Spector’s lawyers chastised
The judge in the Phil Spector murder trial said Thursday that the defendant’s attorneys deliberately ambushed prosecutors with new evidence for “tactical advantage,” and ruled jurors can consider defense misconduct as they decide the recording legend’s fate.
Judge Larry Paul Fidler had ruled Tuesday that the defense presented a new theory on Clarkson’s death without first informing prosecutors. California law requires both sides in a trial to share evidence, so opponents have a fair chance at rebuttal.
The judge, speaking while the jury was out of the courtroom, said the defense’s violation was no mistake. “I have no doubt, and I will say it as clearly as I can, this was done to gain a tactical advantage,” Fidler said.
Spector, 67, is charged with murdering actress Lana Clarkson, 40, in his Alhambra mansion Feb. 3, 2003. Attorneys for the music producer maintain that Clarkson shot herself.
The defense has called eminent forensic scientists to back their claim that Clarkson’s wound was self-inflicted.
The most recent defense expert, pathologist Michael Baden, stunned the court Tuesday when he theorized that Clarkson had lived for several minutes after she was shot, which could suggest that the dying actress coughed up blood on Spector’s jacket as he attempted to render aid. Prosecutors say Clarkson died instantly and Spector was sprayed with blood when he shot her.
Explaining his penalty decision, Fidler said the defense’s actions were “so deliberate and so egregious” that they required a remedy. Baden’s testimony was “a major change in defense strategy,” Fidler said. He said the defense’s characterization of the shift as a minor modification was “nonsense.”
“I saw it for what it was, the prosecution saw it for what it was, the defense saw it for what it was,” Fidler said.
The judge said the defense throughout the trial has delayed turning over evidence until the last moment. Prior to the start of the trial, the defense failed to promptly turn over a box of evidence, Fidler said. In May, the judge ruled that defense expert Henry Lee did not turn over a fingernail-size object he collected at Spector’s home, which prosecutors said was a key piece of evidence.
Fidler said that in his many years on the bench he has seen defense attorneys pushing the boundaries of discovery rules, and told the lawyers “the only way to put an end to this game-playing is for judges not to look the other way. I will not look the other way.”
Fidler said the entire defense team shared the blame for the violation, not just Christopher Plourd, the attorney who handled Baden’s testimony.
That remark prompted Spector attorney Bradley Brunon to say Fidler was “putting his thumb on the scales” because Plourd had not told him and co-counsel Roger J. Rosen about Baden’s finding.
Fidler took Brunon’s statement as an insult. “I’m letting you know I find it offensive,” Fidler angrily told Brunon, “You better withdraw that comment.” Brunon obliged and later reiterated he meant to make a legal point, not attack the judge. Fidler said he would look past the remark.
Fidler said he will instruct the jury not to blame Spector for his lawyer’s actions, but rather to consider how the infraction prejudiced the case. Jurors can also consider the misconduct when weighing the credibility of witnesses. Fidler said prosecutors and defense attorneys can propose language for the instruction, but he ultimately will be the author.
Baden concluded his testimony after Fidler’s ruling. He said he is between 90% to 99% certain, “all evidence, from the autopsy, the broken [right thumb] nail to the criminalistic point of view, indicates Lana Clarkson’s right thumb was on the trigger while the weapon [was fired] in her mouth.”
The trial will resume Tuesday.