Page last updated at 01:56 GMT, Friday, 27 March 2009

Spector awaits retrial verdict

By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

Phil Spector in court in Los Angeles (26/03/2009)

The fate of the music producer Phil Spector is once again in the hands of a Los Angeles jury.

Mr Spector, who is charged with the second-degree murder of a B-movie actress, Lana Clarkson, first went on trial in 2007.

But the jury failed to reach a unanimous decision and the judge declared a mistrial.

The deadlocked jurors were split 10-2, with the majority in favour of a conviction.

Ms Clarkson, 40, died from a bullet fired into her mouth, hours after meeting Mr Spector at a nightclub in 2003. She worked at the House of Blues as a hostess.

The retrial lasted almost six months. It has been an encore performance with few substantial differences to the first trial.

The prosecutors repeated their assertion that Mr Spector, 69, fired the fatal shot.

The music legend, who is best known for creating the Wall of Sound recording technique, was described as a "demonic maniac" who had a history of using guns to threaten women.

Judge Larry Fidler rejected an attempt by the defence to get the case declared a mistrial, on the grounds that the prosecutors were trying to convict Mr Spector with character evidence rather than facts.

For their part, Mr Spector's lawyers, a new team for the retrial, repeated the argument that Ms Clarkson has killed herself.

The jury was told that there was scientific evidence that proved the actress had pulled the trigger.

Yesterday's man

Phil Spector did not testify at either trial and has been free on $1m (£690,000) bail since his arrest.

Judge Larry P Fidler at the trial of Phil Spector in Los Angeles, US (26/03/2009)
Judge Fidler had allowed media crews to enter the courtroom

But while the substance of the trial varied little from the original hearing, the way the case played out was markedly different.

The first trial drew intense media interest, with US television cameras following every move inside the Los Angeles courthouse.

In sharp contrast, the media largely ignored the retrial.

"The media gets interested when a famous person is involved or a highly unusual set of circumstances," explains says Steve Cron, a defence lawyer and legal analyst.

"Spector was, in his day, a very well-known celebrity and highly acclaimed music producer. I think the media was looking for a new case to get excited about after OJ Simpson a number of years ago."

But interest waned, even during the first Spector trial.

"It turned out that Phil Spector had his day a long time ago and most people didn't seem to care," says Mr Cron.

Judge Fidler announced at the start of the retrial that he would once again allow television cameras into the courtroom. But no TV outlet opted to cover the trial, gavel to gavel.

"I think they decided for the most part people didn't think much about Phil Spector and weren't enthralled with this case," adds Mr Cron.

New options

In the closing stages of the case, however, the mood has changed.

Actress Lana Clarkson (file image)
Mr Spector's lawyers say Ms Clarkson killed herself

The lawyers' closing arguments were followed by US TV and the verdict itself, whenever it comes, is likely to see a return to those frenzied days of court TV coverage.

The new jury must decide between acquitting Mr Spector and finding him guilty of second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.

The latter option was not offered to the original jury and legal experts believe that it increases the chances of a guilty verdict.

"It does make it easier for the prosecution to get a conviction and it gives the jury an out so that they can find him guilty of a lesser charge," explains Mr Cron.

A conviction for second-degree murder could result in a prison sentence of 15 years to life, while the punishment for manslaughter is two to four years behind bars.

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