The judge in Phil Spector's murder trial decided Wednesday he will not allow the jury, which is locked in a 7-5 impasse, to consider a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
"It's not so much the words, it's basically the timing when they've reached an impasse," Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler told attorneys. "... Because it's basically indicating to the jury we want you to come to a verdict and we'll give you this other option, and the option isn't acquittal, it's conviction of a lesser offense."
The judge then asked attorneys for arguments over how existing jury instructions might be restated to aid the panel in deliberations, which were suspended after the impasse was reported Tuesday.
Fidler, citing the facts of the case, ruled earlier in the trial that the jury would only consider the charge of second-degree murder and not any so-called lesser included offenses.
The issue was discussed outside the presence of the jurors.
Spector, 67, is charged with murdering 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 Clarkson, 40, was depressed and shot herself in the mouth either on purpose or by accident.
When the impasse was reported, Fidler told the lawyers that he had since found a precedent in a California Supreme Court ruling that might require him to give the jury a lesser option.
Ultimately, he said, "I do accept that it would be inappropriate at this time to instruct the jury with a new offense, that being the lesser offense of manslaughter, because I believe it's basically directing them, if at all possible, that's what they should find. And that is inappropriate."
Aside from the timing, he added that he was not sure the precedent case applied to the Spector case.
The jury foreman, a 32-year-old civil engineer, told the judge Tuesday that he saw little hope of resolving the impasse and indicated jurors were in disagreement about facts in the case, not about the law.
"I believe it comes down to the individual jurors' conclusions that are drawn from the facts," said the foreman. "At this time I don't believe that anything else will change the positions of the jurors, based on the facts that are in evidence."
He said the panel had taken four votes before reporting the deadlock.
However, three jurors suggested that rereading jury instructions on the question of reasonable doubt might help. One juror asked for an explanation of "the difference between reasonable doubt and doubt."
The judge, clearly troubled by the prospect of a hung jury after five months of trial, told jurors he might give them some new instructions, or even have attorneys reargue part of the case.