Sound of Gunfire Marks the Collision of Two Lives

Times Staff Writers

An hour before sunrise at the end of a very long night, Officer Michael Page was struggling to pin Phil Spector as the famed music producer wrestled with Alhambra police in the foyer of his hilltop mansion.

Page pressed his knee into Spector’s back and held down his arms. The officer had discarded his Taser after two shots from the stun gun failed to drop Spector, and now Page’s submachine gun was slipping off his back. Another officer grabbed the weapon before it fell within Spector’s reach.

Page turned to make sure his Taser wasn’t lying close by, and that’s when he saw the woman in the chair.

She was blond, tall, freckled. She slumped, half in, half out of the seat, her long legs extended in front of her. Her head lolled to the left, and a great deal of blood had flowed from her face down to her chest.

In the struggle, she had escaped Page’s notice. But on first sight the officer knew she was dead.

It was early Monday, Feb. 3, 2003. For Spector, it was the unexpected end of a night’s celebrity revelry: ferried from one pleasure spot to the next in a chauffeured black Mercedes-Benz, accompanied at various points by three different women.

Spector first told officers he’d accidentally shot Lana Clarkson. Then he insisted she had committed suicide, an account he has stuck to.

Since Spector and Clarkson were the only ones present when the Colt Cobra Special .38-caliber revolver went off, the case may turn on physical evidence: blood spatters, shattered teeth and where the gun was found.

This account was distilled from a 1,018-page transcript of secret proceedings before the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, which indicted Spector in September for Clarkson’s murder. The transcript -- composed of sworn testimony from police, forensic experts, Spector’s driver and friends of Clarkson -- was made public Thursday.

Spector, 64, has pleaded not guilty and is free on $1-million bail. No trial date has been set. His lawyer, Bruce Cutler, in a prepared statement, called the transcript a “one-sided presentation of lies and half-truths,” and noted that those who testify before the grand jury are not subject to cross-examination.

Invited to the Castle

Adriano De Souza drove his red Ford Crown Victoria up the long driveway of Phil Spector’s 8,500-square-foot Alhambra mansion around 6:45 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2003.

De Souza told the grand jury he had been working as Spector’s backup driver for a couple of months. A veteran of the Brazilian army, he was technically violating his student visa by holding a job, but he was moving up in the world. He’d previously been a parking valet.

De Souza brought along a laptop computer and some bottled water and snacks to see him through the night.

Locals referred to Spector’s mansion as the Pyrenees Castle. With 10 bedrooms, eight baths, an office, a large wine cellar, guard turrets and walls tapering from 3 feet thick at their base to a foot thick at the roofline, it had been built in 1926 by an American who patterned it after castles in the south of France.

De Souza drove to the garage in the back of the property. In the first of four stalls, a new Mercedes S430 awaited, keys in the ignition.

Spector walked out of the mansion’s foyer around 7 p.m., wearing black pants, a black shirt and a white jacket.

He had not produced a hit record in years but remained a celebrity from a string of hits during the 1960s and ‘70s, all stamped with a signature sound that combined orchestration with vocal harmonies.

Spector later became reclusive, known as “the Howard Hughes of rock,” until the early 1990s, when he reemerged on the music and social scene.

Spector told De Souza to take him to Studio City. De Souza didn’t need an address. He’d driven Spector there before, always to see the same woman.

After picking up his date (who is not named in the transcript), Spector instructed De Souza to take them to the Grill on the Alley, a Beverly Hills restaurant. They arrived around 8 p.m.

About two hours later, Spector ordered De Souza back to the woman’s home, where Spector dropped off his date, then told the driver to return to the Grill.

A Grill waitress (referred to in the transcript only as Kathy) was waiting for Spector outside. They drove to Trader Vic’s, an old-line Hollywood hangout at Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, and stayed about an hour.

Spector then told De Souza to take them to Dan Tana’s, the retro-hip restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard favored by entertainment industry celebrities since the 1960s, and where Spector had a favorite booth.

They got there around 1 a.m., and after about half an hour, the couple returned to the car, but not before Spector had a face-off with two young men who were standing in front of Dan Tana’s, smoking.

One of them said something to Spector, who clearly took umbrage and stood at the car door glaring at them.

Kathy succeeded in calming Spector, and once inside the Mercedes, the producer told De Souza to drive to the House of Blues, a few minutes away on Sunset Boulevard. Kathy protested, saying she had to work the next morning. Spector, slurring his words and appearing drunk, refused to take no for an answer, according to the transcript.

It was almost closing time when the Mercedes pulled up to the House of Blues. About 15 minutes after Spector and Kathy went into the club, Kathy returned with a tall blond woman.

“My name is Lana and I work in the House of Blues,” the woman told the driver. “And Mr. Spector said you are to go to her house, drop her and return here.”

