Opening arguments for the Phil Spector murder trial began in Los Angeles on April 25. KTLA, a local television station, is streaming live video of the trial on its Web site. You can also access KTLA’s streaming video on the Los Angeles Times’ dedicated Web page for the trial, which includes its own real-time trial blog. Court TV also provides live Web coverage, now free of charge (earlier in the trial there was a $5.95 fee), as is its Spector blog. Also now free of charge is Court TV’s invaluable video archive of key trial testimony. Click here for trial clips through June 28, and here for trial clips from July 9 to the present. For key documents in the case, click here. For a list of prospective witnesses, click here. For a video archive of KTLA news reports about the case, click here. For a Chatterbox primer on the case, click here.
Our Revels Now Are Ended
Sept. 26, 2007, 6:15 p.m. ET
As your faithful correspondent foretold, the jury remained hung (10-2; before it was 7-5) and today Judge Fidler declared a mistrial. There will be a hearing next week about a possible retrial. I have my doubts such a retrial will take place. Either way, though, I’m outta here. I can’t take it any more. The guy was guilty, and at least for now, he walks. It stinks.
The Jury Is Still Out
Sept. 24, 2007, 6:30 p.m. ET
Last week the jury said it was split 7-5. Judge Fidler contemplated inviting jurors to consider charging Spector with manslaughter, then thought better of it. Instead, he altered jury instructions on a different point. Here is what the judge initially told the jury:
It is the prosecution’s contention that the act committed by the defendant that caused the death of Ms. Clarkson was [to] point a gun at her, which resulted in the gun entering Ms. Clarkson’s mouth while in Mr. Spector’s hand. The prosecution bears the burden of proving that defendant Spector committed that act. If you do not find that the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed that act, you must return a verdict of not guilty.
After the jury reached deadlock, Judge Fidler instructed the jury to pretend he never said this. Instead, he provided new jury instructions that, er … there’s no polite way to say this. He provided new instructions that make it easier for the jury to convict Spector of second-degree murder. Now all the jury had to find was that Spector “committed an act with a firearm that caused the death of Lana Clarkson.” Possible scenarios, he said, could include:
Placing the gun in her mouth or forcing her to place the gun in her mouth, at which time it discharged; pointing the gun at or against her head, after which it entered her mouth, at which time it discharged; pointing the gun at her to prevent her from leaving the house, causing a struggle, which caused the gun to enter her mouth and discharge.
That was four days ago. After the instructions, the jury met for 40 minutes Thursday, all day Friday, and all day today. No verdict. Today Judge Fidler considered and then rejected a request from the defense that he instruct the jury that if Clarkson committed suicide then Spector is not guilty and the revised instructions don’t apply. It would seem in any case a fairly obvious point. I stand by what I wrote in the previous entry. I don’t believe these new jury instructions will make any difference. The jury (which today requested a VCR to go over some videotaped evidence) will remain hung, and Fidler will have to declare a mistrial.
Even if I’m wrong and the jury reaches a guilty verdict, Fidler’s revision of the jury instruction apparently makes such a verdict highly susceptible to reversal on appeal. “If a judge has given an erroneous instruction,” Arizona State University law professor Michael J. Saks, an expert on jury issues, told the Los Angeles Times, “that’s the surest path to a reversal.” Fidler himself says he initially gave an erroneous instruction; that’s why he changed it, he says. But this particular change leaves the impression that Fidler is urging the jury to convict. It’s only human; Spector is, after all, transparently guilty. But “the specter of coercion” is haunting the courtroom, Jean Rosenbluth, a criminal law professor at the University of Southern California, told the L.A. Times. This ectoplasm is a solid reason to reverse a guilty verdict on appeal.
Either way you slice it, it looks very much as though the game’s over and that the killer won. Spector will be free to remain in his Pyranees-style castle in Alhambra and wave guns in the faces of any women he pleases. Let’s hope he at least takes the bullets out.
Fidler Rules Out Manslaughter
Sept. 19, 2007, 2:26 p.m. ET
Yesterday, after the jury reported that it could not reach a verdict, Judge Fidler indicated a desire to instruct the jury to consider the previously ruled-out charge of manslaughter. Today, Fidler said that after further consideration he’s changed his mind, because it would be tantamount to telling the jury, “Well, if you can’t find him guilty on what you have, try this …. It would be inappropriate at this time to instruct the jury with a new offense.”
That’s almost certainly the right call from a legal point of view, but the practical result will likely be to set Spector free. When we look back on this case, the prosecution’s central blunder will turn out to be its failure to include involuntary manslaughter among its charges against Spector. One can well understand why. For Spector to have committed involuntary manslaughter, Lana Clarkson would have to have put the gun barrel into her mouth while Phil Spector’s finger was on the trigger. Maybe the jury would have rejected this improbable-sounding scenario. But in the absence of a manslaughter option, the jury, which is split 7-5 (we don’t know which way), probably won’t be able to reach agreement on whether Spector committed second-degree murder, and Fidler will have to declare a mistrial. I don’t believe the prosecution will want to re-try this. The KTLA legal expert disagrees, because it’s such a high-profile case. I think the fact that it’s a high-profile case will make the prosecution want to cut its losses. Celebrity defendants! They bring southern California prosecutors nothing but grief! Spector will be off the hook.
Fidler is still considering whether to clarify other jury instructions, but it’s hard to imagine any that will make much difference to the outcome.
Sept. 18, 2007, 5:05 p.m. ET
Spector’s lawyers move to declare a mistrial. Judge Fidler denies it. He says he wants to instruct the jurors to consider a charge previously ruled out by the prosecution, the defense, and Fidler himself: manslaughter. Fidler then calls in the jury and tells them he’s sending them home. Tomorrow, he says, there is “a possibility” that he will have the lawyers re-argue portions of the case.
A Hung Jury! Now What?
Sept. 18, 2007, 4:55 p.m. ET
The judge is sending the jury back to the jury room and is calling a conference with the lawyers on both sides.
Are We About To Hear A Verdict?
Sept. 18, 2007, 4:40 p.m. ET
The Los Angeles Times says no, but Court TV seems to think the jury is going to give a verdict this afternoon. I think Court TV is on to something. Awkwardly, somebody seems to have given the L.A. Times’s O.J. blogger the day off. It isn’t even Yom Kippur yet!
Can This Jury Be Headed For Acquittal?
Sept. 14, 2007, 3:50 p.m. ET
It’s day fivefor jury deliberations in the Spector trial, and both Court TV and the Los Angeles Timesreport that the jurors dressed sloppy today (blue jeans, golf shirt, T-shirt, etc.; the jury foreman is tieless). According to Court TV and the L.A. Times, this probably means the jurors don’t anticipate delivering a verdict before the weekend. (Apparently jurors tend to dress formally for a verdict, even in Los Angeles.)
What the hell is taking them so long?
Obviously the jury doesn’t see this case as a slam dunk. In all likelihood they are combing through the forensic evidence, which strikes me as pseudoscientific and not really worth much consideration. The trajectory of Lana Clarkson’s blood droplets, real or imagined, is not going to tell us whether Phil Spector killed her. The facts that Spector told his chauffeur he killed her immediately after the shots were fired; that Spector did not call 911 after the shooting; that Spector repeatedly had waved guns in women’s faces in the past, and even caressed Diane Ogden-Halder’s cheek, face, and neck with a gun barrel (“He said he was going to blow my brains out,” she deadpannedin her trial testimony. “That wasn’t romantic to me.”); these easily grasped items in evidence are what tell me, anyway, that Spector killed Clarkson.
So, what’s taking them so long? Obviously somebody isn’t convinced. We can no longer rule out the awful possibility that this case is headed for acquittal.
How To Make Sure You Don’t Miss the Verdict
Sept. 12, 2007, 12:55 p.m. ET
Court TV’s Web site, which has covered the Spector trial better than the Los Angeles Times or KTLA, says that if you sign up for its newsletter (click the first box) it will send you an e-mail when it learns that the Spector verdict is about to be read. The come-on promises to get the news to you in time for you to log on to your computer and “watch it live.” I recommend signing up only to those who are seriously warped by their addiction to this case, because in all likelihood Court TV will subsequently fill your inbox with newsletters about all sorts of crap you don’t care about. The procedure to unsubscribe seems simple, but you never know. You have to write in a reason. I recommend, “For me there is only the Spector trial.”
Jonathan Turley’s Weird Brief For Expert Witnesses
Sept. 11, 2007, 4:10 p.m. ET
While we await completion of jury deliberations, let’s take a moment to puzzle over Jonathan Turley’s bizarre op-ed in the Sept. 11 Los Angeles Times, which takes violent exception to Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson’s assertion in closing arguments that “if you hire enough lawyers who hire enough experts who are paid enough money, you can get them to say anything.” (Turley leaves out Jackson’s excellent next sentence: “You pay someone enough money you can get him to wear a tutu in court.”) This, Turley sputters, is “a highly unprofessional argument that encouraged jurors to dismiss the opinions of any experts who appear on behalf of wealthy defendants as, in effect, purchased testimony.”
Well … yeah. Expert testimony does not come free, and while I’m no lawyer, the simple fact that one side or another in a judicial proceeding is permitted to pay certain witnesses for their expertise has always struck me as an invitation to corruption. (If you subscribe to Harper’s, clicking here will take you to a short article on this theme, titled “Opinions For Sale,” that I published in that magazine a quarter-century ago.)
