Phil Spector Jury Resumes Deliberations

Update: Judge has canceled deliberations for remainder of the week due to a juror's illness.

After a few court holidays and a juror's illness, the Phil Spector jury is back to deliberating his fate. This time around, they have the choice of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, which carries up to four years in prison.

LA Weekly reporter Steven Mikulan has been writing really good articles on the case. His latest, Accidental Suicide? New Involuntary-Manslaughter Option in Phil Spector Murder Retrial, goes through the closing arguments in detail.

One of the two prosecutors is orginally from Vietnam. In her closing, she said: [More...]

In a startling coup de théâtre, Truc Do’s PowerPoint presentation included slides of the Mui Ne sand dunes, located, she said, in the part of Vietnam her family is from.

“This is not a screen saver,” Do said. More pointedly, she likened the slides’ shifting sand mountains to what she claimed were defense attorney Doron Weinberg’s ever-changing position regarding the trial’s expert-witness testimony.

When it was veteran defense lawyer Doran Weinberg's turn:

[H]e took direct aim at Do’s PowerPoint photographs of those sand dunes.

“I was born in Haifa,” Weinberg tartly said, “at the foot of Mount Carmel. We have rock-solid mountains, they don’t shift.”

Of course, closing arguments are not evidence. Weinberg had 14 points that he said show reasonable doubt, including DNA tests the prosecution could have, but did not perform. In rebuttal the principal prosecutor, Alan Jackson, a Texan who apparently favors the use of a drawl and vernacular, told the jury the defense could have conducted the tests if they were important.

In my view, that's a bad argument. The defense has no burden of proof. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Most jury instructions on reasonable doubt informs the jury that a reasonable doubt can arise from the evidence presented or the lack of evidence presented. Since only the prosecution has the burden of proof, why concede further tests could have been relevant and suggest the defense could have provided them? Isn't it better to explain why the tests wouldn't have shed light on the material issue of how Clarkson died and left it at that?

Add this to questions about the Brazilian chauffeur's testimony -- Weinberg cleverly portrayed him as mistaken rather than lying, although he did of course mention his prior false statements on visa applications and provided an alternative to his recollection of what Spector said to him that night:

Weinberg tried to sow doubt in jurors’ minds about Spector’s intentions by suggesting Spector had reasonably expected his driver, DeSouza, to make the 911 call, which he eventually did. Weinberg also said that DeSouza, a Brazilian national, may have misunderstood Spector’s English when the record producer allegedly announced to him upon emerging from his house, gun in hand, “I think I killed somebody.” The defense attorney’s spin is that Spector may have said, “Call somebody.”

....Unlike his ham-fisted predecessors in the first trial, Weinberg has approached DeSouza sensitively but has still zeroed in on three things: the driver’s command of English, his second language; his ability to have accurately understood Spector, given that DeSouza had not slept in 22 hours; and finally, Spector’s drunken syntax and the background noise of a nearby outdoor fountain.

Weinberg also strongly implied that DeSouza, who was living here on an expired visa, was more than eager to tell his cop interrogators what he believed they wanted to hear about his boss. For example, Weinberg showed a photographic blowup of a page of an interview in which a detective disclosed to DeSouza that Spector may have worn a white or cream jacket the night of Clarkson’s shooting — a statement DeSouza then agreed with, even though he’d previously told police Spector had worn all black that night.

Finally, though, Weinberg — sensitively, to be sure — reminded jurors that for four years DeSouza had misstated on his applications for visa renewals that he was a student not holding employment here. In other words, Weinberg said, DeSouza had lied four times.

Weinberg also reviewed with the jury the (in some cases substantial) credibility issues of the five women who testified about Spector's combining alcohol and guns and threatening behavior in decades past.

This boils down to a reasonable doubt case. Did the prosecution prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt?

Perhaps the biggest question is, if the jurors believe the prosecutors didn't prove the murder charge, will they compromise on the involuntary manslaughter charge just to throw them a bone for their efforts during the six month trial?

The addition of the lesser charge favors the prosecution. The jury is only supposed to consider the lesser charge after if it has found Spector not guilty of the more serious murder charge. It's not like they choose between them (if they follow the court's instructions.)

If they conclude there is a reasonable doubt and this could be, as one of Spector's prior lawyers, Bruce Cutler, argued, a case of accidental suicide, will they conclude it was the equivalent of a criminal accident and find Spector guilty of causing it? If so, then Spector could be in trouble on the lesser charge.

At the last trial, the Judge refused to give the involuntary manslaughter charge.

He said that either Spector put a .38 Special revolver in Clarkson's mouth and pulled the trigger, in which case he was guilty of second-degree murder, or Clarkson put the gun in her own mouth and fired, in which case Spector was guilty of nothing.

Seems to me, and I'm only going by news accounts since I wasn't there and haven't read any transcripts, there's reasonable doubt as to what Spector said to the chauffeur and whether Clarkson's death was a suicide, accidental or otherwise -- and both favor Spector.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Are powerpoints now de rigueur? (none / 0) (#1)
    by andgarden on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 12:19:25 PM EST
    I had thought that a major part of the art of being a trial lawyer is the ability to paint a verbal picture?

    it's the ability to tell a story (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 12:20:24 PM EST
    and visual aids are very effective.

