Elegantly overlooking the breathtaking beauty of the San Gabriel Valley stands a French château-style mansion nestled within a vast estate that has dominated this region of California for almost a century. As one ascends the circular driveway that leads up the hillside to the spectacular foyer of this palace, they are surrounded by a wealth of pine and palm trees that reach far into the deep blue sky, isolating this home from the outside world. Stepping under the balcony and through to its marble-floored entrance, visitors find themselves at the foot of a long and winding staircase that heads up to a sprawling gallery, ten bedrooms, and a private office. Turning away from the stairs, a large living room laced with stately wood panelling welcomes the guest to retire from their travels, with a large two-seat sofa and chairs providing the perfect opportunity to relax. Hidden within two-and-a-half acres of West Coast tranquillity, the Pyrenees Castle was built by French immigrant Sylvester Dupuy in the Roaring Twenties, in honour of the majestic mansions of his homeland, which he christened the House on the Hill. Over the decades, each new owner would incorporate their own aesthetics into the design of this fortress, before it remained abandoned until it was purchased by the next eccentric millionaire. By the dawn of the twenty-first century, it had become the largest privately-owned land in the city of Alhambra.
The sun had yet to cast its light through the trees of the castle as Adriano De Souza sat waiting patiently behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz. It was approaching five o’clock in the morning and he had been instructed by his new employer, the once-infamous songwriter and producer Phil Spector, to remain on the grounds so that he could drive his houseguest home once the festivities had come to an end. Having been awake for almost twenty-four hours, the young Brazilian was desperate to bring his shift to an end and return to the comfort of his bed, but first he had to be excused by the eccentric recluse that now paid his salary. As the radio quietly played to itself, he routinely changed from staring at his phone to looking out the window at the front door of the stately home, but suddenly the peaceful air of the early morning was ruptured by a loud ruckus that echoed through the grounds. Slowly opening the door and stepping out of the vehicle, De Souza casually looked around for the source of the commotion, but with no signs of life in all directions, he turned on his heels and walked across the driveway back to the car. Time passed by until eventually a door to the house opened and a figure stepped out. Unable to see through the darkness, De Souza exited the vehicle once more and moved closer. Spector, adorned in a white jacket and suit, stood before him, a pistol hanging loosely between the fingers of his right hand, blood dripping from his fingertips. And as De Souza’s gaze moved up to his face, the man appeared confused and disorientated. ‘I think I killed somebody,’ he muttered, sending a cold shiver down the chauffeur’s spine.
Alan Jackson stood before the jury one hot April morning at the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Nine men and three women had gathered together by order of the state to hear evidence in the case of the People vs. Phillip Spector, in which he was accused of shooting an actress dead in his California home. The defence insisted that the victim, Lana Clarkson, had pulled the trigger herself in what amounted to an accidental suicide, but Jackson, representing the prosecution, was determined to prove that it was cold-blooded murder. ‘Adriano De Souza, for his part, almost immediately went into shock, or panic. And he began to call for help,’ detailed Jackson to the court. ‘He looked inside the doorway, saw only her feet. He looked a little further, around Spector, and saw what he’ll describe as her bloody face. Adriano De Souza had no idea, as he looked through that door, that Lana Clarkson was the person that the defendant, Phillip Spector, had just admitted [to] having killed.’ Jackson would then describe how De Souza had contacted his employer’s personal assistant to inform her of the crime, before dialling 911 and alerting the police. Within minutes the property, which lay hidden behind a large gate that obscures the driveway from passers-by, was swarming with police officers and Spector was taken into custody. When news of the incident were reported the following day, such a renowned figure of pop music being involved in a potential murder seemed too fantastic to believe, but the prosecution painted a very different picture of the defendant: a man with a history of violence towards women.
As Spector’s defence attorney Linda Kenney Baden, would explain during her own opening remarks, the one witness that can be relied upon during a criminal trial is science. With modern advances in fingerprint, DNA, and forensic analysis, a crime scene can be recreated for the benefit of a jury, allowing them to observe the murder taking place through the testimonies of eye witnesses and medical professionals. While statements given by those who claim to have knowledge of the incident can be perverted or misconstrued, the science does not lie. And, as with any legal case, it was the burden of the prosecution to prove whether or not Spector was responsible for the death of Clarkson. ‘The science will tell you who did what, the science will tell you what happened,’ insisted Kenney Baden. ‘The science will tell you, through the evidence of science, that Phillip Spector did not shoot Lana Clarkson, the decedent, that he did not hold the gun, and that he did not pull the trigger. That is one of the central issues in this case. Who was holding the gun? Not who may have found it, not who may have exposed it, not who may have owned it, not where it came from; only who was holding the gun when it went off. The science will tell you that Phil Spector was not holding the gun in the decedent’s mouth. The science will tell you that he was not close enough to hold the gun in the decedent’s mouth. The evidence will show you that the government’s case is a story, made up by people who were not there. The science was there, and it will tell you what happened.’
Barely six years had passed since the infamous trial of football legend O. J. Simpson had come to its conclusion with a verdict of not guilty, and now, once again, the city of Los Angeles was in the spotlight with a celebrity murder. Spector had retreated from the public eye decades earlier, but many of the songs he was responsible for during his sixties heyday remained staples of popular culture. The American legal system was left embarrassed following its failure to prosecute Simpson, and so pressure was felt to bring the killer of Clarkson to justice. Spector was known as flamboyant, elusive, and decadent, and so the initial reaction for many when the news was first announced was that he was most likely the perpetrator. But for due process to be effective, the jury must enter the courtroom with no preconceived suspicions or judgements of the accused. And while Simpson was an infamous sports figure, few under the age of thirty were unlikely to be familiar with the name Phil Spector. But following his arrest, the tabloids began to unearth tales of a troubled life, confessions from friends of a man who was his own worst enemy, and a lifetime of violence that had culminated in murder. Three years would pass before his trial was underway, but in that time it seemed that the media had already drawn its own conclusions.
