November 20

This Day in History

Hollywood

Nov 20, 2003:

Music producer Phil Spector indicted for murder of actress

On this day in 2003, Phil Spector, the influential, eccentric music producer who worked with a long list of performers including The Righteous Brothers, The Ronettes, Ike and Tina Turner, John Lennon and the Ramones, is indicted in the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Spector pled not guilty to the charges.

The 40-year-old Clarkson was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the mouth in the foyer of Spector’s Alhambra, California mansion in the early hours of February 3, 2003. Clarkson, who appeared in a string of B-movies such as Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back (1989), met Spector earlier that same night at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, where she worked as a hostess, and subsequently returned with him to his home. Police responded to a 911 call and found Clarkson’s body. Spector’s limo driver, who was waiting outside in the car at the time of Clarkson’s death, testified that the music producer came outside with a gun in his hand and told him, “I think I killed somebody.” However, Spector later stated that the actress’s death was an “accidental suicide.”

Spector, who was born on December 26, 1940, in New York City, rose to prominence in the music industry in the 1960s. He had enormous success as a songwriter and producer and pioneered a production technique known as the “Wall of Sound.” He also developed a reputation as an eccentric with a bad temper and a fascination with guns. By the time of Clarkson’s death, Spector lived a largely reclusive existence.

Following Spector’s indictment on second-degree murder charges, his case experienced a series of delays before opening statements finally began on April 25, 2007. During the high-profile trial, defense attorneys argued that at the time of Clarkson’s death, the tall, blonde actress was depressed over the state of her failing career and troubled personal life and therefore killed herself. The prosecution, in turn, put several female witnesses on the stand who testified about Spector’s history of violence toward women.

Throughout the trial, Spector appeared in court sporting flamboyant outfits and an array of dramatic hairstyles. He also worked his way through a series of well-known defense lawyers over the course of his legal troubles, including O.J. Simpson’s attorney Robert Shapiro, the Menendez brothers’ lawyer Leslie Abramson and the former John Gotti counselor Bruce Cutler.

Closing arguments in Spector’s trial were made on September 7, 2007. On September 26, the jury announced it was deadlocked (voting 10-2 in favor of conviction) and unable to reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial. However, a retrial began in October 2008, and April 2009, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison in May 2009. Spector was 69 years old at the time of sentencing, and would be eligible for parole at age 88.

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