The defense in Phil Spector’s murder trial sought to show Monday that his immigrant chauffeur spoke English poorly and was so frightened after learning that someone had been shot to death that he wrongly implicated the music producer.
Adriano De Souza, a Brazilian chauffeur whose native language is Portuguese, testified that Spector came out of his home about 5 a.m. on Feb. 3, 2003, with a gun in his hand and said, “I think I killed somebody,” as the body of actress Lana Clarkson lay slumped in a chair inside the mansion’s foyer.
Defense attorney Bradley Brunon, during a long cross-examination, noted that De Souza originally told officers that morning that Spector had said, “I think I shot somebody.”
Then he asked him, “Do you think you might have heard, ‘I think somebody was killed?”’
“No,” De Souza replied.
Although he couldn’t explain why he’d changed his statement from “shot” to “killed,” he was adamant that he had heard Spector speak clearly. Prosecutors later showed the jury transcripts in which the chauffeur responded to a question from a police officer who used the word “shot.” De Souza had used the word “killed” numerous times before and after speaking with the officer.
De Souza conceded that he was tired and hungry, as well as frightened, after hearing what he thought was a gunshot and then seeing Clarkson’s body with blood on her face.
Clarkson, best known for the 1985 film “Barbarian Queen,” was working as a hostess in a VIP room at the House of Blues when she met Spector shortly before 2 a.m. on the morning of her death.
De Souza, who has testified that he drove Spector to a series of restaurants from Beverly Hills to the Sunset Strip, said Clarkson initially refused when Spector asked her to go home with him, then decided to join him for a drink.
The defense claims Clarkson shot herself.
The chauffeur said he was operating on little sleep before going to work for Spector at 7 p.m. the night before. He said he took small naps in the car throughout the evening.
Brunon suggested during questioning that De Souza’s current abilities in English are better now than they were at the time of the killing.
“Back in 2003, before you had four additional, four-plus additional years of English, living in an English-speaking country, when you heard English at that time did you first translate it to Portuguese in your own mind and then translate the answer from Portuguese to English and then answer in English?” Brunon asked.
De Souza indicated he did that when he first started learning English, but said, “At that time I was good in both languages.”
De Souza acknowledged that prosecutors had asked immigration authorities to defer deportation proceedings against him for not fulfilling the requirements of his student visa. Brunon asked whether that caused De Souza to favor the prosecution.
“No, sir, I’m here because of the right thing to do,” De Souza said.
The trial concluded for the day with prosecutors playing a videotape of De Souza’s interview with police after the shooting. Jurors were to watch the rest on Tuesday.
At one point, De Souza told police Spector was “completely drunk” the night Clarkson died.
Asked how he could know, he replied: “Because I drove him before, and a couple of times he was drunk.”
Spector, a music producer, rose to fame in the 1960s and ’70s, transforming rock music with what became known as the “Wall of Sound” recording technique. He worked with such stars as the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, and produced solo albums by John Lennon and George Harrison.