The runaway roller coaster of a murder trial against Phil Spector, the aptly named celebrity songwriter and record producer, is off and running again.
Testimony began Monday in the trial where Spector, 68, is charged with killing 40-year-old former actress Lana Clarkson in 2003.
Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines the word specter as "something that haunts or perturbs the mind" and there is no question that this case does both.
After three dates on a single night, Spector met up with Clarkson, down on her luck and working as a hostess at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. Clarkson (pictured right) left the club with Spector shortly after midnight the evening of February 3, and was later found shot at the mansion where he lived alone in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra.
Emergency responders to the scene found Clarkson dead in the foyer of Spector's mansion with a single gunshot wound to the mouth. Spector claimed that Clarkson had accidentally shot herself when she tried to kiss his gun. Kiss his gun? Give me a break.
While awaiting trial Spector remained free on a million-dollar bond. After numerous postponements, the first round of the circus called a murder trial began with a month-long jury selection in April 2007. Twelve jurors, including nine men and three women—along with seven alternates—were ultimately seated to hear the case.
When the trial progressed to testimony, the courtroom became a theater of the bizarre. The frock-coated defendant with electrified hair watched from the hot seat as a strange parade of self-promoters postured and preened in the limelight of the high-profile celebrity trial. From Clarkson's so-called best friend Irene "Punkin pie" Laughlin whose attire gained as much attention as her testimony . . . to convicted Hollywood madam Jody "Babydol" Gibson . . . the colorful cast of characters parading in and out of the courtroom seemed more suited to a television sitcom than to the seriousness of a murder trial.
Lost in the translation was the clear-cut evidence of Spector's guilt. Multiple witnesses testified about Spector's long history of violent confrontations with women, his obsession with guns and his previous trigger-happy threats to shoot various women in the head. The Medical Examiner found bruising on Clarkson's tongue consistent with the gun being shoved in her mouth and testimony from Spector's chauffeur revealed that shortly after the shooting Spector exited his mansion saying "I think that I shot somebody."
At the conclusion of last year's testimony, after a week-long impasse, jurors delared that they were deadlocked. A mistrial was declared on September 26th 2007. Spector remained free on bond awaiting retrial while all previous members of his defense team—with one exception—either resigned or were dismissed by Spector.
In a bizarre post-trial twist, Spector, apparently eager for another courtroom fight, sued his first attorney Robert Shapiro civilly to recoup his million-dollar retainer fee. Spector alleged that Shapiro had used the case for the purpose of garnering publicity for himself. Spector further claimed that Shapiro abused his trust and that he might not have been charged with the crime but for Shapiro's self-promoting actions.
The retrial, thankfully, is already showing signs that it will be a toned-down version of the first trial's debacle. Spector's disjointed legal team of the first trial has been replaced by veteran attorney Doron Weinberg. The jury selection was accomplished in half the time that it took in the first trial and both sides project that the trial will take about half of the six months that it took to try last time.
Even Spector's appearance is considerably toned down this time around. His "finger in the electric socket" hairstyle has been replaced by a much flatter and more modified style, while his frock coats have been replaced by long-coated suits.
Let's hope that this time the focus is where it belongs, squarely on the actions of a man whose history, words, and behavior scream out for a guilty verdict and on the fact-pattern that screams out for the justice that has been eluded for far too long.
Statements made in this post are my own and are not intended to reflect the views, opinions, or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.