By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2007
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 9 -- The jury in the Phil Spector murder trial on Thursday toured the record producer's suburban castle compound, where they asked the judge for permission to sit in the chair where the B-movie actress Lana Clarkson was either shot in the mouth by Spector or committed what the defense describes as a "spur of the moment" suicide because she was drunk, depressed and 40 years old.
Sure, the judge ruled, they could sit. So four jurors, all men, settled onto the chair (a replica; the real chair is evidence) and assumed the death pose: legs stretched out in front of them, arms fallen to their sides, head back, slumped. The only prop missing was a purse.
When police came upon Clarkson's body after Spector's chauffeur called 911 in the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 2003, Clarkson was sitting, dead, in the foyer by the back door with her purse over her shoulder. Prosecutors on Thursday placed a grisly crime-scene photo of Clarkson beside the chair. Spector and Clarkson had met for the first time on the night of her death at the House of Blues nightclub on the Sunset Strip, where she worked as a hostess in the VIP room.
The 12 jurors and six alternates scribbled notes and spent an hour in the first-floor rooms as the judge, attorneys and court reporter silently watched, alongside Spector and his new wife. The 67-year-old faded music mogul wore a pageboy wig and was dressed casually in a long-sleeved blue T-shirt, sweat pants and thick sandals. His 26-year-old actress wife, the fourth Mrs. Spector, Rachelle Short, stood by his side, her arm linked with his. The couple has been living in the house during the four-month trial, as Spector is free on $1 million bail. They did not speak with jurors.
During the tour, what did Spector do? "Nothing," said Linda Deutsch, special correspondent for the Associated Press, and the only reporter allowed by Judge Larry Fidler to witness the tour. The rest of the press pool had to wait down the hill on Grand View Drive behind a police barricade. Afterward, Deutsch described Spector as "grim-faced."
The field trip came as the trial enters its final days, with closing arguments expected next week. Compared with recent celebrity court proceedings, the Spector affair has lacked the traction of more sensational legal matters, such as Paris Hilton driving with suspended driver's license. Though Spector faces a second-degree murder rap (and 15 years to life if convicted) his Q rating in the popular culture has dimmed.
Credited with changing the sound of rock-and-roll, Spector has seen his golden oldies -- with the Ronettes and the Righteous Brothers -- mostly out of radio rotation, and the trial is just barely hanging on in the back pages of the Los Angeles Times. Some days the most suspenseful aspect of the trial has been wondering whether Spector will ditch the mop-top wig in favor of his earlier big frizzy Afro.
Still, the jury tour was a break from weeks of dueling forensic testimony about blood splatters (the crux of the case -- was Spector holding the gun or was he a very close but innocent bystander?).
Spector lives, most unusually, in the city of Alhambra, several miles east of downtown Los Angeles, in a place known as the Pyrenees Castle, built in 1926, with 10 bedrooms and eight fully tiled bathrooms. Years ago in Esquire magazine, Spector himself described his newly purchased home as "a beautiful and enchanting castle in a hick town."
From the street there is not much to see, except a hand-painted sign reading "Phil Spector's Pyrenees Castle," alongside other signs warning "HIGH VOLTAGE" and threatening 24-hour photo surveillance, etc. Above the cracked and peeling wall, a visitor can just spy the red-tiled spires. There is also what appears to be a large cage with a doghouse perched above the entry. (No dog was home on Thursday.)
The jurors were allowed into only a few rooms on the first floor. The decor? Ornate, the walls and drapes a deep wine red, the ceilings hung with crystal chandeliers. There were few personal touches on display. On the coffee table were several books about Elvis Presley and jazz. On the wall, a poster of John Lennon and what Deutsch thought was a Picasso. Original or print? she was asked. Deutsch shrugged.
The jury also got a peek at the powder room and the bar area, where there were liquor bottles and a white baby-grand piano. Tequila bottle? a reporter asked (tequila was in evidence the night Clarkson died). Not visible, Deutsch reported.
What the jurors seemed most interested in was the fountain. On the night of Clarkson's death, Spector's chauffeur Adriano De Souza reported that he had been resting in his boss's Mercedes sedan in the driveway by the back door when he heard a loud pop, and then moments later Spector appeared in the doorway with a gun in his hand and allegedly said, "I think I killed somebody." The defense has argued that De Souza, who is Brazilian, misheard Spector because of De Souza's lack of English proficiency or because there was a fountain gurgling. On Thursday, the court had the fountain on -- and jurors sat in a sheriff's Crown Victoria (a down-market stand-in for the Benz) and listened.
This was not enough, however, for the jurors, who interrupted their tour and presented Judge Fidler with a list of questions they wanted answered, including:
· Could they go to the upstairs bedroom and see where Spector took off his bloody jacket? Answer: No.
· Could they sit on the death chair? Yes.
· Could they sit in the Crown Vic with the door closed and the air conditioning on (as it was the night of the Clarkson death)? No.
· Could someone make a loud pop inside (like a gun)? No.
· Could the news helicopters circling overhead back off so they could hear the fountain? Yes.
"They were basically asking for a reenactment," Deutsch said. "You could see they were very into the evidence. They wanted to see everything and they would have gone upstairs if the judge had allowed it."