Record producer Spector’s case a bizarre noir tale



By Linda Deutsch

LOS ANGELES – 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.

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.

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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.

Spector rose to fame in the 1960s with what became known as the “Wall of Sound” recording technique that changed pop music. Clarkson was best known for her role in Roger Corman’s 1985 cult film “Barbarian Queen.”

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.