De Souza was back at the House of Blues in a few minutes, and Lana helped an apparently drunk Spector down some stairs as he left the club. As De Souza opened the door for Spector, the music producer invited Lana Clarkson home. She declined.

Spector asked again. She said no. Then he offered her a ride to her car and she agreed. En route, Spector invited her to the mansion two or three more times. Clarkson finally said yes.

Clarkson directed De Souza to a parking garage on La Cienega, where she moved her car to the street. Spector staggered to a spot near some stairs to urinate.

Then Clarkson got back into the Mercedes.

“It is going to be fast,” she told the driver. “I would like to have only one drink.”

Spector told her not to talk to his driver, then he ordered De Souza to drive home.

As the Mercedes sped along the Santa Monica, Pomona and Long Beach freeways, Spector and Clarkson talked and laughed as they watched a DVD on Spector’s portable player.

They arrived just before 3 a.m. Spector and Clarkson climbed the front stairs to the mansion, Spector leaning heavily on Clarkson, the diminutive producer a half head shorter than the woman.

Waiting for the Break

Lana Clarkson was Hollywood-beautiful, an effervescent, warm and imposing woman, 6 feet tall in heels.

“She loved making people feel good,” a friend told the grand jury. “You would never forget it if you met her.”

Clarkson had had a measure of success in movies, television and commercials, appearing in such TV shows as “Three’s Company,” “Wings,” “Hotel,” “Night Court” and “The A-Team.”

The high point may have been her lead role in the 1985 Roger Corman movie “Barbarian Queen” and its sequel, which became cult favorites and won her a coterie of fans.

Clarkson, a Southern California native, never stopped hoping for the break that would make her famous. Toward that end, she rarely tired of making contacts.

In 2002, Clarkson turned 40 -- the witching hour for Hollywood actresses. As the year drew to an end, she’d been ground down by money worries, and was forced to borrow from friends. To one she confided in an e-mail that “I am going to tidy up my affairs and chuck it, cuz it’s really all too much for just one girl to bear anymore.”

The friend wrote off her dramatic pronouncement as “normal actress behavior.”

Clarkson’s financial worries lifted when she landed the job at the House of Blues on Jan. 14, 2003. She was hired as a hostess in the Foundation Room, a members-only seating area.

The nightclub work left her days free for auditions and writing. She insisted on seeing the silver lining behind a job that, in part, required her to check for members’ wristbands. “I am going to meet people,” she told a friend. “They will remember that I am here and it might get me another job.”

A Soft Popping Sound

Once again, Adriano De Souza was waiting, now in the motor court at the mansion’s rear foyer entrance.

Shortly after Spector and Clarkson had disappeared into the mansion, a glaring Spector came out the back door, retrieved his portable DVD player and went back into the house.

For the next two hours, De Souza played with the navigation system in the Mercedes. He listened to the radio. He dozed. A fountain gurgled nearby.

Around 5 a.m., De Souza heard a soft popping sound. He got out, saw nothing amiss, and returned to the Mercedes.

A minute or two later, Spector appeared at the back door. De Souza leaped out of the car.

Spector was dressed as he had been all evening. Now, however, he was holding his right arm across his body, pointing a revolver off to the side. De Souza, from about 5 feet away, saw blood on the back of Spector’s hand.

“I think I killed somebody,” Spector told him.

De Souza peered to the left of Spector. Through the doorway, he saw legs stretched out. He moved farther to the left and saw Clarkson’s body, half on, half off a chair.

“What happened, sir?”

Spector shrugged and rolled his eyes.

“I don’t know,” he said.

A Familiar Call

Alhambra police got the 911 call from De Souza’s cellphone shortly after 5 a.m.

It was not the first time police had answered a call regarding Spector, a firearm and a woman.

In July 1993, Spector allegedly turned a handgun on Dorothy Tiano Melvin, a guest at his former home in Pasadena, and later allegedly threatened her with a shotgun.

Two years later, Spector allegedly barred photographer Stephanie Elizabeth Jennings from leaving a hotel room, placing a chair in front of the door and pointing a pistol at her.

In 1999, Spector allegedly threatened Deborah Strand with a handgun near her cheek after she suggested he leave a party.

None of the women sought charges against Spector.

Within 10 minutes of the 911 call, eight Alhambra Police Department officers arrived at 1700 Grand View Drive, a property filled with old trees and dense bushes. Police did not know how many people were at the house or if any might be armed, so they proceeded slowly.

Lead Officer Michael Page ordered a jacket placed over a surveillance camera at the front of the house so police could approach unseen. He decided against going to the front door because there was no cover.

Four officers were inspecting the garage at the back of the property when they saw something moving inside the house. Moments later, Spector appeared at the back door, wearing a black shirt, his hands in the pockets of his black pants.

Officer Brandon Cardella faced Spector. Cardella, who was carrying a bulletproof shield 3 1/2 feet high and 2 feet wide, ordered Spector to raise his hands. Spector complied briefly before returning his hands to his pockets.