Turley goes on to say that sure, prosecutors were right to ding Spector attorney Linda Kenney Baden for her “breathtakingly bad judgment” in calling her own husband to the witness stand as a paid expert. Turley neglects to mention that yet another of Spector’s expert witnesses—famous forensic pathologist Dr. Henry Lee—never took the stand at all because the judge ruled that he had withheld evidence. (See “For Want Of A Nail,” May 11, and “Judge Fidler Disses Henry Lee,” May 23.)
Sure, Turley further concedes, there have been a few scandals—OK, a lot of scandals—that arose from the hiring of expert witnesses. Turley cites, among others, the ignominious career of James “Dr. Death” Grigson, who routinely ruled defendants mentally fit so they could get the chair. (Grigson, whom I cited in my Harper’s piece 25 years ago, is now worm food himself). But, but, but, Turley goes on … these scoundrels (which is to say, the scoundrels Turley chooses to mention) were all prosecution witnesses. “Indeed, in a study of 200 exoneration cases involving DNA (including death row cases), more than 25 percent involved flawed forensic testimony from prosecution witnesses.”
Duh. If you were looking to discover why a bunch of innocent people were wrongly found guilty, it stands to reason that you’d end up finding fault with a lot of expert prosecution witnesses (as opposed to expert defense witnesses). That hardly constitutes evidence that expert defense witnesses warrant little skepticism, especially when the defendant is rich enough to pay them handsomely, as Spector is.
But, Turley intones, “It is the weight of the evidence, not the wealth of the defendant, that should be the sole consideration of a jury.” Oh, please. If an expert’s testimony sounds fishy, it’s perfectly legitimate to take into account which side paid him. If it weren’t, the judge would never let the jury find out that these witnesses were paid in the first place.
Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University, is a bit of a press hound—he managed to work into his faculty bio that he “ranked 38th in the top 100 most cited ‘public intellectuals’ in a recent study [Web link mine] by Judge Richard Posner,” who also designated him “the second most cited law professor”—and I suspect that in this instance the energetic fellow let his typing fingers outrace his brain. This is an occupational hazard for op-ed jocks. The third-most-cited law professor might have found time to read over this article, ball it up, and toss it into the nearest wastebasket.
Mrs. Spector Gets Fresh With the Judge
Sept. 10, 2007, 2:50 p.m. ET
Who, America wondered throughout the Spector trial, would be crazy enough to marry Phil Spector on the eve of his trial for murder? This is a man known to have waved loaded guns in the faces of many, many women. This is a man now accused of firing one such gun into the mouth of Lana Clarkson.
Who would plight her troth to such a man?
We got our answer today.
The woman crazy enough to marry Phil Spector after Clarkson’s dead body turned up in his foyer is the same woman who is crazy enough to talk back to Judge Fidler as he slaps her with a gag order for contacting members of the press after he expressly told her not to. To catch 27-year-old Rachelle Short Spector’s reckless backtalk to Judge Fidler, click here. To view the Court TV interview that landed Rachelle in hot water, click here. To read Rachelle’s emphatic denial that she is an actress/model, click here.
The case has now gone to the jury.
The Defense Gets Desperate
Sept. 7, 2007, 2:05 p.m. ET
Defense lawyer Linda Kenney Baden is finally taking on the most damning testimony in this trial—the eyewitness testimony of chauffeur Adriano DeSouza. “He was simply mistaken” when he thought he heard Spector say “I think I killed somebody.” The gun he thought he saw in Spector’s hand was actually the bloodied diaper, which Spector used to try to help Clarkson—”to wipe her face, not wipe down her face.” If Spector wanted to help Clarkson, why didn’t he call 911? The Spector defense team is glad you asked! Because Spector thought DeSouza (who fled the scene because he was afraid Spector might kill him, too), had gone to get help.
Such a terrible sequence of misunderstandings!
This is pretty lame, but you can’t say it’s boring.
Then Kenney Baden takes on the second-most damning testimony in Spector’s trial—the five women who told stories remarkably similar to Clarkson’s—stories of Spector pulling guns on women when they tried to leave his home or hotel room. Dorothy Melvin, who said Spector struck her twice? “That was simply untrue.” A Pasadena police officer said “she had no bumps on her head.” Melissa Grosvenor? “A convicted felon for bank embezzlement.” Stephanie Jennings? She sold her story to the tabloids, and besides, “the police never found the gun.” Diane Ogden-Halder? Hers is the most damning story of all, because she said Spector pressed the gun to her cheek, face, and neck, indicating that it wouldn’t have been out of character for Spector to press a gun into Clarkson’s mouth. Kenney Baden says Ogden-Halder’s stories date back to the 1980s. Ancient history! Also, Ogden-Halder said Spector’s behavior reminded her of a relative who abused her as a child. Kenney Baden presents this as a meaningful detail that undermines Ogden-Halder’s credibility, but she doesn’t explain how. Devra Robitaille? She came back for a job. Indeed, most of these women maintained some degree of social contact with Spector. That’s puzzling, but hardly a unique circumstance when a relatively powerless woman experiences abuse from a powerful male. Anita Hill did the same with Clarence Thomas.
“All of the women here had long-term relationships with Phil Spector.” That makes them different from Lana Clarkson, whom Spector had only just met. So what? Clarkson was sexy! Spector wanted to fuck her! This is what Spector did when women wouldn’t fuck him! (And anyway, the prosecution had another witness prepared to testify who, like Clarkson, had never met Spector before. She was one of many women whose testimony Judge Fidler ruled inadmissable.)
Spector also pulled guns on men—even famous rock ’n’ roll stars. John Lennon! The Ramones! Leonard Cohen! (“Leonard, I love you,” Spector said as he pressed a .45 to Cohen’s neck. “I hope you do, Phil,” Cohen replied.) This is well-documented! Spector used loaded guns for control, in this context professional rather than sexual. Eventually one of them went off. The only surprise is that it didn’t happen years earlier.
She Droned at Me With Science
Sept. 6, 2007, 5:35 p.m. ET
I miss Bruce Cutler.
Linda Kenney Baden is trying to explain away a “weak Y allele” on the gun that killed Lana Clarkson. Her strategy for the defense’s closing argument is to drone away about the forensic evidence. In this instance, she’s saying that the test result showing a Y allele (i.e., male DNA) on the handle of the gun was “highly questionable.”
Though less erratic than Cutler, Kenney Baden isn’t as compelling a presence as Cutler (“ They had murder on their mind!”), or even Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson. She knows this, and is trying to make her lack of charisma a virtue. “Science is the most important witness in this case,” she said earlier. “Science is not meant to entertain the mass media.” If you ask me, science is meant (at least in this instance) to put the jury to sleep.
Why would the defense wish to put the jury to sleep? Because if Kenney Baden drones on and on until jurors’ minds wander they may be left with the impression not of particular scientific points but rather of an undifferentiated mass of scientific evidence voluminous enough to justify a finding of reasonable doubt. Given the quality of the evidence she’s relying on, it may not be a bad game plan.
Now Kenney Baden is carrying on about the police’s failure to subject Spector to a blood alcohol test after his arrest. It’s news to me that anyone in this trial wants to dispute that Spector was drunk on the night Clarkson died. He was cruising bars, for Christ’s sake! His Wall of Soundness ordered, over the course of the evening, four daiquiris, two Navy grogs, and a glass of rum! The prosecution has receipts! Spector went to the men’s room three times!
I think Spector’s going to be found guilty of second-degree murder. I don’t even think the jury will confer very long before reaching that verdict.
Closing Argument: The Prosecution, Part 2
Sept. 5, 2007, 5:55 p.m. ET
Now Jackson is criticizing one of Spector’s expert witnesses on blood spatter for calling it “splatter.” Some expert! Surely, though, there are nuclear engineers who say “nucular” and yet are fully conversant with how fission works. Time to wrap this up.
Apparently Spector was observed suppressing laughter at one point during Jackson’s summing-up. I missed it. A KTLA commentator calls it “somewhat disrespectful.”
Closing Argument: The Prosecution
Sept. 5, 2007, 2:30 p.m. ET
Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson, delivering his final argument, urges the jury to remember the testimony of Adriano DeSouza, who was Spector’s chauffeur that night. Spector and Clarkson are in the house. DeSouza is waiting outside in the limo. DeSouza hears a loud noise. Spector emerges from the house. Spector, Jackson says,
literally had the smoking gun in his hand. In his right hand, across his waist. He literally had Lana Clarkson’s blood on his hand. He looks Adriana DeSouza right in the face … and says, “I think I killed somebody.”
Jackson asks the jury to recall what DeSouza did then. “What anybody would do in an emergency.” He called 911. Jackson plays the 911 tape, in which DeSouza clearly tells the dispatcher that Spector told him, “I think he—’I’—killed her.”
“What was Phil Spector doing during this same time?” Jackson asks. “Think about it.”
Where did the gun end up? Where did his jacket end up? What about that diaper [apparently used by Spector to try to clean up the blood]? What about her face … while Adriana DeSouza was calling for help, to help this woman!
Jackson says that Spector is making “a checkbook defense” whose governing principle is
if you hire enough lawyers who hire enough experts who are paid enough money, you can get ‘em to say just about anything. You pay someone enough money you can get ‘em to wear a tutu in court!
