The judge in Phil Spector’s murder trial cleared the jury from the courtroom Tuesday after a forensic pathologist surprised prosecutors by introducing a new theory in the death of the actress the music producer is accused of killing.
The testimony from Dr. Michael Baden, one of the nation’s foremost forensic experts, set off angry protests from prosecutors, who accused defense attorneys of withholding information from them. Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler ultimately agreed, saying the defense had violated discovery laws.
Baden testified that he recently concluded actress Lana Clarkson’s spinal cord was not completely severed when a bullet tore through her mouth at Spector’s mansion on Feb. 3, 2003. The opinion supports defense claims that Clarkson could have spewed blood onto Spector’s jacket with her dying gasps after she was shot.
Spector’s lawyers say Clarkson was depressed and shot herself. Baden’s theory offers an explanation of how Spector could have gotten specks of blood on his jacket if he didn’t shoot her, which prosecutors contend he did.
“My opinion in this case is there was an incomplete transection of the spinal cord and the rest was torn during transportation (to the morgue). After Ms. Clarkson was shot through the spine there were still some nerve fibers that allowed her to breathe for a few minutes,” Baden said.
“As we breathe out,” he added, “some of that blood will come out of the mouth or nose.”
Another defense expert, Dr. Werner Spitz, had testified that Clarkson could have taken agonal breaths and sprayed blood on Spector even if he was standing 2 to 3 feet away from her. He also concluded she shot herself.
Fidler dismissed the jury after Baden’s statements, and lawyers for both sides yelled over each other in the dispute that followed.
Prosecutor Allan Jackson complained that the defense had hidden what was “the centerpiece of Dr. Baden’s testimony.”
“This is what they wanted out of Dr. Baden,” he said. “Now they’ve brought Lana Clarkson back to life. They were getting nothing about Lana Clarkson coughing blood on Phil Spector. And now they have Dr. Baden on the stand and I’m staring into a report that doesn’t mention it.”
Defense attorney Christopher Plourd said the first time he discussed the opinion with Baden was on Sunday, although Baden had written a report on his other findings earlier in the case.
Baden said he had recently been pondering why Clarkson’s lungs were filled with blood and other fluids after her death. He told the judge he had “an ’aha!’ moment on Sunday and shared his opinion with Plourd.
The judge told Plourd, “You had to know how important this testimony was and why wasn’t the prosecution notified?”
Both Plourd and defense attorney Bradley Brunon suggested that such developments arise during trial and were not purposely withheld.
“As testimony develops, this is a natural evolution, especially when there are complex issues,” Brunon said.
After hearing from Baden and the lawyers, Fidler ruled for the prosecution, saying there had been “a deliberate and knowing violation of the discovery statute. ... The reason prosecutors weren’t told was to have the effect that the prosecution would be unable to rebut it.”
He said he would ponder a remedy and asked lawyers for briefs on the prosecutors’ demand that the testimony be stricken from the court record.
Spector, the 67-year-old music producer who made hits decades ago with his “wall of sound” recording technique, is accused of murdering Clarkson, 40, on Feb. 3, 2003, after she went home with him from her job as a nightclub hostess. She was best known for her 1985 role in the cult film “Barbarian Queen.”