The scene of the crime seemed to speak for itself. The victim, Lana Clarkson, was found slumped in a chair in the foyer, which De Souza could almost make out from the front door. Shrapnel from her teeth were scattered across the carpet, with trace elements also discovered on the staircase. After surveying the body, authorities deduced that the gun had been placed in Clarkson’s mouth and the trigger pulled, causing the bullet to rupture through her teeth and into her skull. Spector’s defence team would later claim the wound was self-inflicted, but the one contradictory piece of evidence was how pieces of what were believed to be teeth were found on the stairs, indicating that the body had been moved post-mortem. But if this was the case, a significant amount of blood and tissue from the victim would have been found on the defendant. Another possibility was that Spector, for reasons unknown, could have rushed up the stairs following the shooting, taking the fragments with him on his footwear, thus contaminating another area of the house. The most damning evidence was De Souza’s statement that Spector had confessed to the murder, believing that ‘I think I killed somebody.’ The police must have found enough cause to suspect Spector as he was arrested after a cursory inspection of the property and transported to the local station to be processed and interrogated.
In her defence of her client, Kenney Baden would dismiss the way in which Clarkson was shot as murder, instead maintaining that her death was caused by her own hand. This would be what their entire case was based on. ‘The evidence will show you that the first police on the scene, who were untrained in scientific reconstruction, thought the decedent had been shot elsewhere. They thought that there was good evidence that she had been shot on the stairs and moved, and the reason why is because when she shot herself, the gases of the gun caused her teeth to project way up onto the stairwell,’ she claimed. ‘So they believed, initially, that somehow Phillip Spector, a tiny man, carried Lana Clarkson down and placed her in the chair. Apparently, the state’s not proceeding on that story. But that’s how the story got birthed, because the teeth were elsewhere. When that evidence did not explain the physical evidence, when it was clear that hypothesis, that speculation, was not true and did not fly, the next thing the coroner was looking for was evidence based on a belief that Phillip had somehow shoved the gun up to her teeth and shot her through her teeth. So they looked for something scientific called bullet wipe; very simply, on the tip of a bullet, when it leaves a gun, there’s a black substance, a chemical substance, that is black. When it is shot, it leaves a wipe, it leaves a black wipe. That’s why it’s called bullet wipe. It’s very simply a scientific principle. There was no bullet wipe, none. So now they could not explain, the evidence will show, the physical evidence that pointed to the undisputed fact that this was a self-inflected wound, because the gun was not shot outside her mouth, there was no bullet wipe, the gun was in her mouth, all the way in her mouth, loosely closed – and you’ll hear why they can tell that, when we get to the specific testimony – and the trajectory of the gun wound, and the actual shape of the gun wound, [will] show that it was characteristic of a self-inflicted wound.’
But if the forensic evidence dictated that Spector was not the individual that pulled the trigger, the prosecution would detail how his behaviour immediately following the shooting proved suspicious. The bullet had lodged into the back of her skull, severing her spinal cord and causing immediate paralysis. Lana Clarkson was dead in a matter of moments. While it would have been understandable for Spector to have gone into a state of shock, thus delaying his attempt to call for help, the forensic evidence hinted at a different scenario. ‘The coroner will tell you that Lana Clarkson could not move, she didn’t move, it was physically impossible. The blood on the doorknob is Lana Clarkson’s. She didn’t put it there. The defendant had blood on his hands, had her blood on his hands,’ Jackson told the jury. ‘How did the blood get on the bannister? The defendant transferred the blood onto the bannister as he went upstairs. So now we know a little bit about what the defendant was doing right after the fatal shot was fired. He was moving about the house. But what does the evidence tell us he wasn’t doing? As you look at these next series of photographs, pay special attention to what’s circled in each photograph. It may be difficult to make out: telephones. In a gigantic house, in almost every room in the house, in the kitchen, the bars, the foyer area. Three telephones, ladies and gentlemen, within five feet of Lana Clarkson’s body. Phones everywhere: to the left, to the right, to the north, to the south. Telephones all over the house. Just in the photographs you’ve seen there, fourteen separate telephones, and not one – not one – called for help.’
It was shortly after five o’clock on the morning of 3 February, 2003 when Adriano De Souza, having speed-dialled Spector’s assistant, Michelle Blaine, placed a call to 911 to report what he had witnessed. Having retreated to the end of the driveway, he was immediately transferred from an operator at California Highway Patrol to a local dispatch office in Alhambra, where the young man proceeded to explain the events that had unfolded. When this call was relayed to the court during Jackson’s opening statement, the jury chuckled in amusement as the operator, struggling to understand De Souza’s subtle Portuguese accent, misheard the given name as Seal Inspector. Once De Souza had reiterated that the name of his employer was Phil Spector, a patrol car was dispatched to the scene. ‘I think my boss killed somebody,’ he revealed. ‘He have a lady on the, on the floor, and he have a gun in, in his hand.’ De Souza, who would be described by the defence as an illegal immigrant on more than one occasion, would remain calm and rational during cross-examination, but as detailed by Jackson, it would be his phone call to 911 that was the only call for help made during the early hours of that morning. Lana Clarkson sat draped over the chair in the foyer, the bullet having brought her life to a sudden end, but what the authorities would soon question was what had taken place in the house during the time between the trigger being pulled and Spector emerging from the back door to approach his driver.
