LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rock producer Phil Spector murdered an actress in the same “petulant fit of rage” witnessed over the years by other women he held at gunpoint in similar circumstances, a Los Angeles prosecutor told jurors on Wednesday at the start of a retrial in the 2003 killing.
But Spector’s lawyer told the jury that 40-year-old Lana Clarkson had reached a low point in her life emotionally and professionally, and took her own life after having a drunken sexual encounter with Spector.
“What the evidence is going to tell you is that Lana Clarkson’s body would look the same whether she shot herself or was shot,” attorney Doron Weinberg said.
Spector, 68, is charged with murdering Clarkson in the early morning hours of February 3, 2003 as she tried to leave his mock castle in the foothills outside Los Angeles.
A first trial ended in a mistrial in September 2007 after the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of a guilty verdict against the man who pioneered the 1960s “Wall of Sound” pop music technique. California law requires a unanimous verdict to convict or acquit.
The diminutive Spector sat quietly through Monday’s opening statements dressed in a sober black suit and white tie. Clarkson’s mother and sister were among spectators in the packed courtroom.
During his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson reiterated for the new jury the prosecution’s theory that the shooting was the final chapter in a long pattern of violence that Spector practiced against women toward whom he had romantic intentions.
“In some petulant fit of rage, he pulled a gun on the unarmed Lana Clarkson as she sat in the foyer of his home and before he was through with her, he put a bullet in her head,” Jackson told the court.
Jackson said an empty packet of Viagra pills at the crime scene showed Spector had hoped for sex with Clarkson, and became angry when she wanted to leave his house.
In his “panic and desperation” to cover up the crime, Spector rushed to clean up Clarkson’s blood and wipe down and plant the gun, leaving his terrified driver to call police, Jackson said.
As in the first trial, the jury will hear testimony from five women whom Spector detained at gunpoint, often pressing the barrel of the weapon to their heads or faces, when they tried to leave his home or hotel after a night of drinking.
The prosecutor also played Spector’s expletive-laced voicemail messages to two women who had called police after their confrontations with the music producer.
“Be very careful what you say to people because nothing you say to me is worth your life,” Spector said in one message.
Weinberg conceded that Spector “has done things that aren’t attractive. ... He has a temper” and “has waved guns” but said Spector had no reason to detain Clarkson because he had already had a sexual encounter with her that night.
An autopsy showed Clarkson had the prescription painkiller Vicodin in her bloodstream and a blood alcohol level of nearly twice the legal limit for driving, Weinberg said.
She had written e-mails to friends saying she was “on the verge of losing it all” and was “hanging on by a thread” due to the failure of her acting career and a romantic relationship.
“As drunk as she was, with the Vicodin, to see a gun and in that moment to do something impulsive and self-destructive is entirely consistent with where she was and how she was feeling,” Weinberg said.
Spector first met Clarkson at the House of Blues nightclub on the Sunset Strip just hours before her death. She was working as a hostess at the club where he had gone with a friend for late night drinks. Spector persuaded her to go home with him for a drink.
The trial is expected to last four months.
Editing by Gina Keating and Todd Eastham