After Long Trial, Spector Case Ready for Jury

Will a Los Angeles jury finally convict a celebrity of murder? During closing arguments in the murder trial of legendary music producer Phil Spector, defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden brought up L.A. prosecutors' past failures to get juries to convict well-known homicide defendants. She didn't mention O.J. Simpson or actor Robert Blake by name. But she alluded to the D.A.'s "history of bad results" in high-profile cases and broadly hinted that the Spector case was a rush to judgment to finally earn prosecutors "a celebrity notch in the government's gun belt."

Spector is accused of killing actress and cocktail hostess Lana Clarkson with a single gunshot to the mouth at 5 a.m. on Feb. 3, 2003, in the foyer of his hilltop "castle" in Alhambra, Calif. Prosecutors led by deputy district attorney Alan Jackson say that Spector, drunk after a night at restaurants and clubs, coaxed Clarkson, a hostess he'd met that evening at the House of Blues, into coming home with him. Then, when she insisted on leaving and sat next to the back door with a leopard-print purse tucked under her arm, an angry Spector pulled a gun from a nearby bureau and shoved it into Clarkson's mouth, prosecutors say. The gun went off in the struggle. Prosecutors got the last word on Friday, and after jury instructions on Monday, the nine-man, three-woman panel will begin deliberations, after more than four months, to decide whether Spector is guilty. If they convict him of the single count of murder, Spector, 67, would face a sentence of 15 years to life.

Friday, Kenney Baden concluded by directly attacking the key elements of the prosecutors's story. She asserted that a vital prosecution witness, Spector's chauffeur Adriano De Souza, was flat wrong when he testified that he saw Spector holding the gun that killed Clarkson minutes after the shooting and cast doubt on whether he heard Spector say, "I think I killed somebody." She blasted crime-scene technicians for what she said were "over 80" mistakes and discrepancies in the forensic evidence, and asserted "there is no scientific evidence to support Phillip Spector's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." And Kenney Baden ridiculed prosecutors's reliance on the testimony of five women who said that Spector had previously threatened them with guns. "These incidents occurred 20, 30 years ago, and somehow they supply a motive" for murdering Clarkson, Kenney Baden noted dismissively.

In the prosecution's final rebuttal Friday afternoon, assistant D.A. Pat Dixon fired back that the women's chilling stories clearly showed Spector's tendency to get angry and brandish guns when women didn't do what he wanted. Dixon reminded jurors that the chauffeur's gun and confession story has been consistent ever since he spoke to a 911 operator that brought police to Spector's home just minutes after Clarkson's death. (Spector himself didn't call 911 even though there was a phone next to the dead woman, Dixon reminded jurors. "Not a call at all," Dixon said. "Why? Because he murdered her.") He mocked defense expert Dr. Michael Baden (Kenney Baden's husband) for a "last minute Hail Mary" for floating a theory to account for the blood on Spector: that the bullet didn't actually sever Clarkson's spine as medical reports said it had, leaving the dying woman free to breathe blood on Spector as he tried to save her. And he insisted that Spector showed he was guilty by wiping blood from her face as he "planted the gun under her left foot" before police arrived. "This was a staged crime scene," he told jurors.

Prosecutors contend Spector is guilty of second-degree murder through an "implied malice" theory that means he could be found guilty whether he actually pulled the trigger or not—as long as Spector was aware that his actions in pointing the Colt Cobra that killed her were potentially deadly and he ignored the dangers. Jackson even said in his summation that Spector was guilty even if he pointed the loaded gun at her and an earthquake triggered the shot that killed Clarkson. (Kenney Baden sarcastically replied that the cause of the shot "must have been the San Andreas fault.")

Spector's defense insisted that Clarkson alone "held the gun and pulled the trigger," as Kenney Baden said. Spector stood too far away from Clarkson to have been the shooter and they offered several alternative (and sometimes contradictory) theories about how Spector got blood on his coat, hand and pants—including the idea that Spector rushed to help the woman after she shot herself. The 40-year-old actress, a striking six-foot blonde who'd once stared in Roger Corman's "Barbarian Queen" was, according the defense, depressed over supposedly crumbling finances, being single and childless at 40, and, after two decades of dogged effort, failing to hit it big in Hollywood.