Before Kenney Baden had addressed the court, the first opening statement on behalf of the defence had come from her lead attorney, Bruce Cutler. Less of a storyteller than his adversary, Cutler would attempt to depict the allegations against Spector as a personal attack on his success by the Alhambra Police Department. ‘With the court’s permission, I’d like to begin my opening remarks to you,’ he announced to the jury. ‘It seems from Mr. Jackson that he has a very – from his opening statement, which is not evidence – a very negative view of Mr. Spector. It seems, from Mr Jackson’s opening remarks, that he has depicted and described him in the most negative of terms. So it becomes a problem to alert you to what evidence will show. Part of what the evidence will show is that being successful, accomplishing so much, achieving so much in life, doing so much for others, when you achieve so much, can come back to hurt you. Your car’s too nice; the restaurant is too nice; the evidence will show you, the hotel in Manhattan, the Carlisle, is too nice. The evidence will show [that] fame and success comes back to haunt you. The evidence will show this was a tragic accident, and that it’s a sad thing for any jury to see the photographs that you saw. And the evidence will also show that on 3 February, 2003, before they even had a cause of death, let alone a manner of death, they had murder on their mind. Murder on their mind!’ Those opening statements were delivered by Jackson, Kenney Baden, and Cutler on 25 April, 2007, more than four years after the authorities had found the body of Lana Clarkson in the home of Phil Spector, and over the next two years the jury would be witness to accusations of evidence tampering, a rotating roster of defence attorneys, and a mistrial, as the state fought tooth and nail to convict Harvey Phillip Spector of first-degree murder.
‘My names Marilyn. Like in Monroe,’ announced Lana Clarkson during her brief appearance in Knight Rider almost twenty years earlier. Phil Spector had never met her before that fateful night in 2003. He had never even heard the name. To Spector, she was little more than a hostess at one of his regular haunts, a glamorous blonde woman who had appeared in a few television shows and B-movies in her youth, but was now just another waitress with dreams of stardom, lost among the bright lights of Tinseltown. Having retreated to the sanctuary of the Pyrenees Castle just a few years earlier, Spector had become a notorious recluse, but behind closed doors he was a lonely and tortured old man. According to an article published by the Los Angeles Times a few days after his arrest, Spector had been accompanied for some time by a former officer with the LAPD who was now moonlighting as a private bodyguard. Friends had become concerned for Spector’s wellbeing, and in the months leading up to the shooting he had curtailed his heavy drinking due to medication. But Jay Romaine, the law veteran tasked with watching over Spector, had been dismissed from his employment some months earlier, and late in the evening of Sunday, 2 February, 2003, he had ventured from the walls of his mansion to accompany a childhood friend, Rommie Davis, for a late-night dinner at The Grill in the Alley in Beverly Hills. It was the third consecutive evening that the pair had spent together, and over the course of the weekend Davis expressed reservations over his heavy drinking. ‘I was very concerned about him. He took medication,’ she told the court in May 2007. ‘I knew that alcohol and medication is a lethal combination.’ During their time at the restaurant, Spector spoke to Kathy Sullivan, a friend and waitress at the establishment who, following the end of her shift, agreed to join Spector at a nearby venue called Trader Vic’s. From there, the three progressed to Dan Tana’s in West Hollywood, but with Davis protesting to his heavy drinking, Spector agreed to drop her off on their way to a nightclub.
The Hose of Blues had opened several years earlier on Sunset Strip as a business opportunity between Hard Rock Café co-founder Isaac Tigrett and actor Dan Aykroyd. The latter had already demonstrated his love of music with the 1980 comedy The Blues Brothers, and with their new venue they hoped to offer strong competition to Johnny Depp’s recently-renovated Viper Room. ‘This is the taproot of American music, and the only art form that can claim continuous influence on the popular market from the twenties on,’ claimed Tigrett prior to the grand opening. But tension between Spector and Sullivan had begun to grow over her decision to only drink water, and after dismissing her from his company, he attempted to enter the Foundation Room, the club’s VIP area. It would be here that Spector and Clarkson first crossed paths. ‘She had been working at the House of Blues for about six weeks or so,’ Alan Jackson told the jury. ‘So she said, ‘I’m sorry, sir. You’re not on the list.’ We’ve all either heard that, or we’ve known someone who’s heard that. That famous line by door personnel: ‘You’re not on the list.’ I think we all kind of live our lives not being on the list. And Phil Spector then recites the mantra of the would-be rich and famous: ‘Do you know who I am?’ Clarkson answered, ‘Nope. Sure don’t.’ And he said, ‘I’m Phil Spector.’ And she said, ‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Spector.’ And he said, ‘No, Phil Spector!’ And she said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know you, and you’re not on the list.’ She was then taken aside, or approached, by Euphrates Lalondriz, or one of the other employees at the House of Blues. And it was explained to her, very clearly, ‘I know you don’t recognise this guy. He’s Phil Spector. Treat him like you’d treat Dan Aykroyd. Treat him like gold.’ The evidence will show you that that told Lana Clarkson exactly who Phil Spector was, and how he was to be treated…He was escorted into the Foundation Room, [and] she immediately began to fawn over him: ‘Is there anything I can get you, Mr. Spector? I’m sorry for the confusion. If you need anything, please come to me. My name is Lana, I’ll be glad to help you with anything you need. If you need a drink, we’ll take care of that. What else do you need?’’
