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Jurors visit Phil Spector's house

Taking notes, they examine the spot where Lana Clarkson died six years ago.

February 20, 2009|Harriet Ryan

Phil Spector stood inside the front door of his mansion Thursday morning wearing a chocolate brown suit, a shiny gold tie and an impassive expression.

Before him, a group of people milled about on the crimson carpet of his foyer. They studied his furniture, peered at personal photos and inspected an adjacent bathroom. They strolled through his living room and gazed at his grand piano.

Through it all, Spector displayed a stoicism at odds with the day's very high stakes. The men and women who shuffled through his Alhambra residence are jurors in his murder retrial, and what they took from the tour will probably bear on whether the 69-year-old music producer can remain under its turreted roof or is sent behind prison walls.

The jurors spent an hour on the hilltop property where actress Lana Clarkson died six years ago. Spector's defense claims she shot herself. The prosecution maintains that he pulled the trigger after she tried to cut short a night of drinking and romance. A 2007 trial ended in a hung jury.

Since the retrial began in October, jurors have heard abundant testimony about the house, but the defense requested the field trip and Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler granted it. The judge told the panel that seeing it firsthand would give them a sense of spatial relations that witnesses and evidence photos could never convey.

Scribbling in their court-issued notebooks, the jurors moved slowly through three first-floor rooms Clarkson is known to have been in before her death. The decor evoked the name by which the 30-room house has long been known -- the Pyrenees Castle. Two suits of armor stood in the foyer and chandeliers shaped like candelabras illuminated the rooms.

There were a few signs of the source of Spector's renown: the white piano, a John Lennon print on a living room wall and, in the foyer, two snapshots of Spector with Nancy Sinatra.

The jurors lingered near the ivory brocade chair where Clarkson died. What the bloodstains mean is a key forensic dispute in the trial. During the 2007 jury visit, another chair stood in its place and several jurors sat in it as they attempted to replicate Clarkson's final position. For the retrial, the bloodstained chair was taken to the house from the courtroom and jurors were warned against sitting on the furniture. One juror, a research scientist, spent two minutes staring intently at the chair from different angles.

Jurors also appeared to use the visit to evaluate the testimony of a chauffeur who said Spector told him moments after the shooting, "I think I killed somebody." The defense contends the chauffeur misheard the words because of a burbling fountain nearby, and one of the defense purposes in requesting the field trip was to expose jurors to the volume of the fountain. It was splashing loudly as some panelists circled it.

Several alternate jurors seemed to be trying to re-create the encounter between Spector and the chauffeur, with one standing near the door while others talked to her from the chauffeur's location.

After a private meeting on the edge of Spector's driveway, the panel submitted nine questions for the judge. Several concerned lighting conditions at the time of the shooting. They also asked for permission to sit in a sedan taken to the house to represent Spector's chauffeured Mercedes. The request was denied.


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