Aug. 28, 2007, 3:40 p.m. ET
Phil Spector has a hard time hanging on to lawyers.
On Aug. 27, Bruce Cutler, mob lawyerand star of the forthcoming TV show Jury Duty, was firedfrom Spector’s legal team. Cutler is best known for representing John “Teflon Don” Gotti, who despite a remarkable string of legal victories ended up dying in prison in 2002. Cutler took on Spector’s defense three years ago, after the departureof Leslie Abramson, who is best known for defending Lyle and Erik Menendez. The Menendez brothers are now serving two life sentences—each—without the possibility of parole for murdering their parents in 1996. Abramson, a mere four monthsbefore her departure, had stepped in to replace Robert Shapiro, who is best known for representing O.J. Simpson. The onetime Buffalo Bills running back was put on trial for killing his wife and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994. Miraculously, Simpson beat the criminal rap, but subsequently he was ruled responsible for the deaths in a civil trial, and later he wrote a confessional memoir, titled If I Did It, that will be published in September. (Simpson says the book is merely hypothetical, but that’s not what his ghostwriter says.)
It would be logical to speculate that Spector has finally gotten fed up with being defended by lawyers famous for defending known killers.
It would also be wrong. Cutler got the axe because Spector, having already reduced Cutler’s role as lead attorney to delivering the summation, decided he didn’t want Cutler do that, either. It’s probably a wise decision. In his opening remarks, Cutler floated a bizarre “two gun” theory, not heard since, which posited that Lana Clarkson killed herself accidentally when she confused one gun, which she knew to be loaded with blanks, with a second gun, which was loaded with real bullets. This theory was apparently meant to render consistentthe various bizarre and seemingly contradictory statements Spector gave to police immediately after the shooting (see “The Defense Rests,” below). The prosecution, however, decided not to admit into evidence any of Spector’s bizarre and seemingly contradictory statements to the police, leaving Cutler out on a limb with a zany line of defense that flatly contradicted everything the Spector defense has argued ever since. The official Spector defense is that Lana Clarkson shot herself in Spector’s foyer because she was despondent over her stalled career and her demonstrable lack of talent. If that is true, then her death wasn’t an accident. Cutler also harshed Judge Fidler’s mellow early in the trial by yelling at a witness. “I thought [Cutler] would be a target with the judge and prosecutors and that he wouldn’t be taken as seriously as he should,” Spector told reporters. Also, “with his television show he wasn’t here as much as he should have been.”
Closing arguments begin Sept. 5. Be there aloha!
The Defense Rests.
Aug. 21, 2007, 9:40 p.m. ET
Devra Robitaille, whose name did not appear on the original witness list, is a onetime employee of Warner-Spector Records. Today she testified (yawn) that Phil Spector twice pulled a shotgun on her, in one instance pressing it against her temple. “He said, ‘If you leave, I’ll blow your fucking head off,’ ” she told the jury. That makes her the fifth witness to tell jurors some version of this story at Spector’s trial—not counting Walter Cronkite’s daughter, who (according to grand jury testimony from comedian Joan Rivers) also experienced this novel courtship ritual—and of course Lana Clarkson herself. Click here for the footage.
Also, Spector’s lawyers made it official: His Wall-of-Soundness will not testify at his own murder trial (though he did briefly favor us last week with some forensic pantomime). There are many possible reasons for this:
1) Spector is guilty, and might end up confessing on the stand. Two people are already on record saying they heard Spector, shortly after Clarkson’s death, admit that he killed her. Only one of them (Spector’s chauffeur for that evening, Adriano DeSouza) testified at the trial. According to DeSouza, Spector walked out of his mansion and said, “I think I killed somebody.” The other person who claims to have heard Spector confess is Officer Beatrice Rodriguez of the Alhambra Police Department. In a police report, Rodriguez quoted Spector saying, “I didn’t mean to shoot her, it was an accident.” Rodriguez testified before the grand jury, but for whatever reason—maybe she was shaky on the stand?—the prosecutors never called her during the trial.2) Spector is crazy, and might therefore come across as just the sort of weirdo who would put a gun in a woman’s mouth and then pull the trigger. A good example of Spector’s weirdness is the threatening message he left on the answering machine of Dorothy Melvin, one of the women on whom he pulled a gun. (Click here for the audio):Sorry I’m late calling, chief, but I had some trouble with my nipple ring. [This is a reference to a New Yorker cartoonby Robert Mankoff.] Um, don’t worry about the competition. Let the competition worry about you. All right, I cannot be replaced by a machine, unless it learns to uh, drink, fuck, [inaudible], right. OK, keep smiling Dorothy, uh, but not so much that you begin to wonder if you’re mentally fucking unbalanced.There’s also the matter of the man’s hair.
3) Spector is incapable of maintaining a civil tone when he is under pressure. For example, when Spector was first arrested and brought to the stationhouse, he called Clarkson“a piece of shit” and said “she certainly had no right to come to my fucking castle, blow her fucking head open, and [transcription missing] a murder. What the fuck is wrong with you people?”4) Even when Spector claims innocence, his world still sounds depraved. “She kissed the gun,” Spector toldEsquire in a July 2003 profile. An Alhambra police officer named Derek Gilliam—the nephew, as it happens, of the film director and former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam—recalled in grand jury testimony that Spector told him that Clarkson took the gun, waved it like a lariat around her head, sang “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” then put the gun to her temple and fired. (This last couldn’t possibly be true because the autopsy showed the gun was fired inside Clarkson’s mouth.) 5) Spector can too easily be caught in a lie. See above.6) If Spector appears on the witness stand, prosecutors will get the chance to ask why he never dialed 911 after Clarkson was shot. Spector can’t possibly have a good answer to this question.
The defense has rested its case, thereby eliminating the possibility that it will flesh out its bizarre “two gun” theory(outlined by attorney Bruce Cutler in his opening statement). According to this theory, Clarkson killed herself accidentally when she mistook a loaded gun for a similar-looking gun that she knew was not loaded. The problem with the two-gun theory is that it contradicts the main thrust of the defense’s argument, which is that Clarkson killed herself on purpose because she was unhappy. Perhaps Spector’s defense team figured this out. Or perhaps the two-gun theory fell into disfavor after Cutler fell into disfavor. Spector sidelined Cutler, a flamboyant mob lawyer, after the judge scolded Cutler for bullying witnesses. Cutler spent most of the summer taping a new syndicated television series, Jury Duty, which premieres in September. As Mel Brooks explained in his song, “Springtime For Hitler“:
It ain’t no myst’ry
If it’s politics or hist’ry
The thing you gotta know is
Ev’rything is show biz.
Dying Is Easy. Comedy Is Hard.
Aug. 8, 2007, 5:45 p.m. ET.
Show-business legend has it that the dying words of Sir Donald Wolfit (1902-1968), a celebrated Shakespearean actor, were: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Tasteless though this epigram may be in the context of the Phil Spector trial, I couldn’t keep it out of my mind as I watched a 30-minute audition video assembled by Lana Clarkson for casting agents in Hollywood. The video was introduced into evidence by the Spector defense, on the theory that anyone trying this hard to show casting agents that she could perform comedy, and failing this completely, had to be suicidal. But if you’ve ever tuned in to American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance during their cattle-call auditions, you know that this great land is filled with tone-deaf singers and two-left-footed dancers whose capacity for self-delusion no British-accented panel judge can hope to penetrate. There’s no reason to believe the same couldn’t be true for unfunny comedians, especially when they happen to be drop-dead gorgeous. And in all fairness, Court TV counted “at least three” jurors who laughed at Clarkson’s video. (Others were seen to “smile benevolently” or “stare blankly at the screen.”)
Another possible cause of suicide was disputed by Transformers director Michael Bay, for whom Clarkson performed in two commercials. According to the testimony of Elizabeth Irene “Punkin Pie” Laughlin (see “Kato Kaelin, Eat Your Heart Out,” below) Bay snubbed Clarkson at a party mere days before her death, prompting Clarkson to weep and rage and declare, “I hate this town and I hate the people in it and I don’t want to be here anymore.” But when the prosecution called Bay to the stand, he insisted that he did no such thing. Bay elaborated further in his Web log, calling Punkin Pie a “whack job” and “a disgusting piece of shit,” opining that Spector “looks like a creepy murderer,” and reiterating, “I never saw Lana at this party.” This last is actually consistent with Punkin Pie’s testimony (from the context it’s clear she knew only that Clarkson believed Bay had snubbed her), and anyway, it’s in the nature of snubbing that it’s often unconscious (e.g., when you “look through” somebody there’s a decent chance you literally aren’t seeing her). Even so, the snub theory is a nonstarter. I’ll admit that it conveys a certain dramatic flair; one thinks of John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra, which begins with Julian English tossing a highball into rich Harry Reilly’s Irish face and ends with English taking the inexorable last step from social suicide in Gibbsbille, Pa., to actual suicide. But the conceit that cocktail-party humilitation kills isn’t remotely plausible here. If show-biz snubs (perceived or actual) routinely led to suicide, then Hollywood Boulevard would be piled higher than its lampposts with the corpses of has-beens and also-rans.
Tomorrow the jurors go on a field trip to the Spector mansion. We’re approaching the end.
Who Is Raul Julia-Levy?
