It's that time again. We have another celebrity trial coming up in southern California, and it's time to focus all our attention on this trial. Phil Spector will be on trial again in October, after an appellate court turned down his bid for a continuance. It looks like he is going to have a really tough time this go-around.
Some people think that attorneys, particularly prosecutors and defense attorneys, are have some sort of crystal ball and know what is going to happen in these cases. That's usually not the case. I personally have only a fair bit of knowledge from the case that I got from the last trial. But I have to wonder why it hung last time, and I have to admit that it seems like the case for murder is a LOT tougher for the DA on a closer look than it appears on the surface.
First, it is absolutely clear that Spector is a TERRIBLE defendant. He LOOKS guilty. Every picture of him has him scowling and looking weird. His haircuts deviate so far from what one could expect at Supercuts, and he always looks like he just ate a handful of pills followed by a fifth of Vodka. The 'scary-defendant-look' almost did in Michael Jackson, but Jackson had a great jury and a terrible victim and horrible victim's mother (for the prosecution, anyway). Robert Blake also had a great criminal jury and a horrible victim. Blake's civil jury was another matter (10 to 2 for the plaintiff), but Blake's testimony wasn't very good. I mean, when you explain that you couldn't have shot your ex-wife because, at the moment she was being shot, you were in the restaurant picking up the gun you left behind, there's a good chance no one will believe you. I was convinced in all 3 cases that the juries would find them guilty despite the evidence, ESPECIALLY Michale Jackson, all because of how the media portrayed them, and how their individual pasts looked.
In an older time in California, the Spector trial would be a slam-dunk NG. His past problems with women would have been excluded just about everywhere in California. But now, with Evidence Code 1109 (One of the "OJ Exception" amendments to the Evidence Code), virtually all 'domestic violence' testimony comes in in trials involving violence to women. Plus, judges are really, really conservative everywhere, and they look for reasons to let in stuff prejudicial to defendants. Add to that the fact that California appellate courts routinely rubber-stamp judges who let in such evidence, and you get the clear impression that the burden is on the defense to keep such stuff out, and it is a heavy burden indeed.
There are now six women who will testify, to various degrees, that Spector has a habit of inviting women into his home, presumably to get kinky with him, and then putting a gun in their mouths to prevent them from leaving. I have to admit that this is kind of troubling, from a defense perspective. I mean, really? Six women who will testify that Spector put a gun in their mouth and threatened them to prevent them from leaving? And the woman in this case died, unsurprisingly, from a gunshot in her mouth. What are the odds? It sounds almost picture-perfect - Spector plays the same trick and, oops, this time the gun goes off. 2nd degree murder, here we come. Add to this the fact that Spector clearly tried to clean up the murder scene. There is no good explanation for the fact that he showered.
Of course, the prosecution has serious problems with the idea that there had been a struggle - no Spector DNA under the victim, Lana Clarkson's, nails, and no Spector DNA on the gun, only the victim's. Likewise, there is a gunshot residue (GSR) problem in that Spector's clothing should have had more GSR on it had he been the one holding the gun when it was fired - he was simply too far away.
So why did the first jury hang? Possibly because two of the members insisted on following the law. Judge Fidler will be on the retrial, and he almost persuaded the jury to convict Spector the first time - multiple attempts to remove Fidler have proven unsuccessful, and if the DA can't get a conviction this time, then it was simply not meant to be. It couldn't get any easier for them.
Why did this case hang 10 to 2 the first time? First, no voluntary manslaughter instruction. That likely would have tipped the balance. This is a strongly possible, I would even say say the likely scenario: Spector goes through his threat-with-a-gun routine, something he is famous for (see the 6 women who will testify to this conduct). Clarkson takes gun from the weak, old, pill-and-alcohol-obsessed geezer and they talk. She is REALLY depressed, especially at the fact that she let this sad dude take her home, ostensibly for sex. At some point, she shoots herself, with Spector about 10 feet away or so. Spector panics, then does everything in his feeble power to clean up, and slips up a lot along the way. He feels guilty about what happened, and he says that he "might have killed her" to the limo driver, and gives something of a confession to the police. What we would have is a clear case of voluntary manslaughter, or at least negligent homicide. At a minimum, Spector gave a gun to a depressed woman, and that is the essence of negligent homicide.
But here is the twist, and here is where our justice system fails us. The DA COULD HAVE charged this likely scenario (in my mind, anyway), but they didn't. Oh, no. They had to have 2nd degree murder, regardless of whether it fit the facts. And on retrial they could just as easily add a charge (with a new preliminary hearing) of voluntary manslaughter. But they won't, because they don't want Spector to get such a "light" sentence. Even though it is much more likely what happened than what they contend.
Prediction: Spector will lose on 2nd degree murder this time, with a big assist from Fidler. However, there is a possibility that the defense will agree (or Fidler will order over objection) to a voluntary manslaughter potential verdict. I seriously doubt Spector will agree, because he'll get 21 years out of it (11 for the manslaughter + 10 for the use of the gun), and at his age it is a death sentence (he would have to serve 17.8 years before he is eligible for parole). But a fair jury, if Spector gets one, will have a difficult time imposing 2nd degree murder. Because that just isn't what happened.
Either way, justice will be ill-served for poor Lana Clarkson. And before anyone says how callous I am about poor, depressed Lana, just ask yourself these questions: Where were those who cared so much for Lana Clarkson when she was struggling with depression in cold, cold Hollywood? Where were they when she was out of money and working as a hostess at the House of Blues, struggling to make her car payment? Where were they then?
The Guest PD Blogger