The judge in record producer Phil Spector’s murder trial decided Wednesday not to allow the deadlocked jury to consider a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
But Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler called jurors in and asked them how the court might help them break the impasse — a 7-5 split, according to the foreman, who has not said in which direction the panel is leaning.
After their comments, the judge withdrew one instruction to jurors dealing with the concept of reasonable doubt.
Spector, 67, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra mansion on Feb. 3, 2003, a few hours after she met him at her job as a nightclub hostess and went home with him. The defense maintains that Clarkson, 40, was depressed and shot herself either on purpose or by accident.
“We’d all like this case to get resolved and have the jury arrive at a result,” said Fidler, citing the five-month ordeal for jurors, the defendant and Clarkson’s family.
“But at a certain point in deliberations after the jury has arrived at an impasse, to give them a new offense ... is essentially saying to them, ‘If you can’t find him guilty with what you have, try this,”’ he said.
“It would be inappropriate to instruct the jury at this time on a lesser offense of manslaughter,” he said.
Fidler rejected strenuous arguments from prosecutor Alan Jackson urging the judge to allow consideration of manslaughter and accepted equally vigorous statements by defense attorney Bradley Brunon, who noted that the prosecution had never asked for instructions on involuntary manslaughter and would be changing its theory of the case in midstream.
Jackson said he wasn’t changing his theory, which could be applied to manslaughter, as well as murder.
Fidler threw defense lawyers into a panic Tuesday when jurors reported the deadlock, and he suggested that earlier legal cases might support giving an instruction on a lesser offense. But overnight, he said, he did further research that changed his mind. A new jury instruction on manslaughter would be perceived as telling the panelists to do, he said.
“It’s indicating to the jury that the other option is not acquittal; it’s convicting on a lesser offense,” he said. “It’s instructing them what they should find.”
After the judge asked jurors Wednesday what the court could do to help break the impasse, some cited the panelists’ differences of opinion on the evidence and on the concept of reasonable doubt.
Reasonable doubt ‘an individual determination’
The jury foreman’s comments pointed to the essential issue dividing jurors.
“Is it appropriate for one side to feel — for one juror to feel that it’s reasonable and for another juror to feel that it’s not reasonable — from the same facts that were presented in the case?” he asked.
The judge said outside their presence that he would have to tell the jury that deciding reasonable doubt is “an individual determination” that is part of the deliberation process.
Fidler later decided to withdraw a particular jury instruction, saying it misstated the law and might confuse panelists.
In order to convict Spector of second-degree murder, the jury would have to find that “the defendant must have committed an act that caused the death of Lana Clarkson.” The instruction went on to specify that the act was pointing a gun at her, resulting in the gun entering her mouth while in Spector’s hand.
“I think some jurors may have a question about whether every element of that instruction must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” one juror had said.
When the judge said he would withdraw the instruction, the defense objected, saying that would tell jurors who relied on it that their opinions were wrong.
Fidler offered defense attorneys a chance to present new final arguments on the issue, but they declined, saying that would just draw undue attention to it and would allow the prosecution to present a new theory of the case.
The defense once more moved for a mistrial, which the judge again refused.
Spector appeared grim during the hearing, as did Clarkson’s mother and sister and their civil lawyers, who were all in court. They have sued Spector for wrongful death, and their civil trial will follow the criminal trial.
The jury has not deliberated since Tuesday, its seventh day of talks, after disclosing the impasse. The judge sent the jurors home early Wednesday afternoon and told them to return Thursday.