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Spector trial comes down to the wire

The prosecution begins closing arguments, accusing the record producer of using a 'checkbook defense' to dodge a conviction.

September 06, 2007|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

Closing arguments in the Phil Spector murder trial began Wednesday with a prosecutor accusing the defendant of mounting a "checkbook defense" by hiring paid experts to bend and twist the truth about his fatal shooting of actress Lana Clarkson.

"If you hire enough lawyers who hire enough experts who are paid enough money, you can get them to say anything," prosecutor Alan Jackson said during his daylong statement. "Phil Spector thinks if he throws enough money at a problem, he can solve the problem."

Clarkson was found dead, shot in the mouth, in Spector's home on Feb. 3, 2003. The defense, whose arguments are scheduled for today, says the 40-year-old actress, despondent over a fading career, killed herself.

Spector, who worked with artists including the Righteous Brothers and the Beatles, and Clarkson, who starred in the Roger Corman film "Barbarian Queen," had met only hours earlier at the House of Blues nightclub, where she worked as a VIP hostess. The prosecution presented five women who testified that a drunken Spector, during past incidents, held them at gunpoint when they tried to leave him. On those occasions, the gun never went off.

Jackson said that whether or not the snub-nosed revolver that killed Clarkson went off by accident or during a struggle, it was still second-degree murder, even if the 67-year-old music producer had not meant to kill her.

"If one knowingly points a loaded gun at a person and the gun goes off, for any reason -- any reason -- that is second-degree murder" under California law, Jackson said.

He likened Spector's behavior to that of pranksters who drop bowling balls from a freeway overpass, unintentionally resulting in drivers crashing their cars and dying. Jackson said that under California law, such conscious disregard for human life would warrant a second-degree murder conviction.

"We . . . do . . . not . . . have . . . to . . . prove . . . an . . . intent . . . to . . . kill," Jackson told jurors, pausing after each word for effect.

Jackson reminded jurors of the testimony of Spector's driver, Adriano DeSouza, who said that after he heard a loud noise, he saw a bloodied Spector come out of the house holding a revolver. DeSouza said the music producer told him, "I think I killed somebody."

Jackson replayed in the courtroom DeSouza's 911 phone calls and pointed out that Spector never phoned for help, despite having 14 telephones in his Alhambra mansion.

Jackson characterized Spector's defense as divided thematically into two components: attacks on Clarkson and weak forensic science.

The defense broke a promise made in its opening statements not to disparage Clarkson, Jackson said, by attacking the victim through a shaky witness, Punkin Pie Laughlin. She testified that she was Clarkson's best friend and that the actress was distraught over her failing career, financial problems and a recent breakup, bolstering the defense's suicide theory.

Jackson called Laughlin an attention-seeker who initially told a sheriff's investigator that Clarkson was not depressed but then changed her story after she was contacted by the defense.

After dismissing Laughlin as one who changed her name "to a Thanksgiving Day dessert," Jackson went after the defense's expert witnesses, who are among the most recognizable figures in forensic science.

Using a board, Jackson displayed a list of 10 scientific points that Spector attorney Linda Kenney Baden had said showed that Clarkson shot herself. They included scattered bloodstains on Spector's jacket; the defense said the sparsity of the spots showed the defendant was standing too far from Clarkson for him to have fired the gun inside her mouth. The defense also said in its opening statement that Clarkson's DNA was found on bullets inside the murder weapon, indicating that she must have loaded the gun.

Jackson said none of the claims proved valid in the trial. As he cited evidence disputing the contentions, he drew a red "X" over each point on the list.

He then noted how each of the defense's forensic pathologists, Werner Spitz, Vincent DiMaio and Michael Baden, initially came to identical conclusions in their reports, which were all filed within five days of one another this year. Jackson projected their images on a screen under the heading "The Script."

Jackson asked jurors to rely on common sense when judging the defense's scientific experts, whom he said presented six explanations at various times to support their claim that Clarkson had shot herself.

The prosecutor wrapped up his argument in Los Angeles Superior Court with video clips of the five women who had testified that Spector threatened them with guns, following that up with footage of DeSouza testifying that Spector told him he had killed somebody.

Finally, Jackson showed a video Clarkson had used to promote herself, showing her in a variety of sultry and glamorous poses underscored by an upbeat Steely Dan tune.

"Lana Clarkson is entitled to your justice," he told the jury.

peter.hong@latimes.com

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