Spector judge, jury struggle to resolve impasse

The judge in the murder trial of Phil Spector on Wednesday abandoned the idea of presenting the deadlocked jury with a reduced charge of manslaughter against the music producer.

In a day of complex legal manoeuvrings, both the judge and jury struggled to find a way to proceed in the case, which was stalled after seven days of deliberations and a five-month trial.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler denied a second defence motion to declare a mistrial, sent the jury home without new instructions on how to proceed, and said he planned to withdraw a crucial instruction.

The jury reported on Tuesday that it was split seven to five over a murder verdict. It did not indicate which way it was leaning.

Spector (67) faces 15 years to life in prison if convicted of murdering actress Lana Clarkson with a gunshot through the mouth at his Los Angeles area home in February 2003.

Fidler said he would recall the jury on Thursday and withdraw an instruction that had said prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Spector pointed a gun at Clarkson and the gun ended up inside her mouth while in Spector’s hand.

Some jury members had asked for clarification of the instruction and others were confused over the issue of reasonable doubt.

Fidler also ruled that jurors should not be instructed to reach a verdict on a lesser charge of manslaughter. The jury had expressly been told to acquit or convict Spector of murder.

Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s courtroom developments stunned experts.

“It is one of the most chaotic situations I have seen.
The judge is certainly entertaining lots of possibilities and suggestions, and the danger is that the jury may think the judge is urging them to find Spector guilty,” Stan Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles told Reuters.

The defence has argued that the 40-year-old actress, who was employed as a nightclub hostess when she met Spector, was depressed over her career and finances and shot herself in the mouth, either deliberately or by accident, after agreeing to go home with him the night she died.

Prosecutors had said during the trial that even if the gun went off by accident while in his hands, Spector could be convicted of murder because his actions showed a conscious disregard for human life.

Spector, who did not testify in his defence, has remained impassive throughout the judicial turmoil of the last two days. The man who famously pioneered the “Wall of Sound” recording technique has lived for years as a virtual recluse in a castle-like mansion outside Los Angeles.

He is still revered in music circles for his work in the 1960s and 1970s with the Beatles, The Ronettes, Tina Turner and Cher. - Reuters

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