July 19, 6:45 p.m. ET
How could I forget? In describing the noirish gallery of witnesses and aspiring witnesses for Philip Spector’s defense (see below), I neglected to mention:
Raul Julia-Levy. Claims to be the son of Raul Julia, the stage and screen actor best remembered for his campy performances as Gomez in the Addams Family movies. I say “claims to be” because Julia’s widow, former Broadway dancer Merel Poloway, has disputed that Julia-Levy is Raul Julia’s son. Julia-Levy (according to Spector’s lawyers) is the former lover of Lana Clarkson, and he is prepared to testify that shortly before her death, Clarkson was despondent.
On Julia-Levy’s MySpace page, he writes that he was raised in Mexico by his grandfather, “clothing tycoon Abraham Levy (Levi-Strauss), who died when Julia-Levy
was 16.” This is a little puzzling, because Levi Strauss & Co. wasn’t founded by one guy named Levy and another guy named Strauss. It was founded (in 1853) by a guy named Levi Strauss who later took on as partner another guy named Jacob Davis. Julia-Levy continues:
Known as the Howard Hughes of Mexico, Julia-Levy remains much more than a film and television actor. He is an entrepreneur, humanitarian and philanthropist, and remains very active in the political and socio-economic concerns of his country.
The Spector prosecution is seeking to block Julia-Levy’s testimony because of what it calls his “long and varied history of run-ins with law enforcement.” These include, the prosecution says, being charged with: drunk driving; drug possession with intent to sell; domestic violence; child cruelty; sexual assault; and multiple allegations of providing false identification. (The prosecution says Julia-Levy has six aliases.) According to an L.A. County Sheriff’s Department investigation cited by the Los Angeles Times, Julia-Levy has used fake Social Security numbers and has claimed, falsely, to have attended Harvard and the University of Southern California.
Judge Fidler is considering whether to allow Julia-Levy to testify. I’ll be inconsolable if Fidler says no.
Kato Kaelin, Eat Your Heart Out
July 18, 7:15 p.m. ET
It’s been nearly a month, dear reader, since last my last dispatch. Forgive me. I’ve been distracted by other projects, and to be honest, since the prosecution rested its case this trial has been less than riveting. The Spector defense is not scoring many points. As they say in Hollywood, the story sags in the second half. That’s a shame, because the defense has introduced a wonderful rogue’s gallery of L.A. noir types. Let’s meet three of them.
John Barons. The bald and goateed author of Brentwood Blondes, in which Lana Clarkson was set to play Marilyn Monroe. Barons hired her, he told the court, because she knew Roger Corman, the legendary producer of low-budget potboilers—one of which, Barbarian Queen (1985), scored Clarkson her biggest screen success. Barons hoped that Corman would come see the play. But Clarkson “was not a great talent,” and her behavior was erratic, so he ended up firing her in Jan. 2003. That was three months before Clarkson’s death. “I can’t help but wonder,” Barons has written, “what Lana’s performance might have been. What if any impact it may [sic] have made on future events?”
Brentwood Blondes, according to the play’s Web site,
explores the possible existance [sic] of an afterworld containing blonde glamour girls who have been killed by famous men. One by one, they arrive. First, the goddess Marilyn—she worthy of one name instant recognition. Then there’s sultry Sharon Tate, spawned from the hyper-glam 60’s. Next is Nicole, Nicole Brown, of the Simpsons, that Nicole Brown. She captured the heart of a modern day Othello.
Hold the phone. Marilyn Monroe, killed by a famous man? The woman committed suicide by swallowing a bottleful of Nembutal. Not so, according to Barons. Joseph Kennedy Sr. did the deed, presumably so she wouldn’t blab about her affair with his son, President John F. Kennedy. On cross-examination the prosecution pointed out repeatedly that this is not the consensus view. Barons has since rewrittenBrentwood Blondes to add Clarkson herself as a character, “since her life mirrored her characters so closely.” That would seem to suggest that Barons, despite being a witness for the defense, thinks that Phil Spector killed Clarkson. When asked about this, Barons was noncommittal: “I don’t know what happened.”
Elizabeth Irene “Punkin Pie” Laughlin. Self-described best friend of Lana Clarkson. In a 2000 profile of Punkin Pie, the Los Angeles Weekly’sChristine Pelisek wrote,
If you saw Almost Famous, the Cameron Crowe movie about his days as a teen writer for Rolling Stone, you may have wondered whatever happened to Penny Lane, the free-spirited groupie memorably portrayed by Kate Hudson, last seen in the film boarding a plane for Morocco. Well, you might think of Penny Lane as having grown up to be Punkin Pie, a groupie-turned-club-promoter. …
Punkin told the jury that two weeks before Clarkson’s death, Clarkson got snubbed at a party by Michael Bay (producer of Armageddon and Pearl Harbor and director of the current Transformers) even though Clarkson had once done a Mercedes-Benz commercial for him:
She said, “Michael Bay just dissed me, didn’t know who I was.” She was crying and upset and she said, “I’m really sick of these people and this town. I hate this town and I hate the people in it and I don’t want to be here anymore.”
The following week, Punkin Pie testified, Clarkson told her, “I don’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to be in this town. I want to end it.”
On cross-examination, the prosecution asked whether she remembered telling a friend at a wedding, “We need to fry that bastard for killing Clarkson.” She didn’t. (“Pie has no memory,” her friend Jennifer Hayes—another witness for the defense—later observed on the stand.) Punkin was also asked why she took her story to Spector’s defense team. “I didn’t know what ‘prosecuting’ and ‘defense’ meant,” she replied.
Jody “Babydol” Gibson. Author of Secrets of A Hollywood Super Madam, “a book about my 13 years owning and operating an Escort Empire that serviced the sexual secrets of the rich and famous.” Babydol claims that her client list included Bruce Willis and Tommy Lasorda; they both deny it. Babydol also claims that Lana Clarkson was one of her escorts from 1992 to 1998, and she’s produced a page from her little black book to prove it. But prosecutors maintain that she was a very naughty Babydol and scribbled an “L” before and a “Cl” after the name of an escort named “Ana.” These letters, they say, were written in different ink from the rest. Truth to tell, the entry (bottom right) does look a little suspicious. Judge Fidler has ruled that Babydol may not testify, though he’s left open the possibility that he’ll change his mind later. Babydol has also said that Clarkson “had an affinity for guns … and kinky gun-sex play.” On the other hand, Babydol wrote in her book that Clarkson was “murdered in the home of a wealthy record producer.” Fidler ordered to her quit yapping about Clarkson to the press.
Three key witnesses for the defense. The first one seems to have implied that Spector killed Clarkson. The second is alleged to have stated that Spector killed Clarkson. The third one wrote in a book that Spector killed Clarkson. Obviously the defense didn’t call them to the stand to share their opinions about how Clarkson died. Still, it’s kind of striking.
The Wit and Wisdom of Phil Spector
June 26, 5:30 p.m. ET
The defense began making its case today with Dr. Vincent DiMaio, a ballistics expert who will argue that Lana Clarkson shot herself. DiMaio has been blocked by Judge Fidler from discussing a diary of Clarkson’s in which she expressed despair over her acting career, Fidler having previously ruled the diary itself inadmissable. Both rulings strike me as needlessly restrictive, and this is coming from a guy who thinks Spector is pretty obviously guilty. I’m no lawyer, but it worries me that Fidler is tilting so obviously in favor of the prosecution that he’s starting to help Spector’s chances of overturning a conviction on appeal. Just one layman’s opinion, but I do wish you’d control yourself, your honor.
Granted, Phil Spector is not an easy man to like. Even his defense team isn’t bothering to deny that he’s a foul-mouthed bully who frequently threatens people (especially women) with guns. If he were black, or if he lacked money to threaten potential accusers with lawsuits, I suspect this creepy pastime would have put him behind bars years ago. A characteristically piquant example of Spector’s sparkling wit was posted today on the Smoking Gun Web site. Read silently while I read to you aloud from a postcard Spector sent a friend in April 2005: “[T]he L.A. District Attorney [is] braggin’ about himself. Apparently nobody’s told him that he’s nothing more than a load of sperm that would have been better off swallowed by his Mother!” You perhaps begin to see why his lawyers are reluctant to put the “Da Doo Ron Ron” dean on the stand.
Phil Spector Rests. Bruce Cutler Rests. The Prosecution Rests.
June 25, 6:45 p.m. ET
How boring is the continuing drone of forensic experts arguing how far blood can spatter when somebody gets shot?
Please note that I’m not denying that the stakes of this debate are significant. If blood can spatter six to seven feet, that helps Phil Spector’s defense. That’s because Spector’s lawyers are trying to explain how Lana Clarkson’s blood could have spattered Spector’s jacket if, as these same lawyers maintain, Spector was standing too far away to put the gun barrel into Clarkson’s mouth. If, on the other hand, blood can spatter only two to four feet, that helps the prosecutors, because it would mean Spector was standing close enough to put the gun barrel into Clarkson’s mouth.
Those of us who harbor the strong suspicion that the science of blood spatter is too inexact to settle this dispute find the expert arguments back and forth, which have been dominating the Spector trial for the past week, a waste of everybody’s time. (A much more interesting question, though one not germane to the murder charge, is why Spector purchased said jacket from the ladies’ department. Apparently the buttons are on the left, not the right. That probably explains why Clarkson initially mistook Spector for a woman when they first met at the House of Blues.)
