Phil Spector, inventor of the “Wall of Sound” and one-time producer of The Beatles, was tonight found guilty of murder—more than six years after a blonde cocktail hostess died of a gunshot wound to the mouth at his Los Angeles home.
Spector, 69, a music icon synonymous with the Sixties — and also renowned for his later work with such acts as The Ramones and Tina Turner—faces a prison sentence of 15 years to life after being held responsible for the death of Lana Clarkson in the early hours of Monday, February 3, 2003.
A heavy drinker who reportedly cultivated an obsession with bodyguards and firearms after once being accosted and urinated on by four men in a public toilet, Spector declined to testify during the trial, in spite of being perhaps the only witness.
The producer’s only statement on the shooting to date remains a 2003 comment to Esquire magazine. “She kissed the gun,” he said.
The verdict marked the end of Spector’s second murder trial in as many years: the first concluded with the jury deadlocking at 10-2 in favour of a conviction. A unanimous verdict is required in such cases under California law.
This time around, Spector’s jury of “peers” — which included a bus driver, a social worker and a postal clerk—had been given the choice of convicting Spector with involuntary manslaughter, which would have carried a sentence up to four years. In the end, however, they decided on the more serious alternative.
Throughout his numbingly familiar retrial, even Spector’s elaborate wigs and his new 28-year-old ex-Playboy model wife couldn’t keep the media interested, with the ins-and-outs of the case going unreported for weeks at a time as much bigger events, such as the stock market crash and the US presidential election, unfolded.
Of the six men and six woman on the jury, three were gun owners, seven knew someone who had committed suicide, and one described himself as a fan of Spector.
In total, the jurors listened to five months of testimony—repeatedly viewing horrific crime scene photographs taken at Spector’s home, nicknamed “Pyrenees Castle” — before deliberating on the multimillionaire’s role in the death of Ms Clarkson, an ex-actress who appeared in 1985’s Barbarian Queen before falling on hard times. After bouts with depression — Ms Clarkson alluded to suicide in one of her diary entries—she took a job as a ‘VIP waitress’ at the House of Blues nightclub on the Sunset Strip. It was there that an allegedly drunk Spector first met her on Sunday, February 2, 2003.
Hours later, she would die at his home from a point-blank gunshot wound to the mouth.
In closing arguments, the prosecution accused Spector of trying to buy his innocence—his defence spent $419,000 on forensic experts—and described the defendant to jurors as a “demon”. At one point, Alan Jackson, the Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney, asked jurors to imagine if they could say just one sentence to Ms Clarkson before she climbed into the producer’s chauffeur driven Mercedes Benz on the night of her death.
“You are all thinking the same thing,” he said, before dropping his voice to a theatrical whisper.
“You’d say, ‘Lana, whatever you do, don’t go’.” Mr Jackson’s co-prosecutor, Truc Do, added that Spector was “a very dangerous man” who “has a history of playing Russian Roulette with women—six women. Lana just happened to be the sixth.” Testimony from several of Spector’s ex-girlfriends was cited as supporting evidence.
Spector’s lawyers argued that Ms Clarkson was depressed over her career and killed herself. They also used forensic evidence to argue that both the blood spatter patterns and the lack of Spector’s DNA on the gun proved that he could not have pulled the trigger. In addition, they attempted to show that Ms Clarkson broke one of her own fingernails while firing the weapon.
As in the previous trial, the defence also cast doubt on the testimony of Spector’s Brazilian driver — who said he heard the defendant confess “I think I killed someone” — by arguing that he didn’t speak English, that he was tired and hungry, and that he wanted to please the authorities by going along with their pre-written witness statement because he had a Green Card pending.
In spite of six years and two trials having passed, surprisingly little remains known about what exactly happened at the time of Ms Clarkson’s death at between 3am and 5am on February 3, 2003 in the suburb of Alhambra.
Some doubt that even Spector, who has long suffered from mental illness and once described himself as “relatively insane”, can remember precisely what happened.
In contrast, much is known — or at least has been written — about Spector’s life up until that day, including allegations that he out-drank and scared John Lennon; that he would run around his home in the dark while dressed as Batman; and that he once promised to bury his ex-wife alive in a glass coffin if she slept with a member of the Rolling Stones.
None of this helped Spector’s case.
Neither did it help that one of Spector’s first ever musical productions was the misogynistically-titled 1962 single He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss). This was followed year later by the rather more sentimental – and successful – Be My Baby.