In the annals of celebrity crime, record producer Phil Spector's murder trial may stand as one of the strangest.
The saga of a forgotten music industry legend and a fading cult movie actress found dead in his hilltop castle is the stuff of film noir, those dark epics that explore a world of glamour, dread and danger.
At the center of the drama is Spector, 67, a diminutive figure in long frock coats and wild hairdos, a millionaire rock music producer past his heyday, holed up in a Victorian mansion far from the Hollywood music industry he once ruled.
The tragic figure is Lana Clarkson, 40, a gorgeous 6-foot actress with Marilyn Monroe dreams who craved fame more than anything but was so down on her luck that she took a $9-an-hour hostess job at the House of Blues night club.
Ironically, she became more famous in death, her picture splashed across newspapers and TV screens the morning after Feb. 3, 2003 when she was found with a bullet through her mouth in the formal red foyer of Spector's home.
It would take eight months for police to charge Spector with a crime and four years to bring the case to trial. Now, after five months of testimony, the end is near. Final arguments are scheduled Wednesday and Thursday and jurors are to begin deliberations Friday. And, like any intriguing murder mystery, the outcome is unpredictable.
Photos of the scene, shown at the trial, were startling and gruesome, as if a set decorator had staged them for a horror film. A crystal chandelier illuminated the body slumped in an ornate white chair, Clarkson's face smeared with blood, her long legs extending out from her black mini dress. In one photograph, a crowd of police and coroner's investigators mill about, seemingly oblivious to the body next to them.
And slung over her shoulder is a key piece of evidence, a leopard print purse. Prosecutors would point to it repeatedly as proof that she was trying to leave Spector's house when she was shot.
Prosecutors, haunted by the acquittals of stars such as O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Michael Jackson, seem invested in making Spector the first showbiz star to be convicted in a major criminal case. But his lawyers have fought fiercely to prove Clarkson pulled the trigger.
They met after Spector spent a night on the town drinking with women friends. He wound up very late at the House of Blues. When the club closed at 2 a.m. he asked Clarkson to go home with him for a drink.
What happened next is the heart of the case, with each side presenting compelling evidence.
Prosecutor Alan Jackson claimed at the start that it would be a simple case.
"The evidence is going to paint a picture of a man who on Feb. 3, 2003, put a loaded pistol in Lana Clarkson's mouth — inside her mouth — and shot her to death," he said in his opening statement to jurors.
But by the time 77 witnesses had testified and more than 600 pieces of evidence were submitted, the case was anything but simple.
On the prosecution side, five women returned from Spector's past to tell of being threatened by him when he was drunk, even held hostage in his home, with a gun pointed at them and threats of death if they tried to leave. The parallels with the night Clarkson died were chilling even if the stories were very old — 30 years in one instance.
The chauffeur who delivered Spector and Clarkson to the mansion testified that he waited outside and heard the "pow" of a gun some two hours later. Adriano De Souza would recall Spector emerging from the house, a gun in his hand, declaring, "I think I killed somebody."
He was the only witness to place the gun in Spector's hand. The prosecution's scientific experts could not say for sure if the gun was in Spector's hand or in Clarkson's when it was fired.
Defense lawyer Linda Kenney-Baden had promised jurors at the outset that scientific evidence would show the truth.
"We have one unimpeachable witness who has no motive to lie, no memory problems, no language problems and that witness is science," said Kenney-Baden, who specializes in forensic evidence.
"The science will tell you that Phil Spector was not holding the gun in the decedant's mouth, that he was not close enough," Kenney-Baden said.
Dr. Louis Pena, the deputy medical examiner who did the autopsy, said Clarkson had gunshot residue on both of her hands and that he classified the case as "pending" for seven months until he finally called it a homicide on the death certificate. He said the residue didn't necessarily mean she fired the gun.
Defense witness Dr. Vincent DiMaio disagreed: "She died of a self-inflicted wound. There is no objective scientific evidence that anyone else held the gun. Everything else is speculative."
Experts also debated Clarkson's mental state. Pena thought she was a hopeful person, not prone to contemplate suicide.
But jurors saw an e-mail she wrote saying, "I really feel like I'm losing it. I'm kind of feeling like giving up the dream and therefore the struggle."
Beyond legal points and science, the case came down to the two personalities involved: Spector and Clarkson.
Jackson began his case with the tales of Spector's encounters with other women and he is likely to end with them as well. Among them was Dorothy Melvin, a former Spector girlfriend who managed comedienne Joan Rivers.
"Phil is a very brilliant and charming man," she said. "Only when drinking he snaps and becomes a lunatic."
Another ex-girlfriend, Diane Ogden, testified that Spector seemed to undergo a personality change as she tried to leave a party he had in 1989.
"He was screaming at me, the F-word," she said. "He wasn't my Phil, not the man I loved. It wasn't him. He was demonic. It scared the hell out of me."
The defense claims what is more relevant is the despair that gripped Clarkson before her death. Two of her friends told of the financial desperation that drove her to take the House of Blues job and a producer testified that she drank too much and poured her heart out to him for two hours five days before she died.
"She was reaching a certain level of sadness, hitting a wall in her personal life," said Greg Sims.
Late in the trial, Clarkson's mother, Donna — who had sat through every day of the trial and who had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Spector — took the stand and told how her daughter bought seven pairs of shoes for her new job as a nightclub hostess some 12 hours before she died.
"And that was the last time you saw her?" asked Jackson.
"Yes," said the mother, with a catch in her voice.