The murder case against record producer Phil Spector went to jurors Monday after Spector’s wife sparred with the judge over a gag order and Spector himself publicly denied he had criticized the judge and jury pool.
Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler sent the jurors into deliberations after asking if any had heard or seen any news reports over the weekend that could affect their discussions. No one raised a hand.
The London newspaper The Mail on Sunday reported that Spector had said most of the prospective jurors thought he was either guilty or insane and Fidler “doesn’t like me.”
The newspaper said Spector made the remarks to a documentary filmmaker he spoke to over a five-month period. Spector denied it.
“I did not make those statements,” Spector told The Associated Press as he arrived at the courthouse Monday. “They are reprehensible and false. Whoever made them on my behalf should be put in jail. I’m sure the jury will do a good job.”
Fidler said nothing about the accuracy of the newspaper report, but he said in a short hearing outside the jury’s presence: “I would think anyone who wants to make a comment like that to a jury that’s about to deliberate their fate isn’t thinking about it.”
Spector, 67, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of actress Lana Clarkson, 40, who was shot through the mouth after going home with Spector from a nightclub on Feb. 3, 2003. He faces 15 years to life in prison if convicted.
Spector gained fame decades ago for what became known as the “Wall of Sound” recording technique. Clarkson was the star of the 1985 cult film “Barbarian Queen.”
Vikram Jayanti, who is working on a documentary on the trial, told the AP he wrote a piece for The Mail in which he told of his evolving belief that Spector may be innocent.
“I referred to things he has said to me well before trial,” Jayanti said. “He was not talking about this jury. ... It’s a complete misrepresentation that Spector is being quoted as lashing out at this jury.”
Jury deliberations began after five months of testimony. The panelists deliberated for a little more than 3½ hours before retiring for the night, but asked to see the gun that killed Clarkson first.
The snub-nose .38-caliber revolver was provided to the panel for a short time by a bailiff who carried it into the jury room in a box. Jurors kept the gun for only a few minutes before returning it.
Prosecutors sought to show during the trial that Spector had a history of threatening women. The defense contended the actress killed herself.
Most of the trial revolved around forensic evidence. Blood spatter, gunshot residue and the positions of Spector and the actress were debated by a roster of experts who often differed in their opinions. None of the forensic experts was able to say who pulled the trigger on the small Colt revolver.
The jury must decide whether Spector is guilty or innocent of second-degree murder. Fidler decided earlier there would be no lesser charges such as voluntary or involuntary manslaughter offered as alternatives.
Just before sending the case to the jury, Fidler slapped a gag order on Spector and his wife in a contentious hearing away from the jury on media contacts. Fidler said Rachelle Spector sent e-mails to reporters over the weekend pointing out a TV interview she had given, despite the fact that Fidler had warned her against such activity.
“Ma’am, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before,” Fidler said. “You are here in the courtroom. You will not talk to the press ... until a verdict or other decision is arrived at in this case. If you do, you’re in violation of my order and you know what I do to people who violate my orders.”
Rachelle Spector began to talk back from the gallery.
“Ma’am, you’re in front of me,” the angered judge interjected. “You’re in front of me! I’m making an order. You want to violate my order, go ahead and do so. I can assure you I will hold you in contempt of court for violating my order and I will treat it according.”
She then began to argue, and the judge jumped in and again warned of consequences.
“That’s right, I am talking to you, and what you need to do is listen,” he said.
Fidler also admonished Spector and Clarkson’s family not to speak to the press, though he noted that Clarkson’s family had not done so.
Rachelle Spector later sent the judge a note of apology, which he accepted. He said he understood there is “stress” on family members at this stage of a trial.
Spector’s wife began coming to court sessions with him early in the year, before the jury was selected, and they are almost always color-coordinated in their attire. They were married last fall, according to defense attorney Roger Rosen. She was 26 at the time. Rosen described her as an actress and singer.
Phil Spector has gone through dramatic changes in his appearance since his arrest. Rachelle Spector said she now styles his hair. Two months ago, when Spector switched from a blond page boy to a short, tousled and darker look, his wife declared, “I think it looks nice,” as she smiled and clung to his arm while leaving court.
Last month she caused a stir when she sent reporters a news release announcing that her husband had a new chief counsel. The new attorney had to tell the court he was not the new defense leader.