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Phil Spector's fate is in jury's hands

March 27, 2009|Harriet Ryan

The fate of Phil Spector, who gained fame working with John Lennon, Tina Turner and other pop music stars in a recording studio, now rests in the hands of an East Los Angeles bus driver, a San Gabriel social worker, a Whittier postal clerk and nine other citizens.

After listening to five months of testimony, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury began deliberating Spector's role in the fatal shooting of actress Lana Clarkson at his home six years ago.

The panel is to decide what another jury two years ago could not: whether Clarkson's death was suicide, as the defense contends, or murder, as the prosecution alleges.

A third choice unavailable to the panel in the first proceeding, involuntary manslaughter, is required by law, but embraced by neither side.

Spector, 69, whose "Wall of Sound" technique produced densely layered recordings he called "little symphonies for the kiddies," faces a minimum of 18 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. The manslaughter charge carries two to four years in prison.

Spector's defense maintains that Clarkson was depressed and turned his .38 Special on herself. Prosecutors allege that he shot her in the mouth after she tried to leave his Alhambra mansion.

In a final argument before the panelists filed into the jury room, a prosecutor seized on the actress' chance meeting with Spector three hours before her death at a Sunset Strip Club where she was a VIP room hostess.

As he had in the 2007 trial that ended in a hung jury, Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson asked jurors to imagine they could speak one sentence to the actress before she got in Spector's chauffeured Mercedes-Benz.

"You are all thinking the same thing," Jackson said. Dropping his voice to a whisper, he continued, "You'd say, 'Lana, whatever you do, don't go.' "

He said the impulse to warn Clarkson came from jurors' knowledge of "the real Phil Spector" -- a "demon" with a history of menacing women with guns.

Spector, dressed in a black suit and chartreuse tie, remained stoic, even when the prosecutor pointed an accusing finger at him.

"The reality is that Phil Spector had his hand on that gun and Lana Clarkson ended up dead," he said.

Outside the presence of the jury, Spector's attorney moved for a mistrial on the grounds that the prosecutor's argument had impermissibly suggested that the producer had a propensity to commit crimes. The request was denied.

After jurors left the courtroom, Clarkson's mother, Donna, her face wet with tears, hugged the prosecutor.

The jury includes three gun owners, seven people who reported knowing someone who committed suicide and one man who identified himself as a fan of Spector.

--

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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