Spector Is Charged With Murder

Times Staff Writers

Legendary rock music producer Phil Spector was charged Thursday with murdering an actress in his hilltop mansion in Alhambra in February.

Police records obtained by The Times state that after the shooting, Spector told his chauffeur, "I think I killed somebody." The chauffeur told Alhambra police that Spector was carrying a handgun at the time.

The records provide new details about the death of Lana Clarkson, a 40-year-old actress and nightclub hostess. Spector had said in an interview with a magazine that Clarkson had killed herself.

The chauffeur, identified only as Souza, said he heard a "boom" and came to the back door, where he saw the victim, whose face was bloody, sitting on a chair just inside, according to the report. He told investigators he thought he saw blood on Spector's hands, but he was not completely sure.

Police found Clarkson's body on the chair, with one gunshot wound to the head and neck, authorities said.

Spector, 63, known for his work with the Beatles, the Righteous Brothers and others, has been free on $1-million bail since he was arrested shortly after the slaying.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office charged him with one count of murder, along with allegations that he used a handgun in the slaying. If convicted, Spector could face life in state prison.

Through his attorney, Spector pleaded not guilty Thursday during a brief hearing at the Alhambra courthouse. Spector wore a long black coat, dark sunglasses and platform shoes and agreed to return to court on Jan. 23. He said only, "Yes, your honor," when asked if he waived his right to a speedy trial.

No further bond was requested.

Members of Clarkson's family were in the courtroom during the hearing but did not comment.

Spector's attorney, Robert Shapiro, said in a written statement: "We have assembled a team of scientific experts which is among the most respected and prestigious in the world. Based on their findings of this horrible human event, any jury will conclude that Phil Spector is not guilty. We will prevail."

Prosecutors said they planned to try Spector on a theory of implied malice, alleging that he acted in such an "inherently dangerous" way that he could be held responsible for the murder.

"We believe that the conduct by Mr. Spector justifies the charges we filed," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin McCormick.

Spector's friends were saddened by prosecutors' decision and still believe there is some explanation other than murder.

"I just think it's awful," Spector's longtime friend and veteran record industry publicist Bob Merlis said Thursday. "It was terrible when we heard about this in February, and it's terrible today. I'm hoping that something comes out in court that will explain this and exonerate him."

Dan Kessel, a musician who played on many of the recordings Spector produced, said, "He's a wonderful guy and I'm sure he's innocent."

Spector and Clarkson met for the first time on Feb. 3 at the House of Blues, the Sunset Strip club where she worked as a hostess. Employees saw them leave together about 2:30 a.m. that morning in his Mercedes.

Souza, who had driven Spector to several locations that night, told investigators he dropped the pair off in front of Spector's mansion in Alhambra about 3 a.m., and they headed up the stairs to the residence. Souza then drove around back and parked near a fountain, the report said. About 20 minutes later, he got out of the car and gave Spector his leather bag containing a DVD player and a cell phone, according to the arrest report. Souza then sat in the car for about two hours after the shooting. He called 911.

When police arrived, Spector refused to raise his hands and was shot with a Taser, according to the police report. Officers then knocked him to the ground and handcuffed him, the arrest report said.

Spector has described the incident as a bizarre suicide, telling Esquire magazine, "She kissed the gun. I have no idea why -- never knew her, never even saw her before that night."

Sheriff's Capt. Frank Merriman said the evidence clearly showed that the two were together in the house. Throughout the investigation, Merriman said, "nothing was uncovered that dissuaded me from my opinion" that Spector "was responsible for her death." There was no evidence of a specific motive, he said.

Spector and Clarkson were alone in the house at the time of the shooting, investigators said. The gun used in the killing was recovered from the 1926 chateau.

Clarkson had appeared in B-list movies such as "Barbarian Queen I" and "Amazon Women on the Moon" and had done some stand-up comedy. She also appeared in "Scarface" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

Spector is best known for producing 1960s hits that included "Be My Baby," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " and "Stand By Me," and for his layered "Wall of Sound" recording technique, a symphonic approach to pop music. He started his career when he was a Fairfax High School student and was a millionaire by the time he turned 21.

He was known as an erratic genius with a penchant for guns and a history of drinking problems and reckless behavior.

Mark Ribowsky, author of the 1989 Spector biography "He's a Rebel," said of the charges, "I've been telling people for months: I'm not surprised. I've just wondered what took so long. I've also been telling people I don't think he'll do a day in jail. He's too smart for the authorities. He'll find some way to skate on this."

Ribowsky said Spector is "a musical genius for sure, but a horrible human being." He said Spector had a different gun to go with every outfit.

Denny Bruce, a musician and manager who met Spector in 1965, said Spector gave up drinking a few years ago and he got into a "youth movement."

He worked with the band Starsailor, which he saw as a way to make a comeback, Bruce said. He also "started showing -- I hate to use the word 'human' -- but a warmer side," Bruce said. Instead of being a recluse, he invited people to his house on Saturdays.

Publicist Merlis said Spector had been invigorated by his experience last year producing his first recordings in 20 years for Starsailor. Two of the tracks they worked on together appear on the group's new album, "Silence Is Easy," scheduled to be released in the U.S. next year. But Ribowsky said the work is not significant.

"He wants to make people believe he's still relevant on some level, but deep down he knows he's not," Ribowsky said. "It's a shame, because he's still young enough to do some good stuff."

Of Spector being charged the same day that Michael Jackson was arrested, Ribowsky called it "kind of ironic ... the King of Pop and the Wagner of rock 'n' roll."

For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday November 22, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction Spector case -- In Friday's California section, a headline on an article about Phil Spector being charged with murder said he pleaded not guilty in the death of actress Laura Clarkson. The name of the actress was Lana Clarkson. In the article, "Stand by Me" was incorrectly listed among songs produced by Spector.
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