Arguably one of the greatest mysteries in the case, and one that was never explained in any satisfying way, was how Lana Clarkson ended her night at the home of Phil Spector. It is not uncommon for people to venture to a stranger’s house after visiting a nightclub, but her motives behind this decision would remain unknown. However, during his opening statement, Spector’s attorney, Bruce Cutler, used this to discredit Clarkson. ‘The decedent and Phillip were strangers, according to the evidence in this case. And, according to the evidence in this case, the decedent, at her own volition – there was no pressure applied – she decided to come home with him,’ he claimed. ‘You’ll hear from the evidence in this case, the decedent – and she should rest in peace – had some difficulties with her life. I told you in the beginning, I will not besmirch the reputation of a decedent, I won’t do it. But if it’s relevant as to the manner of death, I will go into it because it’s relevant to clearing Phillip of these false charges…The decedent died a shocking, horrible death. Most shocking kind of thing. And the evidence will show you that you can’t point a finger, and have somebody pay for that, because it happened in their home.’ The undisputed facts in the case were as follows: Spector and Clarkson had met for the first time a few hours earlier at the House of Blues, and she had willingly accompanied him back to his home, located approximately twenty miles north-east along the San Bernardino Freeway, in the relatively close-knit community of Alhambra. At some time after five o’clock in the morning, a single bullet brought her life to a violent end. All the other details were a cause for speculation, and it would be down to forensic evidence, and the testimony of the witnesses that had observed Spector’s behaviour on the evening in question, to complete the picture. And the strategy of the defence team would be to discredit the reputations of both De Souza, Spector’s substitute chauffeur, and the late Lana Clarkson.
If media reports, and the claims of Bruce Cutler, were to be believed, Clarkson was a washed-up and emotionally unstable former actress, whose closest taste of stardom came with starring roles in a series of long-forgotten B-movies. Even though she had shared the screen with Al Pacino and David Hasselhoff, she would be best remembered for her association with independent producer Roger Corman. And now the defence were explaining to a court of law how her premature death had come by her own hands. ‘No one rules anything out in L.A., including the thought that they might have to shoot themselves by the end of the month if something doesn’t happen,’ wrote The Independent. ‘And why not a leggy blonde who wonders if you can get her engine to start again? I mean, we’re being facetious about this, but most of these girls were somebody’s daughter once. Or they were you and me. There’s a dread can hit you in L.A. if the cheque bounces, and your car won’t start, and the telephone has been cut oﬀ. It could happen to any of us. I mean, take William Holden – the real fellow – dead in some apartment in Santa Monica, and it was the best part of a week before anyone asked, ‘Where’s Holden?’ and did anything about it. So, consider Lana Clarkson. She was forty and an Aries; not a pretty mix, and there is the exploitation producer, Roger Corman, in the press saying, ‘She was a beautiful woman, a wonderful actress, and an adventurous spirit.’ Like, how adventurous?’ When a young Hollywood star passes away there are often warning signs. River Phoenix and Brad Renfro had struggled with substance abuse which had become notorious among the entertainment community, while Jonathan Brandis had become openly depressed about his failing career shortly before his suicide in 2003. But to those who were close to Clarkson, no one could cite any unusual behaviour that could have preceded her taking her own life. ‘I’ve known my sister my whole life, and there’s no way she committed suicide,’ insisted Fawn Clarkson.
‘There’s nothing Hollywood hates more than a failure, and poor Lana Clarkson has been portrayed as a failure in her life and a failure in her career, and a heavy drinker who was dependent on the painkiller Vicodin,’ said Dominick Dunne in a piece for Vanity Fair two months after the People vs. Phillip Spector was declared a mistrial. During the course of the trial, various friends and colleagues would be called forth to serve as character witnesses in order to establish the frame-of-mind Clarkson was in during the time leading up to her death. But was the tragic figure depicted by the tabloids close to the real Lana Clarkson? ‘She was my family, I don’t have a big family: she was my mother, my sister, the best date you ever had because she was always on time, and she was the funniest person I ever knew,’ declared Punkin Laughlin, who had first met Clarkson at a Halloween party in Los Angeles in 1993. But during the cross-examination by Alan Jackson, he asked, ‘Did you also tell [Ann-Marie Donahue], during the phone call that you got from Ms. Clarkson, that Ms. Clarkson’s statement was, ‘I can’t take it anymore, I don’t want it to be here in this town, I want out. I’m done, I’m done.’ While this may have shown that Clarkson was desperate to escape a failing career and cutthroat industry, this is not clear evidence of a suicidal mind. But during her interrogation at the hands of the defence, it was insinuated that Laughlin withheld information from the authorities regarding Clarkson’s struggles with depression. Laughlin claimed under oath that she had been asked by another friend not to disclose a prior discussion that had taken place with Clarkson, and so Laughlin was reluctant to reveal personal details of the deceased. Clarkson’s emotional wellbeing was called into question following an accident a year before her death that had forced her to put her acting career on hold. In a rather bizarre line of questioning, the defence referenced an exploitation picture from 1997 called Vice Girls, in which Clarkson played a police officer working in vice who is tasked with tracking down a vicious serial killer. The intention, it would seem, was to make some kind of connection between Clarkson wielding a handgun onscreen, and the possibility that she could have shot herself in real life.
Lana Clarkson did not come from a showbiz family and so the world of Hollywood felt a million miles away from the hippie parents that had raised her during the sixties and seventies. Although she was born in California, she had no connection to the entertainment industry growing up, but ever since she was a child she felt a strong desire to perform. The dog-eat-dog mentality of Los Angeles may have conflicted with the philosophies of her upbringing, but acting was in her blood. Desperate for a chance to break into the film industry, she first entered the world of modelling. ‘I had been working as a model in Europe, and going into movies seemed the next step,’ she said in 1992. ‘I hadn’t studied acting at all, but when I started working for Roger Corman, I guess you could say I went into Corman School. I went to amazing countries, learned languages, and got to work with foreign crews. Quite an education.’ While brief appearances in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Scarface gave her chance to work on the sets of mainstream productions, it was her casting in 1983’s Deathstalker that brought Clarkson her first significant role. One of a slew of low-budget sword-and-sorcery pictures intended to capitalise on the success of Conan the Barbarian, the film, which featured Clarkson semi-naked throughout its running time, introduced her to both Roger Corman and fans of B-movie exploitation. This would soon lead to a starring role in Corman’s Barbarian Queen, released two years later, and a minor part in the John Landis satire Amazon Women on the Moon. It was arguably on the small screen, however, where she received more respectable credits, appearing in episodes of Knight Rider, The A-Team, and Night Court. But by the time Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back was produced in 1990, fantasy cinema had lost popularity with audiences and Clarkson found herself struggling to find work in Hollywood.
