Money helped Spector more than celebrity
In January 1965, the Righteous Brothers song “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” hit the airwaves and soon became a No. 1 hit. By the end of the 20th century, the anthemic tune had become the most played song on American radio. It can still be heard almost any day in any part of the country.
Every time the song is played on the radio, producer and co-writer Phil Spector makes money.
Over the last four years, Spector used that bundle of cash, as well as money he made from several other signature songs of the ‘60s and ‘70s, to hire seven lawyers, a bevy of forensic experts and several private investigators to mount a defense against a second-degree murder charge.
After a Los Angeles jury told Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler that it was hopelessly deadlocked Wednesday, several legal experts said Spector’s ability to finance a more elaborate defense than 99% of other murder defendants played a key role in the record producer being able to walk away free, pending a retrial.
“Whether you are buying a car, a boat or a defense, the bigger the budget, the better the ride,” said Robert Hirschhorn, a Houston jury consultant who has worked on many high-profile cases.
Several other legal experts agreed that although Spector was not a celebrity of the magnitude of O.J. Simpson or Michael Jackson, his wealth served him well in the trial.
“I don’t think” the jurors who held out for acquittal did it “because of some ‘we love Phil’ sentiment,” Loyola law professor Laurie Levenson said.
Rather, she said, she thought Spector’s vast resources enabled him to hire a large and sophisticated defense team that was able to persuade two jurors that he had not shot and killed actress Lana Clarkson four years ago.
“It’s fair to say the more resources you have, the better the result you are likely to get,” Levenson said.
Noting that several jurors initially indicated that they did not know who Spector was, Levenson said his money was more important than his fame.
“Even when Spector was at his peak, he was a behind-the-scenes person,” unlike the performers he produced, including the Beatles, Ben E. King, Ike and Tina Turner, the Ronettes, the Crystals and the Ramones, said USC law professor Jean Rosenbluth.
But all the work Spector did for those stars brought him wealth, and in the end “money matters more than celebrity,” Rosenbluth said.
A juror who thought that Spector was guilty dismissed the notion in a post-trial interview that the music producer’s renown, which the defense labored to keep in the jury’s mind, had anything to do with the outcome. Rather, the juror said, Spector’s team had enough firepower to offer several possible reasons for acquittal.
“I think the money Spector used for forensic experts” who countered the prosecution’s blood-splatter evidence, was well spent, said Loyola law professor Stan Goldman, who followed the trial closely.
Most defendants don’t have more than $100,000 to spend on someone like forensic pathologist Michael Baden, who spent several years working on the case, Goldman said.
“It is not a matter of hiring these guys and having them spend a few minutes on this,” Goldman said. It was clear “that they spent serious time thinking about this case.”
The jury foreman cited three factors that played a role in the decision of jurors to vote not guilty.
They included the prosecution’s failure to present a psychological profile of Clarkson to counter defense witnesses who suggested she had committed suicide. In addition to the medical experts, the defense called on the testimony of several former friends of Clarkson, who were found by defense investigators.
The foreman cited the prosecution’s failure to establish that Spector had held the gun when Clarkson was shot. The foreman also said that driver Adriano DeSouza’s testimony that he heard Spector say “I think I killed somebody” was undercut by DeSouza’s videotaped remark to police that his English was not perfect and that he was not positive about what he had heard.
Goldman said the defense team apparently had proved wrong the skeptics who ridiculed Spector’s lawyers for injecting the suicide theory into the case.
“They said it was a terrible defense that will never work, but apparently it was one of the things that the defense needed to do,” Goldman said.
A key defense witness on this point was Werner Spitz, formerly the chief medical examiner of Wayne County, Mich. He offered testimony that Clarkson shot herself. Spitz called the shooting “a spur-of-the-moment determination, without thinking.”
Spitz and two other defense experts directly disputed contentions by prosecutors and the Los Angeles County medical examiner that Spector murdered the 40-year-old actress.
Spitz told the jury he concluded that Clarkson shot herself because gunshot wounds in the mouth almost always are self-inflicted. He also said that blood, tissue and gunshot residue found on her hands suggested that she was holding the gun. Moreover, Spitz testified that Clarkson was in an unbalanced mental state and that her judgment was impaired by alcohol and drug use.
Clearly, not all of Spector’s spending bore fruit. Some of his millions went to well-known lawyers who were not around at the end.
He parted ways well before the trial started with two of the best-known attorneys in Los Angeles -- Robert Shapiro, one of the lead defense lawyers in the Simpson case, and Leslie Abramson, who kept brothers Erik and Lyle Menendez off death row after they had murdered their parents. And Bruce Cutler, who had represented Mafia boss John Gotti before Spector hired him, quit after testimony ended, when he learned that he would be barred from taking part in the closing arguments.
Perhaps Spector’s best investment in an attorney was Dennis Riordan, of San Francisco, the last lawyer to join the team. Riordan played the lead role in drafting jury instructions that helped produce a deadlock, jurors said.
Times staff writer Peter Y. Hong contributed to this report.