For decades, famed music producer Phil Spector was a recluse, hiding in his hilltop suburban castle. It took the gunshot death there of a glamorous actress who starred in a cult movie to force him out into the Hollywood spotlight.
”’I think I killed somebody,”’ Spector was quoted as saying by his chauffeur, Adriano De Souza. The chauffeur also told a grand jury that Spector had emerged from his mansion holding a gun, with blood on his hands.
De Souza said he asked what happened and Spector responded: ”’I don’t know.”’
On Monday, the search begins for jurors to decide if the 66-year-old Spector is guilty of murdering Lana Clarkson on Feb. 3, 2003, after taking her home with him from the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip.
Clarkson was found slumped dead in a chair in the foyer, her teeth blown out by a gunshot to her mouth.
The coroner’s office called it a homicide — ”death by the hand of another” — but also noted that Clarkson had gunshot residue on both of her hands and may have pulled the trigger.
In an e-mail to friends, Spector called the death ”an accidental suicide.” He pleaded not guilty and has remained free on $1 million bail since being arrested after the shooting. He faces life in prison if convicted.
Attorney Bruce Cutler said his defense will be simple: ”He didn’t shoot this woman.”
”Everything in this case is consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Cutler said. ”The cause of death is not at issue. The manner of death is the question.”
Cutler has been careful not to call the death a suicide.
”There was no malice, no motive, no intent, no homicide, no crime,” he said. ”If it had happened in any other home, there would have been no charges.”
The prosecution theory of the case, outlined during grand jury proceedings, is that Spector placed a gun in Clarkson’s mouth and pulled the trigger. Prosecutors claimed he had threatened women with guns in the past but had never been charged.
Spector revolutionized rock music in the 1960s with his ”wall of sound” recording technique. He produced the Beatles’ ”Let It Be” album and George Harrison’s ”Concert for Bangladesh,” and has been cited as an influence by Bruce Springsteen and countless other artists.
Spector also wrote such rock classics as ”Da Doo Ron Ron,” ”Be My Baby,” ”You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” and ”River Deep-Mountain High,” although his name is rarely mentioned along with the artists who recorded the songs.
Clarkson was 40, 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.
Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler, rejecting protests from Spector’s lawyers, decided to let the trial be televised when testimony begins.
The judge doesn’t expect the same media hysteria that surrounded the O.J. Simpson trial 12 years ago. And he believes the time has come for the public to see trials on TV rather than rely only on reports from commentators.
”If it had not been for Simpson, we’d be there now,” the judge said.
TV audiences may be riveted by Spector’s appearance, since his theatrical attire usually includes three-inch-high boots, frock coats and outlandish wigs.
Fidler summoned 300 prospective jurors to his courtroom for the start of jury selection. Time will be an issue for the panel members, since the proceedings could last three months.
A jury is expected to be seated by April 30.
Unlike the Simpson trial, where jurors’ familiarity with the celebrity defendant was a huge issue, Spector’s musical legacy may be dusty enough to escape notice by most younger prospective jurors.
Defense attorneys might prefer a sympathetic, star-struck jury, if not for the fact that older jurors are usually more conservative and prosecution-oriented, said Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson.
”The defense may want music fans who have an appreciation for Phil Spector’s mark on music history,” she said. ”But there won’t be many of those in the jury pool, not even in Tinseltown.”