Veteran music producer accused of murder
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The death of actress Lana Clarkson at Phil Spector’s hillside castle stunned Hollywood five years ago. It is a distant memory now as Spector, the eccentric musical genius behind some of rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest sounds, goes on trial for a second time.
It’s a year since the jury in his first murder trial failed to reach a verdict, bringing a mistrial and now a retrial.
The jury deadlocked 10-2 with the majority favoring conviction. Prosecutors feel they can clinch a conviction on second-degree murder this time. But Spector’s new lawyer is aiming for an acquittal.
Opening statements were scheduled for Wednesday and both sides were predicting a more focused trial.
The first trial lasted five months. Both sides predict a conclusion in less than half that time. Perhaps there will be fewer witnesses and those who make return appearances may spend less time on the witness stand.
It’s time to tell a new jury the strange story of the gun-toting music icon who went out on the town one night, met a beautiful blond actress working as a club hostess and took her home. In the wee hours of the morning of Feb. 3, 2003, she wound up dead in the grand foyer of Spector’s home, a gunshot through her mouth.
What happened has been in dispute ever since.
In the first trial, the defense argued that Clarkson, 40, despondent over her fading career, killed herself. The prosecution said she resisted Spector’s sexual advances and he shot her. But there were no witnesses to the shooting and Spector never testified.
Spector’s retrial could write the final chapter in the dark saga.
Testimony will seem familiar – the account of Spector’s night on the town with three different dates, stopping at luxurious watering holes before ending up at the House of Blues where Clarkson, down on her luck getting movie roles, was hostess.
Once again, a chauffeur is expected to tell of delivering Spector and Clarkson to the home, hearing a shot and seeing his boss emerge with a gun saying, “I think I killed somebody.”
Prosecutors will present evidence of Spector’s past obsession with guns and a pattern of confrontations with women. The defense may focus on Clarkson’s luckless life in Hollywood after a brief splash of fame in the film “Barbarian Queen.”
Five women from Spector’s past are due to testify, including one who may be brought back from the dead via video recordings of her testimony at the first trial. Diane Ogden died a few months after the trial ended.
But the drama of the first trial, when witnesses’ stories were new and memories were fresher, will be muted.
“The facts don’t change,” said district attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons. “The evidence we’ll be presenting is the same evidence as the first trial. We feel that we have a very strong case.”
Alan Jackson remains as lead prosecutor, but Spector’s large and often dysfunctional legal team from the first trial has been replaced by a veteran lawyer from San Francisco, Doron Weinberg. He says he will put the facts “in a little sharper focus.”
“We intend to rely on the same basic evidence,” said Weinberg, adding that the central defense theory regarding Clarkson will be, “She fired the fatal shot.”
With the passage of time, Spector, once the colorful, wildly coifed star of the court, seems to have faded into a supporting role to the vigorous lawyers ready to do battle.
He comes to court in long-coated suits with silk ties and sits silently at the counsel table while his young wife, Rachelle, waits in the spectator section. When he rises from his chair to leave the courtroom, she comes forward to take his arm, as if he would fall over without her support.
“The stress of another trial is wearing on him,” said Weinberg. “He’s optimistic but there is stress.”
During jury selection, only a few prospects remembered Spector’s heyday as the inventor of the “Wall of Sound” recording technique and producer of teen anthems including “To Know Him is to Love Him,” the Ronettes’ classic “Be My Baby,” The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin.'” He also produced Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep-Mountain High” and worked on a Beatles album with John Lennon.