A former lawyer for Phil Spector reluctantly testified under threat of jail Thursday that she saw a defense forensic expert pick up a small white object at the scene of Lana Clarkson’s death. Sara Caplan said the object was not the size of a missing piece of the actress’ fingernail.
Called by the prosecution in Spector’s murder trial, Caplan gave essentially the same story she had in a previous hearing without jurors present, but this time used a diagram to compare sizes.
She said she saw famous forensic scientist Henry Lee pick up an item about 1 inch in circumference with rough edges and put it in a vial. She said she never saw the item again.
Under questioning by defense lawyer Linda Kenney-Baden, Caplan drew a small diagram of the item, then looked at a photo of the dead woman’s hand missing a fragment of acrylic nail from the thumb. Caplan said the item was larger than the missing nail fragment.
Prosecutors contend the item could be evidence of a struggle but was never turned over to them.
Caplan had earlier refused to testify about the item, and Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler ruled her in contempt of court and threatened to jail her. He cited precedents which said the privilege did not apply in cases where evidence allegedly was destroyed.
Lee has adamantly denied that he found or withheld anything but the judge said he was more inclined to believe Caplan and ordered her to repeat her statements to the jury. She only agreed to testify after the California Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal.
Outside court, Caplan said she was dismayed at the way things turned out.
“I certainly never intended to be stuck in a position of having to impugn the credibility of one of the most amazing professional criminalists in the world,” she said.
Asked what Lee may have picked up, Caplan said, “It could have been something someone dragged in on their foot.”
At the time of the alleged discovery Caplan was part of an original defense team that examined the foyer of Spector’s mansion where Clarkson died from a bullet fired from a snub-nose .38-caliber revolver stuck in her mouth on Feb. 3, 2003. The defense claims Clarkson shot herself.
Kenney-Baden suggested in questioning that there were many other white things in the foyer, and Caplan agreed.
No chance to redeem Lee
Caplan was prevented from trying to redeem the reputation of Lee, with whom she has worked many times including on the O.J. Simpson case. When Kenney-Baden asked whether she had ever known Lee to withhold evidence, there was a strong objection from prosecutor Alan Jackson. The judge ordered the question stricken from the record.
Asked by the prosecutor who was last person she saw handling the item, she said, “Dr. Lee.”
As she left the courtroom she stopped briefly by Spector. Outside, she said she told him, “Good luck, Mr. Spector.”
The issue of whether Caplan could claim attorney-client privilege and refuse to face the jury took her on a quest for help to a state appeals court and the California Supreme Court. Both refused to hear the case without comment.
When the judge ordered her to appear Thursday morning, Caplan agreed to testify and indicated she wanted to be done with it.
“This has taken so much time out of my work and my life, my family,” she said. “I haven’t been able to go on vacation with my son. I was supposed to start a trial today. I have other clients, too.”
Lee, meanwhile, now says he probably won’t testify in the case, suggesting the attack on him by prosecutors was designed to keep him off the witness stand.
Lee flew to China on a business trip Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the defense called the sister of a prosecution witness to testify in an effort to impeach her credibility. Angela Pileggi Silverstein, who is estranged from her sister, Melissa Grosvenor, said her sister made up a story about Spector threatening her with a gun because she wanted to testify in the high-profile trial.
“She was bragging about going to be on Court TV and on the Phil Spector trial,” she said.
“I knew she was lying,” she said of Grosvenor’s testimony.