Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Mistrial

After deliberating for seven days, the jury informed Judge Fidler that they were deadlocked. He asked how many jurors were on each side but did not want to know how they were leaning. The foreman told him that they were split 7 to 5. The judge weighed the possibility of giving them a lesser charge to consider, manslaughter. Previously both the prosecution and the defense had rejected the addition of a manslaughter charge, and Judge Fidler ultimately decided not to give the jury this option.

Phil Spector and Wife Rachelle
Phil Spector and Wife Rachelle

The jury told the judge that his Special Instruction Number 3 was the problem. In his final instructions to the jury, Judge Fidler had said, "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 that 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."

It seemed clear that not all of the jurors bought the prosecution's scenario of what had happened to cause Lana Clarkson's death.

Attorneys wrangled for three days over the issue of writing a new instruction for the jury. Judge Fidler finally ruled that Special Instruction Number 3 "misstates the law" and was an "absolute error." To remedy the situation, he told the jurors to disregard it and issued a modified instruction, stating that to find Spector guilty of second-degree murder, they would have to agree that he "committed an act with a firearm that caused the death of Lana Clarkson, such as:

"a. Placing the gun in her mouth or forcing her to place the gun in her mouth at which time it discharged;

"b. Pointing the gun at or against her head, at which time it entered her mouth and discharged;

"c. Pointing the gun at her to prevent her from leaving his house, causing a struggle which resulted in the gun entering her mouth and discharging."

Judge Fidler explained that there were simply examples. "These are inferences you may draw from the evidence but are not required to do so. You may reject them. These are only possibilities that you may consider." But in order to convict, they had to agree that Spector acted with "malice aforethought."

The defense objected to the rewritten instruction and demanded a mistrial. Defense Attorney Bradley Brunon characterized it as "a rescrambling of the egg." Fidler denied their call for a mistrial and the jury continued their deliberations.

But on September 26, 2007, the twelfth day of deliberations, the jury sent word to Judge Fidler that they could not reach a verdict. After 44 hours of deliberation and six ballots, they were deadlocked 10 to 2 with the majority favoring conviction. The judge declared a mistrial.

Spector, who was facing fifteen years to life in prison for second-degree murder, remains free on $1 million bail.

Sandi Gibbons
Sandi Gibbons

At a news conference afterward, Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, said, "We're disappointed and we will begin immediately preparing for the retrial."

Jury selection for the new trial was scheduled to begin in Los Angeles, CA on October 20, 2008. No further developments in the case are expected until at least the spring of 2009.

Spector is also facing a civil trial filed by Lana Clarkson's family, which will probably not begin until there is a verdict in the criminal case.

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