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Spector murder trial starts with screening of potential jurors

Candidates who are not dismissed are to return next month for questioning by lawyers.

March 20, 2007|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

The murder trial of music producer Phil Spector began Monday with the screening of potential jurors for a courtroom battle that could last four months and will be televised.

Spector is accused of killing 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson at his Alhambra mansion in February 2003. She was killed by a gunshot through her mouth.

Spector, 66, has pleaded not guilty.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler said he would spend two days sifting through a pool of 300 prospective jurors, dismissing those unable to serve the estimated length of the trial for personal reasons.

The first 150 were screened Monday, with Fidler excusing 43 for such reasons as health problems, child-care duties and employers not providing sufficient paid time to serve.

The remaining candidates were given an 18-page questionnaire meant to help lawyers identify biases that could unduly influence a verdict. Among the questions are those asking about views on gun ownership and whether celebrities are treated equally in the justice system.

There are also finely detailed questions about which media the potential jurors follow, such as whether they read Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez or watch Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly.

After the second group of 150 candidates is screened today, the jury pool is scheduled to return April 16 to be questioned by prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Spector appeared in court with his wife of less than a year, Rachelle Short. He wore a long, dark coat over a tan, open-collared shirt. His hair, wildly tousled in earlier court appearances, was neatly styled in long blond tresses.

Spector did not speak to the throng of reporters outside the criminal courts building in downtown L.A. His attorney, Roger J. Rosen, said Spector was enduring "an incredibly intimidating process" but "will be in court every day. He will find strength as he already has done to get through what would be an ominous task for anyone."

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