Even those who do not find the science of blood spatter too inexact to settle this question (or who at least pretend not to) seem to find the back and forth a bit trying. Court TV’s Spector blog caught the defendant himself nodding off “intermittently.” (Spector also fell asleep on June 13 during expert testimony about fingerprints.) Another interested party who apparently has lost his patience is Bruce Cutler, the flamboyant former attorney to John Gotti (he won three acquittals for the Teflon Don), who at the start of the trial was Spector’s lead attorney. Cutler hasn’t played a terribly visible role at Spector’s trial ever since Judge Fidler admonished him (“You will not point and yell in my courtroom!”) while he was cross-examining Dianne Ogden-Halder, one of the four women who testified about being threatened by Spector with a gun. (There were actually more than four. Joan Rivers testified before the grand jury that at one of her Christmas parties Spector pulled a gun on Walter Cronkite’s daughter. To paraphrase Cronkite’s famous on-air remark about heavy-handed law enforcement at the 1968 Democratic convention, I think we’ve got a thug here, if I may be permitted to say so.)
But I digress. The point is that since Cutler pointed and yelled in Judge Fidler’s courtroom, we haven’t seen much of Cutler, and Cutler himself eventually told Peter Y. Hong of the Los AngelesTimes, “I have been muzzled,” presumably by Mr. Wall of Sound himself. Now Cutler is absent from the courtroom altogether, and according to Court TV he’s telling people he won’t be back for a month. The Los Angeles Times is more cautious, saying Cutler has said—apparently to the Times—that he’ll be gone a week or more.
Judge Fidler today announced that the only prosecution witness left to call is Sara Caplan, a former member of Spector’s defense team who has refused to repeat before the jury her testimony before Fidler that not long after Clarkson’s death she saw Spector’s celebrity expert witness, Dr. Henry Lee, pick up a white object about the size of a fingernail off Spector’s floor. This object was never handed over to the court as evidence, as the law requires. Caplan’s allegation persuaded Fidler to rule that Lee had hidden evidence detrimental to Spector’s defense. (The prosecution maintains the white object was a fake acrylic fingernail of Clarkson’s that’s gone missing.) After Caplan refused to testify before the jury, Fidler held her in contempt. An appeals court refused to overturn Fidler’s hearing, and now Fidler has issued a stay pending Caplan’s appeal to the California Supreme Court. (Ironically, Fidler did not hold Lee, the alleged wrongdoer here, in contempt, because Fidler can’t actually prove that Lee did what Caplan said he did.)
Assuming the California Supreme Court doesn’t rule on Caplan’s appeal right away, the defense will start presenting its case on June 26. Apparently it will do so without its resident Mafia lawyer. We will, at long last, find out what Bruce Cutler meant in his opening statement when he suggested a two-gun theory positing that Clarkson died because she confused one gun that didn’t have bullets in it with another, similar-looking gun that did. But apparently we won’t find this out from Cutler. Perhaps he is absenting himself not because he’s been banished by Spector, but rather because he doesn’t know how to make this argument with a straight face.
While You Were Out
June 15, 2007, 4:15 p.m. ET
One of the advantages of following a trial over the Internet (as opposed to sitting in the courtroom) is the relative ease with which you can drift away when the action starts to flag. It’s been more than two weeks since I last filed a dispatch on Phil Spector’s murder trial, and you’re probably wondering whether you missed anything important. Answer: not really.
Mostly it’s been a parade of experts testifying about what we can deduce from the forensic evidence. Very little, it turns out. Especially compared to what we can deduce from four women who testified that Phil Spector pointed a gun at them under circumstances strikingly similar to Lana Clarkson’s; from Spector’s chauffeur saying that Spector told him, “I think I killed somebody”; and from Spector’s failure to call 911 after the gun went off. Expert testimony about the gun (no fingerprints), the autopsy (disgusting yet tedious), and blood spatter (the prosecution’s expert says it didn’t travel far) was so boring that Spector himself was observed nodding off.
The only big news occurred when the jury wasn’t present, and consisted of ongoing fallout from Judge Fidler’s earlier ruling that Spector’s celebrity forensic expert, Dr. Henry Lee, hid a small white object that may have been Lana Clarkson’s missing acrylic fingernail when he visited the scene of Clarkson’s death. Outraged by Fidler’s ruling (and also by Fidler’s refusal to allow testimony from Jody “Babydol” Gibson, who hints in her book, Secrets of a Hollywood Super Madam, that Clarkson worked for her as a prostitute under the why-bother alias “Alana”), Spector’s defense team moved for a mistrial, which Fidler, unsurprisingly, denied. The Fingernail Wars next claimed an unlikely victim: Sara Caplan, a former member of Spector’s defense team, who earlier testified in a hearing before Fidler that she saw Lee pick up a white object about the size of a fingernail. (Caplan’s testimony was the primary basis for Fidler’s ruling against Lee.) When the prosecution called Caplan to the stand, Caplan refused, citing attorney-client privilege. Fidler then ruled Caplan in contempt, a move that Caplan called “despicable.” Fidler stayed his ruling pending appeal, but if Caplan loses her appeal she will go to jail.
The whole ruckus confuses me no end. If Caplan wants to protect Spector, why did she agree to testify in the earlier hearing when jury members were absent? Assuming Spector had nothing to do with Lee’s alleged hiding of evidence, how would Caplan’s testimony discredit Spector? On the other hand, if Caplan knows Spector did play a role in hiding evidence, isn’t she required to report that to the court, regardless of attorney-client privilege? Given that the defense has not yet called Lee to the stand (and, given Fidler’s ruling, probably never will), why is the prosecution maneuvering to discredit Lee?
So many questions. What the hell is this, The Sopranos?
Why the Purse Strap Is A Red Herring
May 30, 2007, 3:50 p.m.
As I predicted yesterday (see below), on cross-examination defense attorney Christopher Plourd went after Dr. Louis Pena, deputy coroner for Los Angeles County, about the the vagueness of Pena’s assertions about when Lana Clarkson’s hands, wrists, and forearm got bruised. It could have been up to two days before she died. And remember when Pena said that if Clarkson had killed herself, she likely would have found it physically awkward to do so with a purse hanging over her shoulder? Plourd asked Pena whether it wasn’t equally likely that the purse strap would have slipped off Clarkson’s shoulder during a struggle with Spector over the gun. Pena demurred, but it’s actually a good point. Score one for Spector.
But (and here I depart from the trial transcript to debate myself) Clarkson was found slumped in a chair. If Clarkson was seated when the gun went off, then whatever struggle (and resultant bruising) that occurred would have involved comparatively little physical movement on her part. Score one, hypothetically, for the prosecution.
But following the same logic, it would be a lot easier to shoot yourself while a purse was slung over your shoulder if you were sitting rather than standing. Score one, hypothetically, for Spector.
But Pena said yesterday that the physical evidence suggested that someone (presumably Spector) wiped blood off the gun, an unlikely gesture from an innocent man. Wouldn’t Spector, in tidying up the scene for the cops (and not, as we learned from earlier testimony, dialing 911) be just as likely to restore the purse strap to Clarkson’s shoulder to minimize evidence of a struggle? Score one, hypothetically, for the prosecution.
Memo to Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson: Forget the purse strap. The purse strap is never going to prove anything. It isn’t evidence. It’s just … a purse strap.
How Did Lana Clarkson Get Those Bruises?
May 29, 2007, 2:50 p.m. ET
Dr. Louis Pena performed the autopsy on Lana Clarkson for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. In his testimony today, he talked about bruises found on Clarkson’s body. There were purple bruises on Clarkson’s left hand, on both sides of her right wrist (indicative of its having been grabbed roughly), and on her right forearm. In autopsy photographs introduced as evidence, the bruises were very noticeable. Pena also said he found a bruise on Clarkson’s tongue that would be consistent with “blunt force trauma.”
Dead bodies don’t bruise. If Clarkson’s corpse was bruised, that suggests the gunshot was preceded by a physical struggle with Phil Spector, especially since Pena said the bruising appeared to have occurred shortly before Clarkson’s death. His testimony on this last point, though, was a little vague. The defense will presumably attack this uncertainty and argue the bruises could have occurred well before Clarkson arrived at Spector’s mansion. Conceivably the defense could argue that Spector tried to wrestle the gun away from Clarkson, but that would be inconsistent with its anticipated claim that Spector was not standing near Clarkson when the gun went off.
Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson asked Pena how he thought Clarkson died. ”This was a homicide,” Pena replied. (Duh.)But the evidence he cited wasn’t based on the autopsy. Rather, he cited what Spector’s chauffeur, Adriano DeSouza, recalled Spector saying after hearing the gunshot: “I think I killed somebody”; the fact that Clarkson died in the home of someone she’d never met before, an unlikely setting for a suicide; the fact that Clarkson’s body was found with her purse slung over her shoulder, an awkward posture if you’re putting a gun into your own mouth; the fact that the gun appeared to have had blood wiped off it; the fact that blood was found inside Spector’s pants pocket, indicating he’d put a bloody hand into his pocket; and the fact that Clarkson “did not own a firearm.” I don’t know Pena’s basis for concluding this last, but the other evidence Pena cites sounds pretty damning.
