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Spector prosecutor keeps up challenge of defense witness

Attorney questions the independence of the prominent forensic pathologist.

June 29, 2007|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

In fierce cross-examination Thursday in which his independence and common sense were impugned, Vincent DiMaio, the prominent forensic pathologist testifying for the defense in the Phil Spector murder trial, repeated his position that Lana Clarkson committed suicide.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson pointedly asked DiMaio if he shaped his testimony "depending on which way it benefits Mr. Spector, your client." DiMaio smiled dismissively at the rhetorical question.

In his third and final day on the stand, DiMaio again said gunshot residue, blood and tissue stains on Clarkson's hands and arms and the fact that she was shot in the mouth led him to believe she committed suicide in Spector's Alhambra home on Feb. 3, 2003.

DiMaio, formerly the chief medical examiner of Bexar County, Texas, is a well-known expert witness. Disputing the Los Angeles County coroner's ruling of Clarkson's death as a homicide, he also said he believed Clarkson was depressed about financial troubles and stalled acting aspirations.

Jackson asked DiMaio why he did not mention Spector's background, which included gunpoint threats against women, in his written assessment of her death. "This report was intended for you, and I figured you already knew this," DiMaio said, looking not at Jackson but at the jurors.

Jackson again sideswiped DiMaio's credibility: "The hallmark of any credible expert is to ensure the expert is 100% objective, correct?"

"Correct," DiMaio replied.

DiMaio said Clarkson had far more gunshot residue on her hands than Spector, which supported the position that she fired the gun.

Jackson asked DiMaio if it wasn't possible that Spector washed his hands, since Clarkson's blood was smeared around the house by Spector, yet there was no blood on his hands when he was arrested.

DiMaio said there was no blood on the taps of the bathroom sink, so Spector probably did not wash his hands. Jackson asked if Spector could have rinsed his hands in the toilet, where a bloody rag was found.

"You usually wash your hands in the sink, not the toilet," DiMaio said, prompting laughter from the jury.

"What if you just killed somebody?" Jackson snapped.

DiMaio said a panicked person would revert to habit and use the sink, not the toilet. He repeatedly said he doubted Spector would have washed in the toilet, which prompted Jackson to ask, "Again, isn't it the hallmark of a credible expert that you don't shade your testimony toward one side or the other?"

"Correct," DiMaio again replied.

When DiMaio said Clarkson, who stood nearly 6 feet tall and was in excellent physical condition, could have wrestled the gun from the diminutive Spector's hands, Jackson asked if DiMaio was being "ridiculous."

"Have you ever taken a gun from someone's hands?" Jackson asked.

"I've done it on two occasions," DiMaio replied.

"Are you not shading your testimony to benefit one side?" Jackson again asked.

Just before DiMaio finished, Spector attorney Christopher J. Plourd asked him if he had any interest in the outcome of the case. "No," DiMaio said.

"That last answer was a real big shocker," Jackson said sarcastically.

The trial will be in recess next week for the July 4 holiday. The defense will resume July 9.

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