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Evidence tampering alleged in Spector trial

Phil Spector was peeved. The most important houseguests of his life -- a dozen jurors, a judge and a cadre of attorneys -- were set to arrive at his turreted mansion to inspect the scene of an actress' death and he was appalled at the setup dictated by the court.

"I won't allow it. It's still my [expletive] house," Spector typed in the Aug. 8, 2007, e-mail to his attorneys.

He used profane nicknames to refer to the two deputy district attorneys prosecuting him for murder and threatened to make a scene if they got out of line.

"I am warning you now," he wrote, "I have a big mouth."

The e-mail that the legendary music producer dashed off a year and a half ago in the privacy of his Alhambra estate emerged in public Monday at Spector's retrial amid allegations that his defense team may have manipulated key evidence in advance of the jury view in the first trial.

Outside the presence of jurors, a prosecutor asked the judge to block a field trip during the retrial. He said an e-mail written by a jury consultant suggested that the defense may have adjusted an outdoor fountain to mislead jurors during the first trial. Spector's perturbed e-mail was a response to other information contained in the consultant's letter.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler, who presided at the first trial and is overseeing the current case, said a visit proposed for next week can go forward, but the fountain must be shut off because of his concern about possible tampering in 2007.

"Whether there was or there wasn't I cannot conclusively say because there is not enough evidence before the court," the judge said of the tampering allegations.

Spector's current lawyer, who did not represent him during the first proceeding, and the jury consultant denied that the defense did anything wrong. The fountain's volume is crucial to defense attempts to discredit prosecution witness Adriano DeSouza, a chauffeur who has said that immediately after Lana Clarkson was shot to death inside the house, Spector walked outside and said, "I think I killed somebody." Spector's lawyer contends that the burbling fountain interfered with the driver's hearing.

The night before the site visit, jury consultant Richard Gabriel sent an e-mail to one of Spector's defense attorneys: "Fountain will be on full bore for site visit tomorrow, yes?"

The e-mail came into the prosecution's hands after Spector accidentally forwarded it with his comments to a former assistant who posted it online. Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson said the phrase "full bore" indicates that "there is something else, maybe half bore or three-quarters bore."

Spector's attorney, Doron Weinberg, however, told the judge, "All he is saying is make sure it isn't turned down."

Reached in his office, Gabriel said the intent of the e-mail, which included warnings about letting prosecutors dictate the focus of jurors' attention at the scene, was to ensure a "truly neutral jury view."

"Our concern was that jurors would be able to experience the sound of the fountain as it had been that night and nothing more," he said.

The 2007 visit to the palatial home known as the Pyrenees Castle was accompanied by great fanfare, including news helicopters, closed streets and dozens of law enforcement officers. The fountain was running while the jurors inspected the driveway and the rooms on the ground floor of the mansion. The next month, the panel was unable to reach a unanimous verdict and the case ended in a mistrial.

The judge said he would finalize his ruling unless Spector's lawyer presents evidence that the fountain's volume is immutable. Weinberg said he believed that the fountain had only two modes -- on and off -- but was investigating further.

In another decision, Fidler precluded Spector's wife from appearing at her husband's side during the jury's visit as she did during the first trial. Jackson objected to her presence before jurors, which, he said, conveyed the image of "a nice little family." The judge said Rachelle Spector, a constant presence at both trials, is allowed to remain on the premises, but must stay out of the jury's sight.

Spector, 68, faces 18 years in prison if convicted of killing Clarkson, 40. His defense, which contends the actress shot herself, called as its first witness Monday afternoon the county medical examiner.

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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