Spector sentenced to 19 years to life

May 29, 2009 5:17:39 PM PDT
With his carefully tailored suit and coifed hair, Phil Spector kept up appearances even as a judge sentenced him to 19 years to life in prison for second-degree murder, consigning the legendary music producer to likely live out the last years of his once storied life in prison. There was no soundtrack for the final scene of the pop maestro's criminal case, only a hush in the courtroom Friday as the mother of actress Lana Clarkson stood and spoke in a soft voice of the agony of losing her daughter, "my first child, my precious gift."

Spector, 69, declined to say anything. His lawyer said outside court he hopes to prove on appeal that Spector did not kill the actress, who died from a gunshot wound at Spector's ornate "castle" in 2003.

The forewoman of the jury that convicted Spector sat nearby and told The Associated Press later it was hard to watch the tears of Donna Clarkson and Spector's young wife, Rachelle, who sat in a front row behind her husband.

"It's still sort of heavy on the heart," said Irma Soto-Lopez, who had wept herself on the day of the verdict. "I feel sorry for both families."

Other jurors from both of Spector's trials showed up for the final act.

"They joined us to put a period at the end of a long chapter in their lives," said Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson, who spent six years on the case in which one jury deadlocked and a second voted for conviction.

He had harsh words for Spector outside court: "I find nothing tragic about him. ... I think he got what he deserved."

Defense attorney Doron Weinberg said a strong appeal is anticipated. Meanwhile, he said, Spector was anxious to know in which prison he will be spending his days.

"He will be a very high-profile inmate. There's a question of how others will treat him," Weinberg said.

Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler gave no indication of his feelings. He dispassionately ruled that 15 years to life was mandatory, as was a four-year enhancement for personal use of a gun. He imposed more than $26,000 in restitution fees.

Spector gained fame decades ago for what became known as the "Wall of Sound" recording technique that changed rock music.

Clarkson was most famous as the star of Roger Corman's 1985 cult film classic "Barbarian Queen." She was 40 when she died.

Rachelle Spector said outside court that it was a sad day for everyone involved.

"The Clarkson family has lost a daughter and a sister. I've lost my husband, my best friend," she said. "I feel that a grave injustice has been done and from this day forward I'm going to dedicate myself to proving my husband's innocence."

Spector's son Louis, accompanied by his wife, also came to the sentencing. He had attended much of the trial.

"I'm torn about this," he said. "I'm losing my father who is going to spend his life in jail. At the same time, justice is served."

Prosecutor Jackson said afterward that the outcome sent a message: "If you commit crimes against our citizens we will follow you and prosecute you. And no matter whether you are famous or wealthy, you will stand trial."

Jackson said the case was "rock solid" legally and will not be subject to a successful appeal.

Spector's April 13 conviction suggested to some that California prosecutors had broken a decades-long string of celebrity murder case losses that included the acquittals of O.J. Simpson and actor Robert Blake.

Spector, however, wasn't a performer; not a sports star with a following or a singer who captivated the public. He was a behind-the-scenes guy whose recording technique changed the sound of rock music.

Famous, yes. A celebrity? Not in today's pop culture.

Spector had two trials with essentially the same evidence. His first in 2007 was televised gavel to gavel and spectators flocked to the courtroom. But when the jury deadlocked after a five-month trial, his legal "dream team," which at times numbered half a dozen lawyers, bailed out.

By the time the second trial started in 2008, interest had waned. The judge ordered cameras turned off and only a handful of spectators and reporters stopped in sporadically to watch testimony.

The retrial lasted the same length of time as the first trial but there was only one defense lawyer, Weinberg, a well-regarded veteran from San Francisco. A young woman prosecutor, Truc Do, was brought in to work with Jackson. Most importantly, there was a new jury.

During jury selection, only a few panelists remembered Spector's heyday as producer of teen anthems including "To Know Him is to Love Him" by The Teddy Bears, The Ronette's "Be My Baby," The Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" and The Righteous Brothers' classic, "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'." Spector also worked on a Beatles album with John Lennon.

Ironically, Clarkson didn't know Spector's music legacy either when she met him only hours before she died at his Alhambra "castle" in February 2003. She was working as a hostess at the House of Blues nightclub on the Sunset Strip, where she had to be told by a manager that Spector was an important man.

His time had passed. Clarkson's career also was ebbing. Their fateful meeting, recounted in both trials, led to her death and the end of his life as he knew it. For the next six years he spent millions of dollars on lawyers as he sought to prove that Clarkson killed herself.

But what had happened inside his house was never clear.

Clarkson's body was found slumped in a chair in a foyer. A gun had been fired in her mouth. Spector's chauffeur, the key witness, said he heard a gunshot, then saw Spector emerge holding a gun and heard him say: "I think I killed somebody."

Weinberg said forensic evidence proved that Clarkson shot herself and cited her desperation at not being able to get acting work. Jackson said the shooting fit the pattern of other confrontations between Spector and women, and Do said Spector would become "a demonic maniac" when he drank.

Much of the case hinged on the testimony of five women from Spector's past who said he threatened them with guns when they tried to leave his presence. The parallels with the night Clarkson died were chilling even if the stories were very old - 31 years in one instance.

Weinberg said Spector's appeal will assert that the judge erred in allowing the women to testify.


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