The closing arguments were remarkable for the lawyers' opposing styles. Prosecutor Alan Jackson was smooth, animated and theatrical on Wednesday as he laid into what he blasted as Spector's "checkbook defense." He belittled some defense evidence as "laughable" and "pathetic." He strongly implied that defense experts and even friends of Clarkson delivered testimony favorable to the defendant out of self-interest or even collusion with defense attorneys. "If you hire enough experts who are paid enough money you can get them to say about anything," Jackson charged. His jabs drew a rebuke from Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler who told jurors that the trial produced no evidence that "defense counsel asked a witness to testify untruthfully in any way."

Jackson wove a sometimes-spellbinding tale, assisted by over 100 photos and charts that flashed behind him. He started, theatrically, by showing a photo of the parking lot at the House of Blues where Spector met the reluctant Clarkson and, cupping his hands to his mouth, asking jurors whether they wouldn't want to tell Clarkson, "Don't go." And he walked jurors through his version of the murder and cover up in which he said Spector shot her, then spent time trying to cover it up, in part by planting the gun at her left foot (she was right handed) and then wiping her with a diaper dipped in toilet water. ("Toilet water!" he bellowed. "Toilet water!") He closed his argument by showing a clip of Clarkson's acting in a demo reel and saying, "That was the life that Phillip Spector stole."

By contrast, Kenney Baden, whose specialty is forensics, was a far less polished orator. She stumbled occasionally and worked from a thick notebook, apparently reading at times. But she had little trouble getting across her main point: the prosecutor's argument consisted of "a variety of government speculations." She belittled Jackson's case—and his closing arguments Wednesday—as little but theatrics and storytelling. "They made up their institutional mind on Day One that this must be a murder despite the clear scientific evidence disputing that fact."

Where Jackson had sketched his case in broad emotional strokes, she dwelled on the minutiae of blood spatter, "GSR" (gunshot residue), "tape lifts" and other forensic details. Her strategic point: to show that prosecutors resorted to emotional "tall tales" to divert attention from weak forensic evidence. "Stories don't trump science," she repeated. She laid heavy emphasis on the relative lack of blood spatter on Spector's white coat. The coat showed tiny splatter marks on the left front, and none at all on the right sleeve that would presumably have been closest to Clarkson's mouth if the right-handed Spector had been holding the gun. "The right arm of the jacket was pristine," she told jurors. "That jacket proves ... that Phillip Spector is innocent." The blood and residue found on Clarkson "would have been all over Phillip Spector if he was had been in her face, pushing a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger."

The fact that Spector chose the plodding orator Kenney Baden as his closer was just the last instance of the revolving door leadership of the defense team. Long before the case began, he'd hired and fired two lead attorneys, former O.J. lawyer Robert Shapiro and former Menendez attorney Leslie Abramson. Then last month, Spector told his third lead attorney, brash New York lawyer Bruce Cutler, that he wouldn't be delivering the close since he'd alienated judge and jury with his overbearing manner. (He also disappeared from court in the middle of the trial to tape a reality show.) Other lawyers on his team had also grated on the judge or jury, so Spector tapped Baden Kenney. "It was probably the smartest choice he had," says University of Southern California law professor Jean Rosenbluth, a former prosecutor.

Kenney Baden referred frequently to her expert witnesses, but glided over controversies. One of them was her husband, Michael Baden, a former member of Simpson's defense, who drew the judge's ire when he testified, without alerting prosecutors in advance, that he'd come up with the theory that Clarkson—despite a virtually severed spinal cord—hadn't died immediately, but rather had continued breathing long enough to exhale blood on Spector. Another OJ veteran (working for the defense, blood-spatter expert Dr. Henry Lee, didn't testify at all in the case after the judge concluded that he improperly removed a piece of white substance from the floor near where Clarkson lay and didn't share it with prosecutors. Lee denied taking anything improperly, and Judge Fidler said he was free to testify, but his appearance on the stand would have forced an embarrassing discussion in front of jurors and the defense never called him. Prosecutors claimed, with no evidence, that the missing white object was a fragment of Clarkson's fingernail that might have proved she used her hands to ward off the gun.

Jurors will have a lot to chew over in addition to the lawyers' words. They listened to 77 witnesses since the case began on April 28, and both sides dwelled at length on forensic evidence. Now they'll have to decide if the one-time producer to the Beatles, the Righteous Brothers and Ike and Tina Turner will return to his Alhambra castle, or be sent to state prison.