Defense attorneys in Phil Spector’s murder trial surprised a courtroom Tuesday by saying they were eliminating a number of anticipated star witnesses and planned to close their case.
As late as Monday night they had listed upcoming witnesses, including renowned forensic expert Henry Lee, who had been billed as the secret scientific weapon of Spector’s defense. They changed their minds during a conference over the lunch hour Tuesday, they said.
Defense attorneys said they would have a few minor witnesses Wednesday morning and then would conclude, pending admission of exhibits and a planned jury tour of Spector’s home on Aug. 9.
Attorneys want jurors to stand in the foyer where actress Lana Clarkson died of a gunshot wound through the mouth on Feb. 3, 2003. Spector is accused of murdering her; defense forensic witnesses have said she killed herself.
Prosecutors said they were unprepared for the abrupt end of the defense case and would have to start juggling schedules to bring in rebuttal witnesses who could begin testifying Wednesday afternoon. The defense may respond with what is known as surrebuttal.
With jurors absent from the courtroom, the defense made a final bid to let them hear a transcript of earlier testimony by Lee. Attorney Bradley Brunon said Lee was in China and unavailable to testify.
Prosecutors Alan Jackson and Pat Dixon objected to using the transcript, which focused on an allegedly missing piece of evidence and did not address other issues.
Earlier in the trial, Spector’s former defense attorney testified she saw Lee remove a tiny white object from the crime scene that was never turned over to prosecutors.
Lee strongly denied the claim, but Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler said he was more inclined to believe the attorney and ruled that Lee violated the rules of evidence.
Lee suggested his career and reputation were being damaged by false accusations. Before he left for China, he said he didn’t think his testimony “would make the case or break the case” anyway.
Fidler said the defense could have subpoenaed Lee before he left the country.
“You knew he was leaving the country,” Fidler said. “His trip does not take precedence over this trial.”
Spector attorney takes TV break
Before court recessed for the day, the judge raised another sensitive issue involving Spector’s former lead lawyer Bruce Cutler, who bowed out of the trial for three weeks to film a TV show and said Tuesday he was leaving again to tape more episodes.
The judge noted that Cutler has said he planned to return to do closing arguments. Fidler suggested this may be a problem legally “inasmuch as you have not been present for much of the trial.”
The New York lawyer protested that he had been absent for only 11 days of the defense case.
“Even one day,” the judge said, could be a problem.
He asked Spector specifically whether this was what he wants and Spector, in his first comment during the trial, said, “I’ll discuss it with him.”
Spector has been represented by four other lawyers who took over after Cutler delivered a bombastic opening statement that drew poor reviews in the legal community. He cross-examined one key witness, eliciting potentially damaging testimony from her and then sat silent for the rest of the case.
Spector, 67, is a legendary music producer whose “wall of sound” recording technique revolutionized rock music. Clarkson, 40, star of the cult movie “Barbarian Queen,” was working as a hostess at the House of Blues nightclub when she met Spector and went home with him for a drink.
One of the last pieces of evidence jurors saw Tuesday was her time sheet from the club showing the hours she worked and her wage of $9 an hour.