Judge Fidler Disses Henry Lee
May 23, 2007, 4 p.m. ET
The Nail Wars have ended, and the bloody corpse of celebrity forensic-evidence specialist Henry Lee (one-time star of Court TV’s Trace Evidence) is being carried off the field. Not literally, of course. But Dr. Lee’s successful career as an expert witness has been dealt a blow by Judge Larry Paul Fidler’s ruling that Lee removed something—an acrylic thumbnail, a tooth, who knows?—from Phil Spector’s foyer. The judge stopped short of citing Lee for contempt but ordered him to produce the damned thing “forthwith” if he’s still got it. The prosecution will be permitted to call Sara Caplan, a lawyer who previously worked for Spector’s defense, and celebrity lawyer Robert Shapiro, who also represented Spector but has since parted ways with him, as witnesses for the prosecution to discredit Lee’s expert testimony. How weird is that? Caplan has said she saw Lee remove a white object. “If I have to choose between the two,” Judge Fidler said, “I’m going to find that Miss Caplan is more credible than Dr. Lee.”
Letting the jurors know that someone saw Lee remove an object from the alleged crime scene will not only damage whatever Lee has to say, it will also make Spector look guilty—not because there’s any evidence Spector himself played a role in hiding any evidence, but simply because it suggests that Lee made the calculation that Spector’s defense required that a certain piece of possible evidence be hidden. (Prosecutors claim the nail would show that Lana Clarkson’s hand was in front of her face, not on the trigger, though how they could possibly know that is anybody’s guess.) If I were Spector’s lawyers, I’d be thinking right now that Dr. Lee should not take the stand. Presumably that would allow the court to sidestep the entire question of whether Dr. Lee is credible.
I am not a laywer. But 24 years ago I published an article in Harper’s (registration required) arguing that this whole business of allowing expert witnesses to be paid by interested parties in a legal proceeding seemed inherently corrupting. I was referring not to the experts’ behavior, but merely to their opinions. If Judge Fidler’s accusation is correct, I didn’t know the half of it.
Adriano DeSouza Has Left the Building
May 22, 2007, 6:50 p.m. ET
Prosecutors introduced into evidence a videotape of police interviewing chauffeur Adriano DeSouza immediately after the shooting. The prosecutors showed the full tape to the jury to counteract defense attorney Bradley Brunon’s use of a partial transcript when cross-examining DeSouza. At one point in the police interview, DeSouza was asked whether he was sure Spector had said, “I think I killed somebody.” DeSouza replied, “I think so. I think—I am not sure—it’s my English.” Brunon made much of that. By unspooling the taped interview in its entirety, prosecutors were able to establish that
1.) DeSouza told the police repeatedly that Spector had said, “I think I killed somebody.” 2.) DeSouza was using these precise words well before prosecutors had a chance to prevail on immigration authorities to allow him to remain in the country.
The defense brandished a partial transcript of another police interview in which DeSouza had Spector saying, “I think I shot somebody.” But deputy district attorney Alan Jackson was able to show that DeSouza used the word shot instead of killed only after a police officer phrased it that way to him. As for DeSouza’s immigration status, DeSouza testified that he is permitted to remain in the United States only until the trial ends.
Here’s a question it never occurred to me to ask: Why didn’t Spector call 911? A dispatch supervisor for the California Highway Patrol testified today that the only call for help received the night of Lana Clarkson’s murder came from Adriano DeSouza’s cell phone. If Spector were innocent, wouldn’t he have dialed 911 after Clarkson committed suicide in his foyer?
After that, various cops delivered testimony. None of it seemed terribly significant. I’m not sure DeSouza’s testimony has left much else to discuss. Tomorrow morning: further testimony about the fake fingernail that may or may not be missing.
May 17, 2:45 ET
A genre is born: Boomer Gothic.
How else to describe a 2005 video of Phil Spector that turned up May 16 on Inside Edition? In the video, Spector looks exactly like somebody’s Great Aunt Tillie, but on closer inspection that’s a Hawaiian shirt he’s wearing, not a print dress, and his necklace is not a string of pearls. Spector denounces the women now testifying against him in his murder trial. “They just want to get on Inside Edition, they just want to testify at the trial, and they just want to make money,” Spector says. He then offers them $100,000 apiece if they’ll take lie-detector tests.
Spector also says that he’s too short to have killed Clarkson. “The deceased, who was standing when she took her own life and she was 5-11,” Spector rambles, “and she would have been 6 feet 2 with heels on, which she was wearing at the time of her death, and that the gun was in a downward position.” He continues: “I am 5 foot 5. It would have been physically impossible for me to have administered the death wound to her in any shape, way or form.”
According toInside Edition, the video is from an interview Spector gave Michelle Blaine, his former personal assistant. Blaine told Inside Edition that Spector offered to marry her so that she couldn’t be compelled to testify against him.
Spector Defense: Deport Star Prosecution Witness!
May 16, 2007, 5:50 ET
On May 15, the trial’s most important witness, Adriano DeSouza, took the stand. DeSouza was Spector’s chauffeur on the night Lana Clarkson was killed. In the May 16 Los Angeles Times, Peter Y. Hong reports that DeSouza told the jury that he dropped Spector and Clarkson off at Spector’s house and then waited in Spector’s Mercedes. Around 5 a.m., DeSouza continued, he heard a gunshot and then saw Spector appear in the doorway with a gun in his hand and blood on his fingers. “I think I killed somebody,” Spector said, according to DeSouza. Not a lot of ambiguity there.
“I was afraid,” DeSouza testified. “He could have shot me or something like that, I wasn’t sure.” DeSouza said that he ran from Spector and called 911 on his cell phone. A tape of that conversation was played today in court:
“I think my boss killed somebody. Please can you send [unintelligible]?””You think your boss killed somebody?””Yes.”[…]”Why do you believe he may have killed somebody?””Because you have a lady on the floor, and you have a gun in his hand.””OK, Stay on the line. Do not hang up.”[…]”Did you hear him shoot or anything?””Yeah, I heard like a noise and, yeah, he opened the door and ‘I think he–“I”– killed her’””OK, stay on the line. Do not hang up.”
[Note, May 19, 2007: An earlier version of this item contained a less accurate and complete transcription derived from a story and blog item in the Los Angeles Times. I have now replaced that with the above transcription derived from a Court TV video clip of the 911 tape being played in the courtroom.]
In response, Spector defense lawyer Bradley Brunon asked DeSouza whether he had ever misunderstood Spector. DeSouza said he had. (In his opening statement, defense layer Bruce Cutler emphasized that DeSouza was “a substitute driver with a language problem,” and could easily have confused the statement “I think I killed somebody” with “I think somebody is killed.”) Although DeSouza speaks “in a thick Brazilian accent,” according to Court TV’s Spector blog, he testified that he took advanced English classes when he was a teenager. Brunon also griped that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services haven’t deported DeSouza, even though his student visa has expired, and requested immigration documents concerning DeSouza. I’m not an experienced legal observer, but it seems to me that when the defense team wants to ship the key witness for the prosecution out of the country, the jury is at some risk of concluding that his testimony is extremely damaging.
To be fair, I don’t think that Brunon was trying to persuade the judge to deport DeSouza. Rather, he was trying to establish that the prosecution has considerable leverage over what DeSouza says on the witness stand because, as an illegal alien, DeSouza remains in the United States at the pleasure of the government. If he doesn’t say Spector is guilty, guilty, guilty, then Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson just might have to phone Citizen and Immigration Services and tell them it’s time to put DeSouza on a flight to Rio. The obvious and devastating flaw in this argument is that DeSouza has been saying on the witness stand pretty much what he said to the 911 operator on the night of Clarkson’s death, well before he had any conversations with police or prosecutors.
In the afternoon, the jury was dismissed and the Fingernail Wars resumed. Henry Lee, a forensics expert working for Spector’s defense, was summoned to the stand. Did he, as was alleged last week, pick up an acrylic fake fingernail, or possibly a tooth, from the crime scene? (The prosecution suspects that Spector’s defense team is hiding Clarkson’s acrylic thumbnail.) “Definitely not,” Lee replied. “I never put that biohazard material in my handkerchief … whatever we found, I reported it.”
For Want Of A Nail
May 11, 2007 10:30 ET
In a May 2 blog item titled “Spatter Wars,” I speculated that a forthcoming courtroom hearing with the jury not present would concern the admissibility of expert testimony about how far blood can spatter from a gunshot wound. In fact, the hearing was about not the Spatter Wars, but the Fingernail Wars. The Los Angeles Times has been all over this story in both the newspaper and its Spector trial blog, and with the court today in recess, now is as good a time as any to explain what the Fingernail Wars are all about.
For three years, prosecutors in the Spector case have suspected that shortly after the police searched Spector’s house and carted off its evidence, the defense team found and hid an object that had eluded the cops—a piece of Lana Clarkson’s acrylic thumbnail blackened with gunpowder residue. According to a medical examiner, when he looked at Clarkson’s body, her right hand was missing a piece of an acrylic nail.