“You got to come see this,” Spector told the officers.

As the officers moved closer, Spector went into the house. He kept his hands in his pockets, despite Cardella’s repeated orders to raise them.

Officers feared he might be armed.

Page leveled his Taser at Spector. A dart struck him, but had no apparent effect.

“Go,” Page ordered the others. “Let’s get inside the house.”

With Cardella in the lead, the four officers, including Jim Hammond and Beatrice Rodriguez, ran into the house. Cardella knocked Spector to the side and Page set upon him, giving Spector a point-blank hit with the Taser.

Page shoved Spector against a staircase that ran down into the foyer and forced him to the ground, eventually pinning him to the floor. He was unarmed.

Moments later, in the dim light of the foyer, music blaring through the house, Page noticed the dead woman on the chair.

“What’s wrong with you guys?” Spector said, according to Officer Rodriguez’s testimony. “What are you doing? I didn’t mean to shoot her. It was an accident.”

A Change of Priorities

Clarkson had begun 2003 with a lot of plans. She lately had been drawn to comedy, and had made a video of herself portraying funny characters, intending to circulate it among producers and directors.

She’d planned to visit a friend in Arizona in February or April and was the first to RSVP to a March ceremony of friends renewing their marriage vows.

On Feb. 2, 2003, her last full day, she sent an e-mail accepting a birthday party invitation: “Can’t wait. XOXO Lana.”

Around 4 p.m. that day, while shopping with her mother, Clarkson bumped into a friend, Dianne Bennett, at Nordstrom in the Grove shopping center. Bennett, a former columnist for the Hollywood Reporter, runs “Beautiful Women Successful Men,” a matchmaking service.

Bennett had asked Clarkson over the years to send in her picture, but Clarkson had always said she wanted to concentrate on acting. Now her priorities had changed.

“I’m finally ready to get married and have a family,” she told Bennett.

“I have the perfect man for you,” Bennett responded. She told Clarkson about a good-looking, successful, 40-year-old entrepreneur who lived in Malibu.

Bennett promised to get in touch the following week.

“Be sure and give me a call,” Clarkson said as she waved goodbye.

‘It Went Like This, Bang!’

While police searchers were turning up 10 handguns at the mansion -- in addition to the one that killed Clarkson -- Spector was in the booking area of the Alhambra police station. He refused to give jailers his name and address. His speech was slurred and his breath stank of alcohol.

Derek Gilliam, an officer for 3 1/2 years, was assigned to sit with Spector until he calmed down enough for the booking to proceed.

Gilliam told the grand jury that he sat with the producer for about an hour while Spector rambled about the music business and the “dead girl in my house.”

Spector told Gilliam that the girl took a gun from him and, waving it lariat-style above her head, began singing “Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” two of the producer’s pop hits from the 1960s.

Spector said he told her to put the gun down, but instead she placed it against her right temple and pulled the trigger. Then he demonstrated, placing the index finger of his right hand to his head, and dropping his thumb as though it were the hammer of a gun.

“It went like this, bang!” he said.

Then Spector hung his head straight back and stared silently at the ceiling for five seconds, as though he were dead.

Twice more he demonstrated, each time letting his head hang back in silence for a longer time. The third time, Gilliam said, he thought Spector might have had a seizure.

Then, with an expression Gilliam described to the grand jury as a “half-slanted smile,” Spector said, calmly: “Nobody takes a gun from me.”

Dead Within Seconds

Forensic experts testified the bullet that killed Lana Clarkson severed her upper spinal cord and lodged in the back of her skull.

It instantly immobilized her, and she died within seconds.

The 2-inch-long barrel of the Colt Cobra had been inside her mouth. The path of the Smith & Wesson .38 Special Plus-P high-velocity bullet indicated the muzzle had been just behind her upper front teeth.

When the Cobra recoiled after firing, the muzzle popped the crowns on the front teeth and hurled them across the foyer.

If Clarkson had shot herself, one expert testified, the recoil should have sent the gun hurtling in the same direction as the tooth crowns. Instead it was found on the floor beneath her legs.

The gun was not registered to Spector and bore no detectable fingerprints. It appeared to have been wiped with a cloth. A cotton diaper stained with Clarkson’s blood was found in a washroom next to the foyer.

More smears were discovered on a lock on the back door, and on the banister of the stairwell.

It also appeared that Clarkson’s face had been wiped with a rag, and her head had been moved from right to left.

Smears of her blood were also found on the white jacket Spector had worn that night. Sprays of blood were found on a sleeve of the jacket, which placed it within 3 feet of the gun’s discharge. They would have landed there whether Spector had fired the weapon or had attempted to stop Clarkson from doing so.

In her death pose, Clarkson wore her leopard-skin print purse around her right shoulder, its straps twisted as it hung near her side. Adriano De Souza was waiting outside. She apparently was ready to leave, a prosecutor told jurors.