Was Lana Clarkson truly the tragic story of a failed actress struggling with her personal demons, or was she really the victim of cold-blooded murder at the hands of an eccentric millionaire? If a wealthy recluse was going to commit such a crime far from the prying eyes of his neighbours, then the Pyrenees Castle would be the perfect isolated location to perform such a devious act. From the accounts given by those close to her, Clarkson may have struggled with self-doubt and depression, the same as most people who feel they could be more than they have achieved, but she was a level-headed and responsible woman. ‘A native of California’s Napa Valley, the five-foot-eleven blonde, says pal Courtney Kanner, ‘was very spiritual,’ volunteering for Project Angel Food, which delivers meals to AIDS patients, and burning incense in her one-bedroom Venice, California, cottage,’ revealed People two weeks after her death. ‘She was also trying to revive her acting career, which consisted mainly of commercials (including spots for Kmart and Playtex), and appearances at comic book conventions, where she signed copies of her Barbarian Queen posters. To help make ends meet, Clarkson took a job two weeks ago as a hostess in the VIP section of the House of Blues nightclub – a Spector hangout – where hours spent standing in high heels left her ‘complaining about her feet,’ says comic book store owner Bill Liebowitz. Still, the job had its perks. ‘She liked meeting famous people,’ Kanner says. ‘But she could be naïve and think people didn’t have any badness to them.’ That quality may well have cost Clarkson her life.’
Throughout both his opening statements and the subsequent trial, Alan Jackson based much of his prosecution case on the recurring themes of abuse that he claimed had been so prevalent in Spector’s personal life. He would highlight four prior relationships that had been tainted with either incidents of violence, or threats made with handguns. These past victims were cited as being Stephanie Jennings, Dorothy Melvin, Melissa Grosvenor, and Dianne Ogden-Halder. But during his own opening remarks, Bruce Cutler had attempted to dispute these testimonies. ‘Not one of these women, not one, stopped seeing Phillip. Not one of these women prosecuted him. Phillip was never charged once for assaulting or hurting another human being,’ he insisted. ‘Not one of these women came forward to them until after this incident. In this day and age, the evidence will show, with the excess of information that goes around the world, as you can see from our friends here in the audience, after 3 February, 2003, they decided, and the prosecutors decided, to come together, and then came forward at that time. Or they reached out to them at that time. But if you listen to what Mr. Jackson, the prosecutor, said here, they had murder on their mind on 3 February, 2003. Their case was De Souza, right then and there. They didn’t have any need, at that time, the evidence will show, for a cause of death. They didn’t have any need, the evidence will show, at that time, for a manner of death. The evidence will show that the coroner, who they will call in this case, had some misgivings, some doubts, about how the decedent died. The evidence will show that if we were in another site, another place, another city, another state, without the great cachet of Hollywood, without the great cachet of the entertainment capital of the world, and if Phillip didn’t have a name of major note of what he’s accomplished with his life, they wouldn’t be here.’
When pressure was applied to the trigger of the revolver, the firing pin inside the weapon was released and thrust a spring-loaded hammer against the primer, which in turn ignited a propellant, launching the bullet down the barrel and out through the muzzle, immediately tearing through the tissue of Lana Clarkson’s tongue and penetrating the inside of her skull. With the projectile expelled at point-blank range, the brain would not have had time to respond. The stellate contact wound located during the autopsy determined that the gun was inside the victim’s mouth at the time of firing, which could be characteristic of either an execution or a suicide. Phil Spector claimed shortly after his arrest that she had ‘kissed the gun,’ although many later believed this was a euphemism for Clarkson having taken her own life. One way in which forensic experts can determine who was responsible for firing a handgun can be in the unburned particles of gunpowder that are ejected from the barrel, leaving residues on the hands of the gunman. But depending on whether one listened to the expert testimonies of either the defence or prosecution, the victim had blood and gunpowder residue on both hands, or there was no trace evidence that could confirm her as the shooter. The fact that Spector emerged from the house holding the gun had caused the handle to be covered with his fingerprints, but preliminary findings conducted by the forensic team deduced that there were no significant amounts of residue found on his hands. Spector’s attorneys were in a stalemate against the state, with each one bringing in a medical expert to corroborate their version of events with scientific data.
Vincent Di Maio is a retired pathologist with over fifty years of experience in the field that has since worked as a private forensic consultant for the California courts. The author of an array of texts on the subject that include the seminal Gunshot Wounds: Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques, Dr. Di Maio is considered the final word on analysing gunshot wounds and determining the cause of death. It would be the defence team that recruited his services in order to support their claims that Clarkson had taken her own life on 3 February, 2003. ‘I came to my conclusion that it’s a self-inflicted wound, based on the objective evidence,’ he told the court. ‘The gun was oriented in the mouth so that it was going slightly upwards, straight back, in the midline… This sounds silly, but people who kill themselves do it the easiest way. And the easiest way is – and it’s done all the time – is you take the gun, you hold onto it so it’s pointing to you, you put your fingers around the grip, you put your thumb on the trigger, you brace the gun with the other hand, and then you fire. And this is very easy. And it would have been easier for her, because she had injury to her wrist. She had been in an automobile accident, and she had some loss of motion to her wrist, so it would be even more difficult for her to fire it with one hand…which goes along with the fact that there was blood on both hands, and there’s gunshot residue on both hands.’
