California Court Rejects Phil Spector Appeal

A California appeals court rejected music producer Phil Spector’s bid to overturn his murder conviction on Monday, saying it was permissible for prosecutors to call a parade of women who said Spector had threatened them with guns in the past.

A three-member panel of the state 2nd District Court of Appeal affirmed Spector’s conviction in a strongly worded, 81-page decision rejecting a number of claims made by defense attorney Dennis Riordan.

Photo: AP Photo
Seated in the courtroom during his retrial murder case at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles.

The judges also dismissed the contention that actress Lana Clarkson was despondent and might have killed herself with a gun at Spector’s home. In making that ruling, the panel pointed to evidence from her mother that suggested Clarkson was hopeful about the future.

The panel also concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence to prove “Clarkson did not die by her own hand.”

In addition, the judges found there was neither judicial nor prosecutorial misconduct at the trial, and that the testimony of five women who claimed Spector threatened them with guns was properly admitted, even though some of the incidents dated back 30 years.

Spector was never charged in those instances. Still, the judges said the testimony showed a pattern of gun-related behavior.

Spector’s lawyer said the women’s testimony was inflammatory.

Riordan also issued a statement later in the day saying the appellate decision “does not begin to adequately address the prosecution’s remarkable assault on constitutional rights to a neutral judge and to cross-examine all adverse witnesses.”

Riordan said the same was true of the ruling on evidentiary questions.

He said that he would seek a re-hearing before the court of appeal and if necessary will petition for review by the California Supreme Court.

On another topic, the judicial panel approved a general inference by a witness that Spector was a misogynist who expressed hatred of women and said he wanted to blow their heads off.

Spector was convicted two years ago of shooting the actress to death at his Alhambra mansion in 2003. He’s serving 19 years to life in prison on a second-degree murder conviction. His first trial ended in a hung jury; the second in conviction.

The opinion, written by appellate Justice Joan Dempsey Klein and concurred with by Justices Patti Kitchings and Richard D. Aldrich, validated the actions of Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler in every instance challenged by the defense.

Riordan insisted that Judge Fidler erred when he allowed prosecutors to show jurors a videotape from a hearing held outside the presence of Spector and the jury.

On the tape, Fidler was seen interpreting the testimony of a key forensic witness about the position of blood spatter on Clarkson’s body. Riordan said the judge had taken on the role of a witness. The appeals court disagreed.

“A trial court’s power, indeed its responsibility, to clarify testimony is well-settled in California,” the decision said.

The justices also rejected the claim that prosecutors crossed a line in closing arguments when they accused defense experts of testifying a certain way because they were paid a lot of money.

The appeals court said, “Harsh and colorful attacks on the credibility of opposing witness are permissible.”

Throughout the decision, the panel returned repeatedly to Spector’s statement to a chauffeur on the night of Clarkson’s death that, “I think I killed somebody.”