Hung Jury for Phil Spector in Latest Case of Celeb Justice
Thursday, September 27, 2007
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 26 -- After a five-month trial and 12 days of deliberations, the jury in the Phil Spector murder case finally surrendered Wednesday afternoon, telling a packed courtroom it was hopelessly deadlocked at 10 to 2. The judge declared a mistrial. Spector, in his shaggy pageboy wig and crisp gray suit, sat slumped in his chair, blinking, hands shaking, appearing zonked out as his legal limbo continues.
Will the 67-year-old record producer be retried? As soon as possible, according to the prosecutor's spokeswoman, as it was quickly revealed that 10 of the 12 jurors had voted for a guilty verdict. Will anyone tune in to the rerun? That is another question.
Spector was accused of firing a handgun into the mouth of Lana Clarkson, a 40-year-old hostess in the VIP lounge at the House of Blues in West Hollywood and a B-movie actress best known for her lead role in Roger Corman's cult favorite "Barbarian Queen."
The meltdown in the downtown criminal court follows acquittals of other celebrity defendants, such as Robert Blake, Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson, and raises again the question of celebrity justice in California. During the trial, prosecutors presented testimony to show Spector has a long history of pulling guns on women, was drinking in his castle with Clarkson and, after his chauffeur heard a loud pop, came to the back door with a gun in his hand and said, "I think I killed somebody."
But one of the jurors who voted to convict said afterward that the two holdouts sided with the defense theory that Clarkson might have committed suicide. To sway them, the juror said, the prosecutors should have produced a "psychological profile" of Clarkson on "whether she was suicidal or not."
Another juror who voted guilty suggested the panel was very interested in the "CSI"-style dissection of blood spray and splatters. At one point in their deliberations, the jurors reenacted where blood would fly with a gun in Clarkson's mouth. "Some people thought there was not enough blood. The jurors expected to see more blood" on Spector and his clothes, he said. "They couldn't put the gun in his hand," he said of the prosecution, though the juror said the totality of the evidence and common sense made him willing to convict. Both jurors declined to be identified.
The Spector trial, as celebrity justice proceedings go, was kind of a ratings flop. Though the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press doggedly stayed in the game, day after day, many media outlets changed the channel and only dipped in and out of the proceedings.
Spector, credited with inventing the "wall of sound" in pop music, had hits back in the day with the Ronettes and the Righteous Brothers. Paris Hilton, apparently, he is not. But the trial was not without its drama. Here are some highlights:
¿ Spector's lead attorney, the mouthy New Yorker Bruce Cutler, best known for three swashbuckling defenses of mob boss John Gotti, quit Spector's case in late August. Cutler was sidelined by the rest of the defense team after the judge scolded him for yelling at a witness. Cutler spent the next three months out of court, working on a television reality show about a mock trial in which he plays a judge.
¿ Joan Rivers's former manager testified Spector pulled a gun on her when she tried to leave after a night of drinking. (Four other women said the same thing.) Rivers's security guard also took the stand to quote Spector at a Christmas party, saying, "All women deserve a bullet in their heads."
¿ Lobbying to get on the stand -- and thus in front of Court TV's camera -- was Jody "Babydol" Gibson, a Hollywood madam who did prison time for running a prostitution ring. Gibson showed up in court wearing a micro-mini suit and stiletto heels and said she had Clarkson's name in one of her trick books. But the judge ruled the little black book irrelevant. Not coincidentally, Gibson was aggressively promoting a new book, "Secrets of a Hollywood Super Madam."
¿ Also hoping to soak up 15 minutes of fame was an ex-boyfriend of Clarkson, Raul Julia-Levy, who claimed to be the son of actor Raul Julia. Julia's widow said he wasn't. Turns out he uses six aliases and has been arrested for everything from sexual assault to DUI. The judge also turned him away.
¿ Juror No. 268, selected for duty despite working for "Dateline NBC" as a producer on high-profile trial segments, was singled out by the judge as jurors left after a day of deliberations, the Los Angeles Times reported. "Dateline NBC" was showing a special on the Spector trial that night; the judge warned No. 268 not to use his experiences later at work. "You're on lifetime jury duty," the judge said. The producer quipped, "I thought I already was."
¿ The most famous no-show in front of the jury, though, was certainly criminalist Henry Lee. Spector's defense hired the O.J.-era forensics expert to look over bloodstains on Spector's jacket. But when the time came for Lee to testify before the jurors, he was busy in China -- auditioning actors to play himself in a miniseries about his life, according to Chinese Daily News.
¿ Not that Lee especially wanted to take the stand. A former Spector lawyer told the court that the day after Clarkson's death, she saw Lee pick up an object that may have been one of Clarkson's fingernails and spirit it away. Such evidence must be shown to prosecutors. If Lee had testified in front of the jury, prosecutors could have tried to impeach him, potentially ruining the credibility that provides Lee with lucrative speaking gigs and an eponymous show on Court TV.
¿ Not least among the colorful characters was Spector, whose wardrobe of trenchcoat-length suit jackets with silk handkerchiefs, his platform boots and frizzy/flat/brown/blond hairstyles, his thousand-yard stare (he told police he was on multiple medications) and his trembling hands made him an eerie distraction in court.
¿ The victim, Lana Clarkson, by contrast, came across as a tragic figure even before her death. A cocktail waitress earning $9 an hour, Clarkson supposedly burst into tears after "Transformers" director Michael Bay didn't recognize her at a party. (Bay testified that incident didn't happen.) Clarkson wrote in one e-mail shortly before her death, "I'll have to bite the bullet and start doing amateur strip contests" for money.
¿ Clarkson may have lived for several minutes after she was shot, coughing up blood onto Spector's jacket, according to celebrity criminologist Michael Baden (who happens to be married to Spector's defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden). The theory caught prosecutors off guard -- they are entitled to know such revelations are coming. So the judge decided jurors could take defense misconduct into account as they deliberated.
¿ Spector's 27-year-old wife, Rachelle, defended her husband on Court TV just before jurors got the case. When the judge reprimanded her, she talked back until he threatened to hold her in contempt.
¿ As deliberations dragged on, bored reporters gathered in a press room upstairs to watch DVDs on a television provided by the district attorney's office. They screened an "I Dream of Jeannie" episode guest starring Phil Spector; "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," in which Clarkson has an itty-bitty part; and several films where people die from gunshot wounds to the mouth.
Staff writer Karl Vick contributed to this report.