In 1998’s Gunshot Wounds, Di Maio dedicated a chapter of his book to the various types of wounds that can be inflicted as the result of a gunshot. The one segment that is relevant to the case of Clarkson explores contact wounds, which are categorised as damage caused when the weapon was fired while making contact with the victim’s skin. In the case of Clarkson, the barrel was resting against the top of her tongue when the gun was discharged. A contact wound can cause severe bruising, burning, or blistering due to gases that are expelled as the bullet exits the muzzle. There are various types of contact wounds, depending on the angle of the weapon, and the pressure applied against the surface of the victim. ‘In loose-contact wounds, the muzzle, while in complete contact with the skin, is held lightly against it,’ he wrote. ‘Gas preceding the bullet, as well as the bullet itself, indents the skin, creating a temporary gap between the skin and the muzzle through which gas can escape. Soot carried by the gas is deposited in a zone around the entrance. This soot can be easily wiped away. A few unburnt grains of powder may also escape out this gap and be deposited on the skin in the zone of soot.’ There are only a handful of scenarios that could have led up to the gun being in Clarkson’s mouth at the time that the trigger was pulled. While the most obvious would be suicide, the presence of Spector, and the fact that she had only recently arrived at a stranger’s home, dictates that somehow he had forced the weapon into her mouth and opened fire. But if this was the case, there would have been signs of a struggle.
While Di Maio was called to testify on behalf of the defence, Alan Jackson introduced his own expert to talk the court through what may have happened on the morning that Clarkson died. ‘Dr. Louis Pena told the court that the barrel of a gun may have been forced into Clarkson’s mouth, which would undermine claims made by Spector’s lawyers that her death in his house in February 2003 was suicide,’ reported The Guardian on 30 May, 2007. It was barely a month into the trial when the coroner announced his findings to the jury. ‘He said she died with a purse on one shoulder in a stranger’s home, which is not typical of someone taking her own life. Jurors were shown graphic photos of the damage done to Clarkson’s face, and the inside of her mouth. At least one juror looked away from the large display on a movie screen, and for the first time, Clarkson’s mother and sister were not present in the courtroom. Pena said the recoil from the shot shattered Clarkson’s top front teeth, blowing them out of her mouth. He said that the shot went through her head, severed her spine, and death would have been almost instantaneous.’ It would not be uncommon during a trial of this nature for two experts with long and distinguished careers, having both examined the same evidence, to come to completely different conclusions. For Di Maio, it was the angle that the bullet had been shot that informed him that the victim had taken her own life, but for Pena, who was first called forth on the nineteenth day of the trial, there was other forensic evidence that he felt contradicted these claims.
Pena sat calmly in the witness stand as Jackson probed him regarding certain findings he had made when he first examined the body of Lana Clarkson. While the main point of interest had been the wound to her mouth, his attention was drawn to bruising around one of her wrists. Although it had been injured the previous year, he determined that the markings he found were caused only prior to her death. This could indicate, the prosecution informed the court, that her wrist was grabbed and the gun forced into her mouth. ‘I removed the bruise from the wrist area, towards the pinky finger side, and the two bruises on the forearm, on the front part of the lower arm, and put those under a microscope,’ he explained to Jackson. ‘Basically, I wanted to see if there was any kind of what is called inflammatory reaction. I expect to see blood, but I’m looking for other cells that might be coming in to help repair, or get rid of, those red cells. It’s a very tough study in our field as a medical examiner. There’s a lot of time differences. And I won’t get into times, because I basically was trying to see if it might give me a better timeframe of when the injuries might have occurred, based on the inflammation response. I didn’t see any. What does it mean? Basically, in my opinion, it’s a recent – or sometimes we’ll say acute – injury, as opposed to old. And that’s all I can tell you.’
But how reliable can an expert witness be when their integrity and reputation are called into question? While both Di Maio and Pena remained professional throughout the investigation, a respected criminologist was accused by Larry Paul Fidler, the Superior Court Judge presiding over the trial, of withholding evidence that was pertinent to the case. Following his service as a police officer in Taiwan, Henry Lee immigrated to the United States in the mid-sixties to study biochemistry at New York University, which he graduated with a doctorate in 1975. Following the foundation of the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, Lee became one of the leading figures in the field of forensic science. But his long and distinguished career has been marred with controversy, with speculation regarding his testimonies on the murder trials of Joyce Stochmal in 1988 and Janet Myers in 1990 later questioned for their accuracy. On 23 May, 2007, Fidler declared that Lee had withheld evidence from the prosecution after three people at the scene of the murder accused Lee of hiding what appeared to be an artificial fingernail. ‘Two of the three – a former Spector defence lawyer, Sara Caplan, and a defence investigator – said they saw Lee pick up the object in the foyer of Spector’s mansion in Alhambra,’ reported the Los Angeles Times. ‘Prosecutors say it was a piece of Lana Clarkson’s acrylic fingernail, which Deputy District Attorney Patrick Dixon said in court could show that Clarkson’s hand was in front of her face when she was shot, and that ‘her hands and her fingers were not on the trigger.’ Spector is charged with murdering Clarkson, who was found shot in the mouth in his home 3 February, 2003. He says Clarkson shot herself and has pleaded not guilty. Spector’s attorneys say Lee still will be a key witness for them; he is expected to testify that Spector was not standing close enough to Clarkson to have shot her. Regarding the alleged fingernail, Lee had testified before Fidler last week that Caplan was mistaken, that he did not pick up such an object.’