Whether a blackened fake thumbnail would indicate that Clarkson pulled the trigger herself or that Clarkson grabbed hold of the gun barrel when Spector threatened her is a matter of some dispute, one that obviously is impossible to resolve without the nail itself, which Spector’s defense says it never had. Gregory Diamond, a former clerk to Robert Shapiro, who was representing Spector for a while, testified that on the day in question, he saw Sara Caplan, a lawyer working with Shapiro, pick up something small and white and give it to Michael Baden, a forensics expert employed by Spector’s legal team. But according to Diamond, Baden identified this object as a tooth, not a nail. Baden testified that none of this happened. Caplan did, too, but she and another former member of Spector’s defense team named Stanley White said that Henry Lee, another member of Spector’s legal team, did find a small white object. White recalled that he told Lee he thought it was a fingernail and that Lee answered that it wasn’t.
It was White who first raised the issue of the missing fingernail back in 2004. At the time, Shapiro refused to say whether the defense team had possession of any such nail or not. White testified that when Leslie Abramson, then a Spector defense lawyer, found out White had told the cops about the nail, she threw a hissy fit.
With the matter unresolved, the judge said he would bring Lee into the courtroom when he returns from a trip to China.
The Bar Tab
May 10, 6:05 p.m. ET
Today the prosecution’s goal is to establish that Phil Spector was schnockered the night Lana Clarkson died. Rommie Davis, a high-school friend of Spector’s, says she had dinner with Spector earlier that evening at the Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills. (Local color: Davis’ occupation is “shopping expert.”) Davis says it worried her that night that Spector was mixing alcohol with his meds. Kathy Sullivan, a waitress at the Grill who was friends with Spector, then takes the stand. Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson has her review Spector’s receipt from the grill, and then Spector’s receipts from Trader Vic’s, Dan Tana’s, and the House of Blues, where Sullivan accompanied Spector after Spector and his chauffeur drove Davis home. I count at least four daiquiris, one Navy grog, a glass of rum, and three trips to the men’s room.
Yes, Spector was schnockered.
At the House of Blues, Sullivan says, she ordered a glass of water, which apparently irritated Spector. He commanded Lana Clarkson, the hostess at the House of Blues’ VIP lounge, to escort the unforgivably sober Sullivan to his car. Spector’s chauffeur then drove Sullivan home. Even though Sullivan wanted to go home, she tells the court that she felt insulted by Spector’s showy dismissal. But being traded for Clarkson was a lucky break. That glass of water may have saved Sullivan’s life.
[Update, May 11: On Court TV’s Spector blog, Harriet Ryan countstwo Navy grogs at Trader Vic’s, not one. Okaoka! I must’ve been so plastered from hearing about the first one that I missed the second.]
Does This Sound Familiar?
May 9, 6 p.m. ET
Melissa Grosvenor, a waitress in New York, met Spector in May 1991. They dated, platonically, for about a year and a half. “He’s very charming, a quick wit,” she testifies. He invited her to visit him in California, flew her out (at first he offered only a one-way ticket); she arrived, they listened to some music, danced a little, and around 2 a.m., “I said I’m tired, I want to go.” Charming Phil became Angry Phil (“His whole demeanor had changed”). Angry Phil disappeared from the room, Grosvenor gathered up her purse and sat in a chair waiting to leave. (By her description, it sounds as though this was not the foyer but perhaps the living room; at any rate, the locale was not Spector’s Alhambra mansion, but his earlier dwelling in Pasadena.)
Spector returned with a gun and holster. “He walked right up to me and held the gun right to my face, just inches from my eyes, and said, ‘If you try to leave I’m going to kill you.’ ” Spector’s signature refrain, destined perhaps to become more famous than “And when he walked me home/ Da doo ron ron, da doo ron ron.”
The Etiquette of Dating
May 9, 2007, 2 p.m. ET
All right, ladies. If a gentleman asks you out on a date and then threatens you with a gun after you spurn his advances or express a desire to leave, do you—assuming you’re lucky enough to get away—
a.) Press criminal charges and refrain from future contact with that gentleman, except perhaps in a legal proceeding;b.) Call it even when the cops have retrieved your purse and subsequently send that gentleman a joke via e-mail;c.) Continue to see the gentleman because he “needed help” and “I cared about him” and because most of the time he’s a peaceable fellow (though subsequently he will chase you with an Uzi as you drive away);d.) Attend a subsequent party in New York thrown by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as that gentleman’s guest because “as a photographer in the news industry, that’s the type of event I needed to be at.”
If you answered a.), then give yourself a gold star. If you answered b.), c.), or d.), then you are qualified to be a witness for the prosecution in the Phil Spector murder trial. According to testimony in the trial, Dorothy Melvin chose b.); Diane Ogden-Halder—who testified two days ago (“He said he was going to blow my brains out. That wasn’t romantic to me”)—chose c.); and as I watch today I learn that Stephanie Jennings chose d.). These choices were unsound. Granted, Spector was an intimidating person, both with his firearms and with his legal team. But if these witnesses had chosen otherwise, Lana Clarkson might still be alive.
“I Had Some Trouble With My Nipple Ring”
May 9, 2007, 1:50 p.m. ET
I promised this would be tawdry. On May 7 the Spector jury, back in court after a week off while defense attorney Bruce Cutler fine-tuned the dosage on his diabetes meds, listened to six voice mails that Spector left Dorothy Melvin, the first of four witnesses whose adventures in Spector’s foyer (and comparable locales) bear striking resemblances to Lana Clarkson’s. Melvin, you’ll recall, said that in 1993 Spector threatened and struck her with a gun when she tried to leave his house—Pasadena patrolman Chris Russ disputed that she bore marks from pistol-whipping but otherwise corroborated Melvin’s account—and that Spector became so suspicious of her purse and its contents that he wouldn’t allow Melvin to take it with her. (“What is this?” he demanded, holding up her lipstick.)
According to the Court TV Web log (I was otherwise engaged on Monday and Tuesday), after the incident Spector created on Melvin’s answering machine her own personal Wall of Sound in the form of five messages that range from contrite (“If you want to harbor ill will against me, it is OK”) to menacing (“You are fucked and I am going to get you for what you did”). This last threat refers to legal action, but the most chilling Spector message was a threat against Melvin’s life, and Court TV has the audio:
Sorry I’m late calling, chief, but I had some trouble with my nipple ring. Um, don’t worry about the competition. Let the competition worry about you. All right, I cannot be replaced by a machine, unless it learns to uh, drink, fuck, [inaudible], right. Okay, keep smiling Dorothy, uh, but not so much that you begin to wonder if you’re mentally fucking unbalanced. And I expect a return call, but be very careful of what you say to me, because nothing you say to me is worth your life. Goodbye, Dorothy!
The Los Angeles Times story buried this at the bottom and left the nipple ring out. It didn’t even include that choice noir detail in an item for its Spector log about the voice mail! The L.A. Times is the only major newspaper in America giving this trial the coverage it deserves, and this is no time to go all high-minded on us. Save it for your global-warming coverage!
[Update, 4:05 p.m.:A reader informs me that “Sorry I’m late, chief—I had some trouble with my nipple ring” is the caption to a cartoon about office life that Robert Mankoff published in The New Yorker in January 1994, which was not long before Spector left this phone message. In the cartoon, the speaker is carrying a briefcase and his boss is looking at his wristwatch. Spector’s nipple-ring reference was therefore a private joke referring to that cartoon (though, given Spector’s often-incoherent style of communication, it wasn’t necessarily a joke he’d let Melvin in on).]
May 2, 2007, 2:30 p.m. ET
The Phil Spector trial is on hold this week. On Monday, the proceedings were canceled because Spector’s lead attorney, Bruce Cutler, was experiencing some sort of problem with his diabetes medication. On Tuesday, the judge gave everybody the day off in anticipation of a traffic snarl caused by a pro-immigration May Day march near the courthouse in downtown L.A. (Turnout was expected to be 100,000, but in the end it was closer to 25,000, according to the Los Angeles Times.) Today there will be a hearing about the prosecution’s claim that the defense withheld evidence. This may concern the potential velocity of blood spatter from a gunshot wound. Yuck! Or it may be something else. In any event, I’m going to play hookey.
“Blood spatter is shaping up as the issue in the trial,” explains Harriet Ryan on Court TV’s Spector blog. The defense wants to argue that blood spatter can travel very far, because that helps its case that Spector was not standing close to Lana Clarkson when the gun went off. If he wasn’t standing close, then he couldn’t have put the gun barrel in her mouth. The prosecution wants to argue that blood spatter can’t travel very far, because that helps its case that Spector was standing very close to Clarkson when the gun went off—close enough to put the gun barrel in Clarkson’s mouth. Both sides will surely overstate the precision with which forensic science can address (let alone settle) this matter. Anyway, today’s hearing concerns only procedural issues, not the evidence itself. The jury isn’t even there. The trial resumes Monday, assuming Cutler has his blood sugar under better control by then.
In the meantime, the LA. Times Spector blog has unearthed, for your viewing pleasure, a YouTube clip of Phil Spector’s short-lived band the Teddy Bears singing their Top 10 hit, “To Know Him Is To Love Him,” recorded in 1958. The rest is rock ’n’ roll history.
Well, Which Is It?
April 27, 5:15 p.m. ET
I’ve been reviewing video snippets from the defense’s opening statement on the Court TV Web site. Spector’s attorneys say they’re going to argue that Clarkson killed herself. To support that theory, they will argue two seemingly contradictory points:
1) Clarkson’s death was an accident.
2) Clarkson had previously demonstrated she was suicidal.
