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Expert defense witness testifies results of Spector alcohol tests were unreliable

July 18, 2007|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

It is uncertain whether Phil Spector was drunk the night he allegedly murdered actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra mansion, an expert witness testified in the famous record producer's murder trial Tuesday.

Robert A. Middleberg, a forensic toxicologist hired by Spector's defense team, said tests of Spector's urine taken the morning of Feb. 3, 2003, hours after Clarkson was found shot through the mouth in Spector's home, were unreliable.

Prosecutors contend that a drunk Spector shot Clarkson. Spector's attorneys alleged that she committed suicide.

Spector, 67, who produced records for the Beatles, Righteous Brothers and other influential artists, met Clarkson, a struggling, 40-year-old actress, at the House of Blues nightclub where she was working as a hostess.

Middleberg said urine samples are not an optimal way to test for the presence of alcohol. Substances can accumulate over time in urine, he said, and alcohol can be produced by yeast and sugar reactions in a urine sample after it is taken. The reading of an alcohol level in a urine sample also can skew higher if the person has not urinated recently, Middleberg said.

Prosecutor Alan Jackson drew on information from earlier testimony in his cross-examination of Middleberg. Adding up the drinks that Spector reportedly consumed the night Clarkson was shot, Jackson asked if a man would be intoxicated if he had a daiquiri, two Navy Grogs containing three shots of liquor in each, and four additional drinks in one night.

"That's a very difficult question to answer," Middleberg said.

Jackson then asked if a 135-pound man (Spector's reported weight) would be intoxicated after taking those drinks.

Citing individual differences in tolerance and the lack of information on how quickly the drinks were consumed, Middleberg said it would be impossible to say.

When Jackson asked if he could use common sense to form an opinion, Middleberg said, "You would have to do an experiment with the individual."

Also on Tuesday, Judge Larry Paul Fidler ruled that former convicted madam Jody Babydol Gibson could not testify for the defense. Gibson alleges Clarkson had worked for her as an escort.

Fidler said her testimony was "irrelevant at this time" and would be "highly prejudicial to the people and to Lana Clarkson and her family unless other matters come in." Fidler left open the possibility that Gibson could testify if future evidence in the trial made her testimony relevant.

peter.hong@latimes.com

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