While Lee’s comment that all of the white investigators in the case ‘all look alike’ prompted laughter from not only the audience but also Spector, resulting in Jackson declaring, ‘I won’t even touch that with a ten-foot pole,’ the focus of his second day of interrogation would be on the misplacing of crucial evidence, and the accusations levelled by Sara Caplan. ‘First thing [I would do is] I would photograph that, document it, before I do anything, to show its originality,’ insisted a visibly-irritated Lee. ‘Then I collect, [and] preserve it, because if I don’t collect it, so many people in and out, it may disappear. So I collect, and that night, this particular evidence, I kept and asked attorney [Robert] Shapiro, ‘Who should we give it to?’ He said he [was] going to contact the D.A., or the police, or the authorities, then make a determination.’ This would not be the first case that Shapiro had sought the expertise of Lee on, as just a few years earlier Shapiro had been a member of the so-called Dream Team: a collection of renowned lawyers tasked in defending O. J Simpson of first-degree murder. This celebrity defence team had also included Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian, and the infamous F. Lee Bailey. Christopher Darden, who worked alongside Marcia Clark as the prosecution during the Simpson trial, later claimed that Lee had ‘stretched’ the truth. ‘I didn’t think it was true then, and I don’t think it’s true today,’ he declared. ‘It was bullshit, not science.’
During his interrogation of Lee, the usually calm and collected Jackson expressed frustration at what he saw as Lee’s incompetence, with the criminologist having failed to document the scene in a variety of different photographic angles that could paint a clear picture of how the body of Lana Clarkson had been discovered. After listening to the two spar in the courtroom, Fidler finally ruled that Lee had purposely withheld information that could have assisted in the prosecution’s case. ‘Lee denied during a hearing last week that he found such an item. He said his only findings were some white threads and a piece of bloodstained carpet. The prosecution contends the item Lee withheld was a piece of fingernail with the trace of a passing bullet that would show Clarkson resisted having a gun placed in her mouth. Her right thumb was missing a piece of acrylic fingernail after her death. During the hearing with jurors absent, Lee displayed his showmanship on the witness stand, complimenting prosecutor Alan Jackson on his good looks, and producing cotton swabs and sticky notes he said he used to pick up and package evidence.’ From the testimonies given by two of the forensic experts, one had deduced that Lana Clarkson had taken her own life, while the other insisted that there was sufficient evidence to consider the possibility of murder. But which series of events were true? Was Clarkson haunted by her failed career and personal life, and so committed suicide by placing a gun in her mouth and pulling the trigger? Or was Phil Spector, a man the prosecution claimed had a history of violence, really a cold-blooded killer?
Innocent until proven guilty. This is the entire philosophy of the legal system. It was the burden of the prosecution to prove that Harvey Phillip Spector, the revered songwriter and producer, had placed a gun inside the mouth of Lana Clarkson, an actress he had met just a few short hours earlier, and pulled the trigger. And to achieve this, prosecuting attorney Alan Jackson attempted to paint a picture of a troubled man who, through a mixture of rage and alcoholism, had shown a pattern of violence throughout the years that he had inflicted upon the women in his life. Clarkson may have been a stranger to him, but he had already revealed his violent side to other women as far back as the seventies and eighties. ‘The evidence will show, ladies and gentlemen, that Lana Clarkson fell victim to Phillip Spector on 3 February, 2003, at about five o’clock in the morning,’ he explained during his opening statement. ‘But she was simply the last in a very long line of women who had been victimised by Phillip Spector over the years. Before Lana Clarkson came Stephanie Jennings. And before her, Dorothy Melvin. And before her, Melissa Grosvenor. And before her, Dianne Halder. The evidence will show, ladies and gentlemen, that the defendant has a pattern, and that pattern began to emerge all the way back to the late eighties. You’ll hear that each of these incidents is strikingly similar to the next, and through the evidence, ladies and gentlemen, you’ll hear from the first four women. Lana Clarkson, however, will have to tell her story from the evidence. And from the grave.’
On Saturday, 11 August, 2007, more than four years after the death of Clarkson, the jury assembled together in the hall of the Pyrenees Castle to see the crime scene for themselves. They had heard stories from expert witnesses, they had observed photographs of the foyer where she had died, but now it was time to gain a better understanding by exploring the house where the alleged murder had taken place. Jackson’s case rested on proving that, under the influence of alcohol, Spector had a history of violence against women, and that Clarkson was the latest, and most severe. And when one of the jurors requested a chance to explore the bar, Jackson discovered new evidence to support the theme that he was perpetuating. ‘I went and looked at the bar, and you folks looked at the bar, and lo and behold what was sitting right behind the bar in plain view, half empty? A big fat bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila,’ he recalled to the jury during his closing argument. ‘[The defence] wanted to make the suggestion that Lana Clarkson was a thief, who walks around hiking her foot up on the table. Trustworthy, or manipulation? Paxil; we can cross this one off our list pretty quick. The defence experts actually wrote in their report, as you heard when I cross-examined Dr. Di Maio, ‘Oh yeah, she was taking Paxil. She was depressed.’ Paxil is sometimes given for depression. Yes, absolutely. ‘This goes in my expert opinion that she was depressed, and she killed herself because she was taking Paxil.’ Until we learned that she actually wasn’t prescribed Paxil for depression, it had nothing to do with depression. She had migraine headaches. Paxil is also prescribed for headaches. Would the defence have told you this, had it not come out in cross-examination? You have to ask yourself that. Constantly test the quality and character of the evidence that is being presented. Is it trustworthy, or is it once more an attempt at manipulation?’
