, wakes up on Spector's couch and sees him outside pointing a pistol at her car. She confronts him and he slaps her. He points the gun at her. She begs to leave. As she is driving down the driveway, Spector follows her with a shotgun.

· Stephanie Jennings, a photographer, will testify she was held at gunpoint by Spector at the Carlyle Hotel in New York. She calls 911, police come and she leaves.

None of the women pressed charges. Some continued to see Spector socially after the alleged assaults, which occurred between 1988 and 1995.

Fidler ruled that the trial will be televised and said that it was time for jurists in Los Angeles to get over their fear that bringing cameras into the courtroom for a celebrity trial automatically turns the proceedings into a circus.

As part of his reasoning, Fidler suggested Spector's fame does not reach O.J. Simpson or Michael Jackson proportions, and that is true. Spector is one of the aging grandfathers of rock-and-roll. He is perhaps best known for his signature "Wall of Sound," the layering of multiple instruments -- not one drum kit but two, not one piano but three -- accompanied by orchestral musicians, complete with strings and sometimes choirs. You can hear his influence on the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" (1963), the Beatles' "Let It Be" (1970) and the Ramones' "Rock 'n' Roll High School" (1980).

He has been called a musical genius. "I would say I'm probably relatively insane, to an extent," Spector told a reporter for the Daily Telegraph a month before the death of Clarkson.

"I take medication for schizophrenia, but I wouldn't say I'm schizophrenic. But I have a bipolar personality, which is strange. I'm my own worst enemy. I have devils inside that fight me."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company