    Agreed (none / 0) (#3)
    by andgarden on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 12:28:23 PM EST
    I guess I've just seen too many bad powerpoints. . .

    powerpoint (none / 0) (#13)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 04:15:08 PM EST
      used judiciously and sparingly can be quite effective.

       I have seen lawyers who use it as a crutch to the point the argument becomes little more than reading the  words superimposed over pictures. Very boring, very redundant, very inflexible and it gets in the way of establishing a rapport with the jury.  

       I only use it when there are exhibits, testimonial inconsistencies or portions of the law (instructions)  I  really want to stress. If you are not facing the jury and talking to them eye to eye most of the time you can lose them.


    Accidental suicide... (none / 0) (#4)
    by Dadler on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 12:38:58 PM EST
    ...seems about the lamest defense I can imagine, and one liable to strike the average juror as inhumane fiction.  Especially with a defendent EVERYONE knows has a long history of threatening people with firearms.  My hunch is he'll get the lesser conviction, spend a few moons in prison, then get out and resume his life of mental illness and firearm fascination and possible harm to others and himself.  This story is sad and pathetic and no one, neither the defense nor the prosecution, has anything to be proud of with this mess.  It's been a circus, but that's nothing new with celebrity trials.  

    Caught FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH the other night on HBO, hadn't seen in in years, and then the scene occurred at the dance where the creepy science teacher introduces his blonde wife, and I remembered that blonde was Lana Clarkson.  

    i guess i don't count. (none / 0) (#14)
    by cpinva on Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 06:24:35 AM EST
    Especially with a defendent EVERYONE knows has a long history of threatening people with firearms.

    unless those incidents were actually reported to the police and investigated, it's nothing but hearsay. really, the same goes for the women who testified he did the same thing to them: if they were so frightened, why didn't they report the incidents to the police, when they occured?

    clearly, i have no idea what actually transpired that unfortunate night. based on what i've read, the prosecution doesn't seem to have done a very good job of informing the jury of it either.

    but then, scott peterson is sitting in jail, not because the state proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he murdered his wife, but that he's a jerk. or so claimed members of his jury.


    the issue surrounding the lack of DNA tests in these particular facts if you were the prosecutor. The defense raised it as one of 14 points for establishing reasonable doubt. Jurors know that DNA can be powerful evidence for innocence as well as guilt. It seems that the prosecution had to confront this issue in some manner. To ignore it altogether would have been rather dangerous, it seems. That would have been tough one to deal with, I think.

    I think she was just suggesting (none / 0) (#8)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 02:32:38 PM EST
      that the prosecutor's rebuttal argument  to the defense argument that no testing for DNA is something that establishes reasonable doubt was not a good argument because the prosecution has the burden of proof.

      I do think suggestion is based on a misundertanding both of how trials work and people think.

      That the prosecution has the burden of proof does not make an argument negating a defendant's argument that the prosecution failed to meet its burden any less valuable. If a defendant raises an issue he claims tends to establish doubt, the prosecutor sure better address it unless the defense is just so completely ludicrous there is no chance the jury will find it persuasive.



    continued (none / 0) (#9)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 02:38:02 PM EST
      to suggest that some jurors would not think  the fact the defense could have conducted the test had it chosen does not take some of the bite out of the defendant's position is, I think, pretty misguided.

      Sure, the jury might be very careful in keeping burdens of proof in mind throughout deliberations. Even if it is though some  people presented with the same positions but not knowing the defense could have tested are likely to find the failure more significant than after being told that.


    The decision not to DNA test (none / 0) (#6)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 01:12:35 PM EST
      seems much lesstroublesom than the decision not to test Spector for gunshot resideu.

      The argument that it was his gun so proving just that he had touched it adds little and that the defense was free to do any testing it desired makes sense to anyone.

      The argument that no residue testing was done because he owned a lot of guns makes very little sense. Owning and even touching clean guns leaves no residue. Even touching  a recently fired gun may or may not leave residue butif it does the pattern is different if it is from surface contact as opposed to discharge. And, the prosecution can't argue on the residue testing that the defense could have done it.

    valid point, definitely (none / 0) (#10)
    by Dadler on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 03:44:07 PM EST
    but the spector defense could'v eaily made the claim that he owned many guns, fired them regularly, that he probably permanently had residue on his hands.  to me, it's a wash.

    they could have (none / 0) (#11)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 04:07:17 PM EST
      but the argument that the defendant fires guns so frequently  that he is permanently embedded with gunpowder residue isn't one I would offer in the absence of pretty much any other possible explanation other than the one he fired the fatal bullet.

      Now, if he had evidence he had been at the firing range quite recently and hadn't bothered to bathe before a night on the town (plausible perhaps given his appearance), that might be an explanation that doesn't make the defendant sound even crazier and more dangerous.


    that sould be (none / 0) (#12)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 04:08:19 PM EST
    except in the absence.