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Prosecutors in Spector murder trial close with testimony from actress' mother

After weeks of complex scientific testimony in which forensic experts held forth on the intricacies of the human anatomy, the aerodynamics of blood and the microscopic properties of fabric, the prosecution in Phil Spector's murder retrial rested its case Thursday with a lay witness and an appeal to common sense.

A suicidal woman, the final government witness suggested, does not buy new shoes.

The testimony came from Donna Clarkson, whose actress daughter, Lana, suffered a fatal bullet wound in the foyer of the music producer's Alhambra mansion six years ago.

Her account of shopping with her daughter a day before her death capped nine weeks of prosecution testimony and was an attempt to answer the defense's contention that Clarkson, 40, died by her own hand.

In a soft voice, Donna Clarkson recounted helping her daughter select eight pairs of shoes appropriate for the actress' new job as a hostess at the House of Blues.

"It's hard to find flat, black shoes," Clarkson said, smiling slightly. "That was like a little miracle."

The new shoes included Mary Janes familiar to jurors from police photos that show Lana Clarkson's lifeless body sprawled on a chair in the entryway of Spector's 30-room residence.

"They were the ones she liked best," her mother said.

Spector, famed for his work with pop acts such as the Beatles and Tina Turner, is standing trial for the second time in connection with the Feb. 3, 2003, shooting. He and Clarkson met three hours before her death when she escorted him to a table in the House of Blues' VIP section. She later agreed to accompany him home for a drink. The first trial, in 2007, ended when jurors deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of conviction. The 68-year-old faces a minimum of 18 years in prison if found guilty of second-degree murder.

The retrial has progressed largely without the hoopla that the first proceeding attracted. There are no television cameras and far fewer spectators in Judge Larry Paul Fidler's courtroom.

Spector still arrives each morning in his trademark sartorial splendor -- a tuxedo jacket with a cream silk tie and pocket square Thursday -- but his presence creates less of a stir. He has reduced his security from a retinue of three bodyguards to a single man who shadows Spector and his wife, Rachelle.

Since the retrial began Oct. 29 in Superior Court, it has progressed through distinct stages, starting with the accounts of five women who said Spector terrorized them with guns under circumstances prosecutors say were similar to events surrounding Clarkson's death. Their testimony was followed by witnesses who recounted Spector's behavior the night Clarkson died, including a chauffeur who said that immediately after the shot rang out, Spector emerged from the house with a gun in his hand and a confession on his lips.

"I think I killed somebody," the driver quoted him as saying.

A month of forensic testimony culminated earlier this week with a criminalist telling jurors that blood spots on Spector's dinner jacket and Clarkson's slip dress placed the defendant within 3 feet of her face when the gun went off.

The choice of Clarkson's mother as the last witness before Spector opens his defense underscores the central role of the actress' mental state in the trial. A tall blond with blue eyes, Clarkson achieved cult fame starring in the 1985 film "The Barbarian Queen," but mainstream success eluded her.

The defense has portrayed her as a psychologically fragile woman brought low by her flagging prospects in Hollywood, the approach of middle age, and romantic and financial misfortunes, but the prosecution has presented her as a resourceful optimist who remained determined about her future.

Her mother, a nurse who told jurors she had worked with psychiatric patients for 24 years, said that at the time of her death, her daughter had at least two jobs lined up -- a photo shoot for a phone ad and a fitness machine infomercial that did not pay but came with free personal training. Lana Clarkson had sent an e-mail RSVP to a friend's party, her mother said, and had scheduled an appointment to have her taxes done.

Donna Clarkson has been a constant presence at both trials, sitting in the front row with lawyers who will file a civil suit against Spector when the criminal matter is over. In the half-hour she spent in the witness chair, she never lost her composure, but her voice quivered and her eyes reddened as she told jurors that her daughter's last words to her were "I love you."

She acknowledged that the actress was strained financially. She said she had given her daughter money to pay for head shots and picked up the $155 tab for the new shoes. Spector's lawyer pressed her about letters she found in her daughter's home purported to be from entertainment executives enthusiastic about her talent. Called to the stand at the last trial, the executives said they were forgeries.

Spector's attorney, Doron Weinberg, told jurors in his opening statement that Clarkson's death may have been a spur-of-the-moment act of self-destruction rather than a thought-out decision to end her life. Outside court, he said interpreting Clarkson's shoe purchase or future appointments as an argument against suicide reflected a "fundamental misconception" that all people who kill themselves "set some date in the future . . . and then cancel all other activities."

"There is a category of suicide that is impulsive and unplanned," he said. The defense witness list includes a clinical psychologist who studied the impulsiveness of suicide attempts on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, he noted.

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
  • Complete coverage of Spector's trials

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