Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Phil Spector: The 'Mad Genius' of Rock'n'Roll

'Like a
Fireman's Hose'

The defense called into question the accuracy of the tests taken of Spector's urine on the morning of February 3, 2003. Forensic toxicologist Robert A. Middleberg took the stand and told the jury that those tests were not reliable because a urine test is not the best method for determining the presence of alcohol. He explained that sugar and yeast naturally present in urine can produce alcohol, and if the subject had not urinated in a while, the alcohol reading would be higher.

Phil Spector
Phil Spector

Deputy DA Alan Jackson asked Middleberg if a man weighing 135 pounds, which is Spector's weight, would be intoxicated if he had consumed as many alcoholic drinks as witnesses said Spector had consumed on the night of Clarkson's death.

Middleberg said it was "a very difficult question to answer." He would need more information, such as how fast the drinks were consumed, to make a determination. He also said that human beings have varying levels of tolerance to alcohol and further testing would have to be performed on Spector to say for certain if he had been intoxicated when he was with Lana Clarkson.

The defense called Stuart James, a forensic scientist whose expertise is in blood-stain analysis. James testified that blood from a gunshot wound can travel up to six feet, but under cross-examination he admitted that he could not say with certainty that Phil Spector was standing too far from Clarkson to have shot her in the mouth. Deputy DA Jackson pointed out that blood spatter was found on the front of the victim's dress but not on her outstretched legs and asked how that could have occurred if Spector was too far away to have blocked any of the spray. James said he had doubts that Clarkson's legs were in that position when the gun was fired. Jackson walked up to the witness and extended his arm to demonstrate how close the accused would have been to the victim to shoot her in the mouth, and James acceded the point that Spector could possibly have been standing that close.

Up next for the defense was Dr. Werner Spitz, former chief medical examiner of Wayne County, Michigan, who testified that in his opinion Lana Clarkson's death was a suicide. He took exception with Los Angeles County Deputy ME Dr. Louis Pena's conclusion that it was a homicide. "I disagree with his opinion," Spitz said. "I think it was a hasty opinion." On direct examination, Spitz testified that in 50 years of practice he had never seen an intra-oral gunshot that was a homicide. Spitz said that the combined evidence—the gunshot in the mouth, her reported depression, the presence of alcohol and prescription drugs in her system, and the gunshot residue, blood, and tissue found on her hands—convinced him that Lana Clarkson took her own life. He characterized the act as a "spur of the moment determination without thinking."

Spitz described the force of blood and tissue escaping from Clarkson's mouth and nose as being "like a fireman's hose." On cross-examination, Deputy DA Jackson asked why blood was not found on the floor or furniture if the spray was as powerful as a fire hose. Spitz responded that he could not address this issue because he had never examined the crime scene. His conclusions were derived from photographs of the clothing worn by Clarkson and Spector on the night of her death and reports assembled by other experts.

Jackson asked Spitz how much he was being paid by the defense, and Spitz testified that his fee was $5,000 a day and that so far he had billed the defense $45,000. Jackson asked if the prospect of earning that much money could sway his opinion. Spitz said that it did not.

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