Phil Spector murder trial set to begin in L.A.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The murder trial of pioneering rock producer Phil Spector finally begins on Monday, more than four years after a B-movie actress was found shot to death at his castle-like mansion outside Los Angeles.

The trial, delayed repeatedly since Spector was indicted in 2003, will be shown on live television amid fascination with the 1960s musical genius turned recluse who once described himself as having “devils that fight inside me.”

Fifty news organizations applied for a seat in the Los Angeles courtroom for the biggest celebrity trial since pop star Michael Jackson’s 2005 acquittal on child molestation charges.

Proceedings start on Monday with jury selection involving 300 potential jurors and questionnaires to assess how much media coverage of the case they have absorbed.

Spector, 67, is best known for his innovative “Wall of Sound” recording technique and work with The Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers, The Beatles, Tina Turner and Cher.

Spector, who is free on $1 million bail, denies the charges that he killed actress Lana Clarkson in February 2003.

He told Esquire magazine in an interview shortly after his arrest that Clarkson “kissed the gun” in a bizarre suicide for reasons he did not understand.

Music producer Phil Spector in Los Angeles Superior Court, October 27, 2005. The murder trial of the pioneering rock producer finally begins on Monday, more than four years after a B-movie actress was found shot to death at his castle-like mansion outside Los Angeles. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Los Angeles judges have been reluctant to allow cameras in court since the 1995 acquittal of actor and former football star O.J. Simpson on murder charges after a trial telecast live that brought sharp criticism of the city’s justice system.

Opening statements in the Spector case are likely to begin in late April or early May, with the trial lasting up to three months.


Prosecutors and defense lawyers both say Clarkson, star of such films as “Amazon Women on the Moon” and “Barbarian Queen,” met Spector the night before her death while working as a waitress at a Sunset Strip rock club.

There is no dispute that the actress was killed early the next morning by a single shot from a .38-caliber revolver in the foyer of Spector’s mansion, which was designed to resemble a castle.

But the two sides disagree on the fundamental question of who pulled the trigger.

Prosecutors say it was Spector, who according to pre-trial hearings owned a dozen guns and had pulled them on women in the past.

A police officer dispatched to the crime scene is expected to testify that when she arrived, Spector blurted out: “I didn’t mean to shoot her, it was an accident.”

Spector’s chauffeur, Adriano De Souza, is also likely to take the witness stand. He has told authorities the producer emerged from his home holding a gun and saying: “I think I killed somebody.”

Defense lawyers say Clarkson put the gun in her mouth and shot herself. They have attacked the credibility of Spector’s driver and the police officer, and say evidence found at the scene points to suicide.

It was not clear whether Spector, who has said he hates being in the public eye, would take the stand.

The producer described himself in a 2003 interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper as having a bipolar personality.

“I’m my own worst enemy,” Spector said. “I have devils that fight inside me.”