While legendary music producer Phil Spector sits in prison, his lawyers are poised to urge an appellate court to throw out his second-degree murder conviction and grant a new trial on grounds of judicial error and prosecutorial misconduct.
Oral arguments were scheduled Tuesday before the California 2nd District Court of Appeal, which has received hundreds of pages of legal briefs from Spector's lawyers and the state attorney general's office over the past year.
If Spector were to receive a new trial, it would be his third on the charge that he murdered actress Lana Clarkson at his castle-like mansion on Feb. 3, 2003. His first jury in 2007 deadlocked 10-2 in favor of a guilty verdict. A second jury convicted him in April 2009, and he was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison.
Spector's lawyers in both trials contended he did not kill Clarkson and suggested that forensic evidence showed the star of "Barbarian Queen" was depressed and shot herself in the mouth.
Spector's legal team, headed by highly regarded San Francisco attorney Dennis Riordan, maintains that Spector was denied his right to a fair trial due to numerous errors committed by prosecutors and Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler. They say the case was prejudiced by Fidler's rulings allowing the testimony of five women who claimed Spector had threatened them with guns in years past. Defense lawyers also cite the prosecution's use of a videotape of the trial judge commenting on evidence in the case.
Spector, the 71-year-old rock music producer known for his "Wall of Sound" recording technique, never testified.
In a reply to the defense appeals brief, Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Daniels argued that evidence pointing to Spector's guilt was so extensive that any legal missteps would have been "harmless error" which would not have changed the jury verdict.
Riordan outlined errors he said Fidler committed in both trials, calling one of the judge's actions "startling."
The appeal said Fidler allowed prosecutors in the second trial to show jurors a videotape from a hearing held outside the presence of Spector and his jury in the first trial. On the tape, they said, the judge was seen interpreting the action of a key forensic witness testifying about the position of blood spatter on Clarkson's body.
They said the judge later refused to exclude his own comments, saying he had the right to say what he observed in court.