The Accident Theory is forwarded by Bruce Cutler, Spector’s lead attorney:
In the home there was a starter’s pistol, a starter’s pistol, which resembled the gun that took the life of the decedent. That was a gun found on the same lower floor where the decedent was.
One of the guns (Clarkson’s?) had bullets in it; the other (Spector’s?) didn’t. Presumably Cutler plans to argue that Clarkson picked up the wrong gun, intending merely to pantomime her suicide. A parlor game, if you will, or perhaps (given the setting) we should call it a foyer game. At any rate, Cutler indicated that he will argue Clarkson’s death was an accident:
The evidence will show … the decedent fired the gun herself. And I’m not suggesting to you, and I’m not saying, the evidence will indicate to you that that this was a suicide. But a self-inflicted gunshot wound, ladies and gentleman, can be an accidental suicide. And if the evidence, and I submit, the evidence will show you that’s the case.
But Linda Kenney Baden, another Spector attorney, emphasized in her opening statement that Clarkson was suicidal:
According to people that knew her, she was depressed over the holidays, the evidence will show. She had a history of depression going back to 1994, of the type where she couldn’t stop crying.
Kenney Baden quoted from e-mails Clarkson sent two months before she died, complaining of money problems and feeling depressed. In one of them Clarkson wrote, “I am going to tidy my affairs and chuck it, ‘cuz it’s really all too much for just a girl to bear anymore.” (Of course, the “it” Clarkson referred to could very easily have referred to Hollywood, not to life itself.)
Maybe the two lawyers will flip a coin to see who gets to argue which alibi first.
A key challenge for the defense is what to do about Adriano DeSouza, the chauffeur who told the cops that Spector said, immediately after the shooting, “I think I killed her.” Here’s what Cutler said about that:
According to Mr. Jackson, DeSouza, a substitute driver with a language problem who was full of snacks and cookies and water and sound asleep sitting in a closed car with the heat on and the radio on and the fountain going, could hear what Mr. Jackson claims he heard [i.e., gunshots]. And that awakening from a deep sleep, which Mr. Jackson apparently did not mention the evidence will show, he was able to be startled enough and to hear those five fatal words:I think I killed somebody.I think I killed somebody.I think somebody is killed. Well, maybe he didn’t hear anything.
Right. And maybe I’m the Aga Khan.
The Monty Python Connection
April 27, 2:30 p.m. ET
The Spector trial is in recess today, so I’m taking another look at the court documents.
In my April 8 “Phil Spector Primer” I mentioned that a police officer named Derek Gilliam told the grand jury that Spector told him that in her last moments of life Lana Clarkson took Spector’s gun; waved it over her head like a lariat; sang “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ “; put the gun to her temple; and pulled the trigger. According to Gilliam, Spector then said: “Nobody takes a gun from me.” This puzzled me, because Spector’s attorneys are expected to argue that the gun that killed Clarkson didn’t even belong to Spector. (That, at any rate, is what Bruce Cutler, Spector’s lead attorney, has stated in the past.) Yet in this instance Spector seemed to be suggesting to Gilliam that the gun was indeed his.
But Gilliam, I now see, remembered the conversation incorrectly. A little further in the grand jury proceeding, Gilliam was asked to read from his contemporaneous report, which had Spector saying not “Nobody takes a gun from me,” but rather, “You don’t pull a gun out on me.” The latter implied that the gun belonged not to Spector but to Clarkson. Gilliam acknowledged to the grand jury that he’d remembered the conversation imprecisely. Contradiction resolved.
Something else I missed when I initially skimmed Gilliam’s grand jury testimony is that Gilliam is the nephew of Terry Gilliam, the noted film director and former member of Monty Python. Gilliam told Spector this after Spector mentioned his association with George Harrison. (Spector produced Harrison’s All Things Must Passand The Concert For Bangladesh.) What followed was a conversation right out of, well, Monty Python. Let’s go to the transcript:
Q: How did he respond to your comment that your uncle was a famous person associated with Monty Python?A: He called me a liar.Q: And how did you respond to that?A: I said, “I have no reason to lie to you.”Q: How did he respond when you told him that?A: He said that he dealt with officers that have made those claims before.
Glad We Got That Straight
April 26, 7 p.m. ET
Further cross-examination by defense attorney Rosen of Melvin concerning the 1993 assault. (Previously I wrote that this incident took place in 1989; that was incorrect, and I’ve corrected the error in two places below):
“He never put the gun in your mouth, did he?”
“And he never asked you to put the gun in your mouth, did he?”
So there’s the Spector defense, at least so far. Spector threatened women with guns when they said they wanted to leave. He may even have pressed gun barrels to their faces. But he never would be such a bounder as to place a gun inside a woman’s mouth.
On redirect, the prosecutors get Melvin to establish that Spector threatened to sue Melvin if she made a fuss about the 1993 incident.
A Word From Your Blogger
April 26, 6:50 p.m. ET
I should probably explain that I am not blogging from the courtroom. I’m on the opposite coast, in Washington, D.C., watching the proceedings on my laptop.
Spector’s hands are shaking again today, especially the right hand as he clasps it to his left.
Dorothy Melvin’s Cross-Examination
April 26, 6:35 p.m. ET
Spector’s attorney, Roger Rosen, is cross-examining Dorothy Melvin.
“He never grabbed your or held you down physically during this, didn’t he?”
“Did you slam the door in his face?” [when Melvin returned to the house on orders from Spector as he held a gun on her]
Rosen also establishes that Melvin never took off her clothes when Spector ordered her to.
A slightly more promising line of inquiry concerns some e-mails sent back and forth between Melvin and Spector after the gun incident. On one occasion, Rosen says, she sent Spector a couple of jokes.
Melvin and Phil
April 26, 6 p.m. ET
We’ve just heard Dorothy Melvin’s testimony. She added some gothic details to Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson’s summary from yesterday of the 1993 incident (see below). Melvin said Spector backhanded her with the pistol not once, but twice. While he held her at gunpoint in the foyer, “he told me to take my clothes off and go up to the third floor.” Melvin didn’t comply.
When going through Melvin’s purse, Spector took out a lipstick, held it up, and said accusingly, “What is this?”
After she sped away, Melvin was able to retrieve her purse only by threatening to press charges. After she received the purse, she decided not to press charges. How come? asked Deputy District Attorney Patrick Dixon. “I didn’t want it to become a National Enquirer cover,” she answered. (Melvin was Joan Rivers’ personal assistant.)
April 25, 5:50 p.m. ET
Click on the image to the left for a list of potential trial witnesses.
Other documents related to the trial can be found here.
Penny Foyer Thoughts
April 25, 3:30 p.m. ET
The most dangerous place in Phil Spector’s house is the foyer, according to Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson. In his opening statement, Jackson spoke of Spector’s “history of pulling guns on unarmed women.” Jackson said jurors would hear from no fewer than four women who had the experience of being threatened with a gun by a drunken Spector when they informed him that they’d like to go home. None of them, unfortunately, pressed charges, apparently because they were worried about tabloid publicity.
Diane Ogden-Halder, Jackson said, will describe being held at gunpoint in, yes, the foyer of Spector’s Pasadena house in 1988. She’ll say Spector pressed the barrel of the gun to her cheek, face, and neck (this is significant because the murder victim, Lana Clarkson, was shot through the mouth) and then made her lie down on his bed, where she went to sleep. The next day, Spector acted as though nothing had happened.
Jackson said Ogden-Halder will also say Spector pulled a gun on her on another occasion as she was leaving a dinner party, this time chasing her out the door as she headed to her car. “If you try to leave, I’ll kill you,” he said as she floored it down his driveway and out the front gate.
Melissa Grosvenor, Jackson said, will describe the same scene at the Pasadena house in 1995. She wanted to leave; he got a pistol and held it “inches from her face.” She fell asleep sitting on his couch. The next day, Spector acted as though nothing had happened.
Dorothy Melvin, Jackson said, will describe a slight variation on this scene in 1993. In this instance, Melvin came to Spector’s house for a drink, fell asleep on his couch, woke up the next morning, walked out to her car, and found Spector pointing a pistol at it. When Spector saw her, he spun around, slapped her with his gun hand, and asked, “Where were you?” Then he pointed the gun in her face and said, “Get the fuck back in the house.” He held her in, yes, the foyer. When she finally persuaded him to let her leave, Spector said, “The purse stays here” and threw her the keys. She got into her car, drove the car to the gate, and found it shut. Spector chased her down the drive with a pump-action shotgun, saying, “I told you to get the fuck out of here.” She persuaded him to open the gate and sped away. Later, Melvin had the Pasadena police retrieve her purse.
Stephanie Jennings, Jackson said, will describe attending a Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame induction with Spector in New York. She then headed over to the Carlisle Hotel, where Spector was putting her up. Spector, who owned a personal suite at the hotel, showed up at her hotel room and asked her to join him; she refused; he said she had to because he was paying; she threatened to leave; he stalked off, returned with a pistol, and set a chair against her hotel-room door. Jennings phoned 911. Jackson said he will introduce as evidence a 911 dispatch in which Jennings is quoted saying, “Please help. The man is standing by the phone. He’s a big celebrity. His name is Phil Spector.” The cops arrived and escorted her out.
What we appear to have here is a lethal case of separation anxiety. Spector’s trial has barely begun, and already the dude is looking very, very guilty. As he watches Jackson, Spector nods his head left and right while his right hand shakes in his lap.