Phil Spector stared straight ahead. It was the appointed hour for the legendary music producer’s six-year murder case to come to a close and the courtroom was packed with reporters, fans and detractors eager to hear his sentence. But he did not look at the judge, take notes or whisper to his lawyer.
For Spector, it seemed, it wasn’t worth it. A life sentence is mandatory for second-degree murder and the only decision before the judge Friday was whether Spector, 69, should have his first parole hearing in 2027, 2028 or 2034.
After listening to arguments, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler chose 2028. As the judge told Spector that he would have to serve at least 19 years in prison -- at which time he would be 88 -- he remained stoic.
Spector declined an opportunity to address the court and moments later, surrounded by court officers, he shuffled out a side door.
It was a quiet end to a legal proceeding that has intrigued the public since Feb. 3, 2003, when actress Lana Clarkson was shot to death in the foyer of Spector’s Alhambra mansion.
A jury convicted him of Clarkson’s murder last month, a year and a half after another panel had deadlocked.
A prosecutor called the sentence “a message” that justice is blind in Los Angeles even when the defendant is a music icon. “No matter your fame or your wealth or your supposed celebrity, you will stand trial and you will be held accountable,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson said.
Spector’s lawyer said his client was focused on his appeal and eager to get through the sentencing so he could move to a prison facility nicer than the jail where he has been held since the conviction.
Before the sentencing, Clarkson’s mother, Donna, a constant presence at both trials, told the judge that her heartbreak over her daughter’s death was intensified because of the way she was portrayed in court. The defense painted the 40-year-old as a failed actress who killed herself while battling depression.
Donna Clarkson, dressed in a black suit adorned with a ribbon of leopard skin -- her daughter’s favorite fashion accent -- said she often wanted to interrupt the proceedings to defend her daughter’s memory.
“I am very proud of Lana and the wonderful and special person she was,” she said. Her voice choking, she added, “All our plans together are destroyed. Now I can only visit her in the cemetery.”
“I miss you so,” she whispered. With the criminal case over, her wrongful-death suit against Spector will proceed in civil court.
Spector’s attorney said the defense sympathized with the Clarkson family’s loss, but insisted that Spector was innocent. “The evidence did not establish Mr. Spector’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Doron Weinberg told the judge.
Five jurors who convicted Spector attended the sentencing and exchanged glances as the defense lawyer argued against their verdict.
The defense did not file a routine motion asking that the judge grant a new trial instead of proceeding with the sentencing. Such motions are almost never granted, but Fidler said he had found an old case suggesting that the defense was required to make the request.
Weinberg, who made no secret of his disdain for the judge’s evidentiary rulings during the trial, said he didn’t see any point in raising the issues again, but agreed to make the motion orally.
“For all the erroneous rulings the court made . . . we move for a new trial,” the lawyer said.
Fidler smiled, then denied the San Francisco lawyer’s motion. The judge also ordered Spector to pay about $26,000 for Clarkson’s funeral expenses and the cost of counseling provided to her mother and sister.
Jackson, the prosecutor, spent years preparing and trying the case, but never got to question Spector, who did not to testify in his own defense.
He said the only thing he had to say to Spector would require traveling back in time to the morning that Clarkson was shot: “Take the gun out of your hand, sir. She doesn’t deserve this.”
Despite Spector’s age and failing health -- he had surgery this week for precancerous polyps in his throat -- the prosecutor said he felt no sympathy for him.
“He’s getting exactly what he deserved,” Jackson said.
Spector’s 28-year-old wife, Rachelle, told reporters that she was dedicated to getting her husband “out of that awful place and home where he belongs.”
She decried the prosecutor’s portrait of her husband as “a monster.”
“He is the most kind and gentle and giving man I have ever met in my life,” she said.