Spector Words May Hurt Him In Murder Trial

Phil Spector, music producer, arrives at Los Angeles Superior Court for the start of jury selection in his murder trial, California, photo
AP
Lawyers in Phil Spector's murder trial are seeking to uncover hidden biases about celebrity defendants as they question prospective jurors individually.

Jury selection was set to resume Monday, a month after potential jurors filled out questionnaires that included a section on their attitudes toward celebrities. Lawyers are to question them in person about whether they believe stars get a fair shake from the justice system, get away with crimes because of their status, or are treated preferentially by police.

The jury will be asked to decide if Spector was responsible for the death of Lana Clarkson. The 40-year-old cult movie actress was found in the foyer of Spector's home on Feb. 3, 2003, slumped dead in a chair, her teeth blown out by a gunshot to her mouth.

The key question, says The Early Show national correspondent Hattie Kauffman, is whether Clarkson's death was murder, suicide or an accident.


Photos: Phil Spector
Spector has pleaded not guilty and is free on $1 million bail. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler has set aside two weeks for jury selection. He has said the trial could last four months. All of it will be televised.

Spector, whose age has been reported variously as 66 and 67, gained fame in the 1960s for his "Wall of Sound" recording technique. He changed the way rock music was recorded and influenced top recording artists, including The Beatles and Elvis.

But jurors, who may have limited knowledge of Spector's reputation, could hear allegations he has a dark side. The judge has agreed to admit testimony from five women who claim that Spector threatened them with guns at varying times, one as long as 30 years ago.

The jurors will also hear about Clarkson, best known as the star of Roger Corman's cult film "Barbarian Queen." She was working as a hostess at the House of Blues when she went home with Spector the night she died.

The defense will offer a profile of Clarkson as a down-on-her-luck actress so despondent about her finances and faded career that she contemplated suicide, according to motions filed last week.

The coroner's office called her death a homicide, but also noted Clarkson had gunshot residue on both of her hands and may have pulled the trigger.

Spector has made conflicting statements, Kauffman points out.

In a magazine interview, he claimed Clarkson committed suicide, saying, "She kissed the gun."

But earlier, he'd told his driver he'd accidentally shot her. A judge has ruled that the jury can learn that Spector told his driver, "I accidentally shot somebody."

"The jury's going to hear that statement," observes CBS News legal analyst Trent Copeland. "That's going to be one of the first things that the prosecution says, right out of the gate, right in opening statements. It's going to be one of those things that's going to resonate with them throughout this trial."

Spector faces "a mountain of evidence," Kauffman notes, including what authorities say was gun shot residue on his hands and clothing.

The night Clarkson met Spector was the last night of her life, Kauffman adds.

They had dinner at a restaurant, then went to his house. What happened next, the jury will have to decide.

Copeland says the defense will have to take aim at the victim: "In essence, they're going to try to have to trash her. They're going to have to bring in evidence that she was someone who's a little crazy, a little wacky … that this is someone who clearly could have taken a gun and put it in her mouth and chosen to end her own life."

Prosecutors have said in court documents that they'll try to prove Spector pulled a gun on Clarkson when she rebuffed his sexual advances.

He's expected to take the stand in his own defense.

That "clearly could backfire," Copeland cautions. "Remember, this is a man who, throughout his entire professional career, has been known to have anger management issues. This is the same guy who allegedly pulled a gun on John Lennon. This is someone who clearly, when faced with a difficult situation, may very likely explode, and that explosion could very likely take place on that witness stand."