Our revels now are ended.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Sept. 26 2007 6:17 PM

Blogging Spector

Our revels now are ended.

Phil Spector. Click image to expand.
Phil Spector

Opening arguments for the Phil Spector murder trial began in Los Angeles on April 25. KTLA, a local television station, is streaming live video  of the trial on its Web site. You can also access KTLA's streaming video on the Los Angeles Times' dedicated Web page for the trial, which includes its own real-time trial blog. Court TV also provides live Web coverage, now free of charge (earlier in the trial there was a $5.95 fee), as is its Spector blog. Also now free of charge is Court TV's invaluable video archive of key trial testimony. Click here for trial clips through June 28, and here for trial clips from July 9 to the present. For key documents in the case, click here. For a list of prospective witnesses, click here. For a video archive of KTLA news reports about the case, click here. For a Chatterbox primer on the case, click here.

Our Revels Now Are Ended
Sept. 26, 2007, 6:15 p.m. ET

As your faithful correspondent foretold, the jury remained hung (10-2; before it was 7-5) and today Judge Fidler declared a mistrial. There will be a hearing next week  about a possible retrial. I have my doubts such a retrial will take place. Either way, though, I'm outta here. I can't take it any more. The guy was guilty, and at least for now, he walks. It stinks.

The Jury Is Still Out
Sept. 24, 2007, 6:30 p.m. ET

Last week the jury said it was split 7-5. Judge Fidler contemplated inviting jurors to consider charging Spector with manslaughter, then thought better of it. Instead, he altered jury instructions on a different point. Here is what the judge initially told the jury:

It is the prosecution's contention that the act committed by the defendant that caused the death of Ms. Clarkson was [to] point a gun at her, which resulted in the gun entering Ms. Clarkson's mouth while in Mr. Spector's hand. The prosecution bears the burden of proving that defendant Spector committed that act. If you do not find that the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed that act, you must return a verdict of not guilty.

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After the jury reached deadlock, Judge Fidler instructed the jury to pretend he never said this. Instead, he provided new jury instructions that, er ... there's no polite way to say this. He provided new instructions  that make it easier for the jury to convict Spector of second-degree murder. Now all the jury had to find was that Spector "committed an act with a firearm that caused the death of Lana Clarkson." Possible scenarios, he said, could include:

Placing the gun in her mouth or forcing her to place the gun in her mouth, at which time it discharged; pointing the gun at or against her head, after which it entered her mouth, at which time it discharged; pointing the gun at her to prevent her from leaving the house, causing a struggle, which caused the gun to enter her mouth and discharge.

That was four days ago. After the instructions, the jury met for 40 minutes Thursday, all day Friday, and all day today. No verdict. Today Judge Fidler considered and then rejected  a request from the defense that he instruct the jury that if Clarkson committed suicide then Spector is not guilty and the revised instructions don't apply. It would seem in any case a fairly obvious point. I stand by what I wrote in the previous entry. I don't believe these new jury instructions will make any difference. The jury (which today requested a VCR to go over some videotaped evidence) will remain hung, and Fidler will have to declare a mistrial.

Even if I'm wrong and the jury reaches a guilty verdict, Fidler's revision of the jury instruction apparently makes such a verdict highly susceptible to reversal on appeal. "If a judge has given an erroneous instruction," Arizona State University law professor Michael J. Saks, an expert on jury issues, told  the Los Angeles Times, "that's the surest path to a reversal." Fidler himself says he initially gave an erroneous instruction; that's why he changed it, he says. But this particular change leaves the impression that Fidler is urging the jury to convict. It's only human; Spector is, after all, transparently guilty. But "the specter of coercion" is haunting the courtroom, Jean Rosenbluth, a criminal law professor at the University of Southern California, told the L.A. Times. This ectoplasm is a solid reason to reverse a guilty verdict on appeal.

Either way you slice it, it looks very much as though the game's over and that the killer won. Spector will be free to remain in his Pyranees-style castle in Alhambra and wave guns in the faces of any women he pleases. Let's hope he at least takes the bullets out.

Fidler Rules Out Manslaughter
Sept. 19, 2007, 2:26 p.m. ET

Yesterday, after the jury reported that it could not reach a verdict, Judge Fidler indicated a desire to instruct the jury to consider the previously ruled-out charge of manslaughter. Today, Fidler said that after further consideration he's changed his mind, because it would be tantamount to telling the jury, "Well, if you can't find him guilty on what you have, try this .... It would be inappropriate at this time to instruct the jury with a new offense."

That's almost certainly the right call from a legal point of view, but the practical result will likely be to set Spector free. When we look back on this case, the prosecution's central blunder will turn out to be its failure to include involuntary manslaughter among its charges against Spector. One can well understand why. For Spector to have committed involuntary manslaughter, Lana Clarkson would have to have put the gun barrel into her mouth while Phil Spector's finger was on the trigger. Maybe the jury would have rejected this improbable-sounding scenario. But in the absence of a manslaughter option, the jury, which is split 7-5 (we don't know which way), probably won't be able to reach agreement on whether Spector committed second-degree murder, and Fidler will have to declare a mistrial. I don't believe the prosecution will want to re-try this. The KTLA legal expert disagrees, because it's such a high-profile case. I think the fact that it's a high-profile case will make the prosecution want to cut its losses. Celebrity defendants! They bring southern California prosecutors nothing but grief! Spector will be off the hook.

Fidler is still considering whether to clarify other jury instructions, but it's hard to imagine any that will make much difference to the outcome.

Mistrial Denied
Sept. 18, 2007, 5:05 p.m. ET

Spector's lawyers move to declare a mistrial. Judge Fidler denies it. He says he wants to instruct the jurors to consider a charge previously ruled out by the prosecution, the defense, and Fidler himself: manslaughter. Fidler then calls in the jury and tells them he's sending them home. Tomorrow, he says, there is "a possibility" that he will have the lawyers re-argue portions of the case.

A Hung Jury! Now What?
Sept. 18, 2007, 4:55 p.m. ET

The judge is sending the jury back to the jury room and is calling a conference with the lawyers on both sides.

Are We About To Hear A Verdict?
Sept. 18, 2007, 4:40 p.m. ET

The Los Angeles Times says no, but Court TV seems to think  the jury is going to give a verdict this afternoon. I think Court TV is on to something. Awkwardly, somebody seems to have given the L.A. Times's O.J. blogger  the day off. It isn't even Yom Kippur yet!

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