One testimony that would support his theory that Phil Spector was a violent drunk came from Dianne Ogden-Halder, a talent coordinator and former assistant of the defendant who first met Spector in 1982 and dated him sporadically over the next five years. Ogden-Halder, who passed away from an accidental drug overdose the following year, took the stand on 7 May, 2007 to testify regarding an incident that had taken place two decades earlier, which, the prosecution hoped, would reveal a recurring pattern of gun-related violence that culminated in the death of Lana Clarkson. ‘Alan and Jody Kline, father and son, were at Phillip’s, and I was there. And Phillip was taking movies of us, with his movie camera,’ she recalled. ‘It was time for everybody to leave. I wanted to leave, they wanted to leave. They were staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel at the time. And so they got in their car to leave, I went to go to leave, and Phillip, from behind me, says, ‘We’re not going anywhere. I can’t stand the sound of your voice.’ He’s screaming that at me. ‘I have an uzi here, and I am going to kill you.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he had it in his hand. I saw that gun…And so I said, ‘Phillip, stop it. I’m just going to go home. Don’t do this to me again. Please, you’re drinking too much. Just go back in the house.’ And so I ran to my car, he’s running after me. He had the uzi as he’s running after me, and I’m trying to fumble for my keys. I don’t remember if they were on the floor. And I put them right in the ignition. I started it up. The windows were rolled up. It was kind of cool. And he puts the uzi against my window, just like that. Just banging and banging on my window. I thought he was going to break the window. And so I gunned it, and it was a four-speed, and I’m like, ‘Please God, let me out of here.’ I can see him pointing at me like this in my rear view mirror, and I’m ducking and trying to drive. And I know the gate is open because they had left, and I just went flying out of there, hoping that I wasn’t going to hit a tree.’
The trigger had been pulled, and the bullet had claimed the life of Lana Clarkson. That was not in dispute. But what both the prosecution and defence fought hard to prove was who fired the weapon, and what Spector’s movements were following her death. Between the gun firing and Spector approaching Adriano De Souza, his whereabouts inside the house were unknown. There were tooth particles on the staircase, which would indicate that he had wandered around the house following the shooting, but, as Jackson maintained, one thing he did not do was notify the authorities. ‘If a child, a baby, falls in a pool, what’s the first thing you hear people around the pool scream? Four words. You hear them scream four words,’ he explained. ‘If you’re having dinner at a restaurant, and a man grabs his chest and falls to the ground, and his wife screams, ‘Oh my god, my husband’s having a heart attack,’ what four words do you hear every single time, coming right in the wake of that woman saying, ‘My husband’s having a heart attack?’ If you’re looking out your window and you see a motorcyclist hit by a truck, what’s the first thing you’re going to hear people on the street scream to the top of their lungs? What would you scream? You know what it is. It starts with the word ‘dial.’ Bob [Gallagher] and Bob [Fitzgerald] invented the 911 system. A system you don’t even think of as an invention. because every man, woman, and child in this country – every village, every township, every county, every city, every state – has adopted this as the emergency system. Every three-year-old knows to call 911 when there’s an emergency. Every eighty-three-year-old knows call 911 when there’s an emergency. Lana Clarkson was laying dead in Phillip Spector’s foyer, and according to the defence she killed herself. And he never called 911. Never. Not once. And what’s the argument going to be? Panic? That’s what the system was designed for!’
On 26 September, 2007, the jury gathered together before Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler to announce their verdict to the courtroom. More than four-and-a-half years had passed since the fatal shooting, during which time Spector had parted ways with attorneys Robert Shapiro and Bruce Cutler, and now both Jackson and Linda Kenney Baden had presented their closing arguments to the nine men and three women that were tasked with issuing the final judgement. ‘Jury number ten, I understand, you have sent me a communication, indicating that the jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict?’ asked Fidler. As each juror confirmed that there was no action the court could take that would facilitate an agreed verdict among the jurors, they were dismissed and Fidler declared a mistrial. In a court of law, if all twelve members of a jury are unable to agree upon a final verdict regarding a defendant, then the trial is declared void and a new date is issued for a retrial, during which a different jury would be selected. Barely a week after this announcement, Spector’s remaining representatives – Kenney Baden, Roger Rose, and Bradley Brunon – resigned from the case, resulting in the trial being delayed for more than a year. During this time, Spector participated in a career retrospective for BBC’s Arena entitled The Agony and the Ecstasy, which attempted to depict the defendant as a tortured individual who had inherited a mental illness from his father, George Spector, who had committed suicide when Phillip was just ten-years-old.
Following a second visit to the Pyrenees Castle, this time with a new jury selection, the court once again reconvened at the Los Angeles County Superior Court in order for the jurors to announce their verdict. On 13 April, 2009, the trial of the People vs. Phillip Spector finally came to an end when, after thirty hours of deliberations, the jury reached a guilty verdict for the second-degree murder of Lana Clarkson in 2003. For more than six years, the defence had attempted to depict the victim as a failed actress struggling with depression who, within hours of meeting Phil Spector, took her own life in the foyer of his Los Angeles mansion. And while the original jury had failed to reach a conclusion, the retrial had resulted in the prosecution winning the case. ‘I want to acknowledge the many women who testified and presented a picture of Phil Spector,’ declared Jackson’s fellow district attorney Steve Cooley. The evidence had been presented, and the jury had finally cast their verdict. Phillip Spector had placed a gun inside the mouth of Lana Clarkson and pulled the trigger, taking her life for reasons unknown. She was an actress, a daughter, a sister, and a friend, but throughout the trial she became nothing more than a victim. The defence team had worked tirelessly to prove that she was damaged goods and that she had died by her own hand, but when the trial finally came to an end, it was declared murder. ‘All our plans together are destroyed,’ mourned her mother, Donna Clarkson. ‘Now I can only visit her in the cemetery.’