The judge in record producer Phil Spector’s murder trial decided today (Sept. 19) not to allow the deadlocked jury to consider a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
“It’s not so much the words, it’s basically the timing when they’ve reached an impasse,” Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler told attorneys. He said the jury might take being offered such an option at this point to mean they should find Spector guilty of manslaughter.
He asked the attorneys outside the jury’s presence for arguments on how the current jury instructions might be restated to aid the panel in deliberations, which were suspended after the impasse was announced yesterday.
Fidler ruled earlier in the trial that the jury would only consider the charge of second-degree murder and not any lesser offenses.
Spector, 67, is charged with murdering actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra, Calif., mansion on Feb. 3, 2003. The defense maintains Clarkson, 40, was depressed and shot herself in the mouth either on purpose or by accident.
When the 7-5 impasse was reported, Fidler told the lawyers that he had found a precedent in a California Supreme Court ruling that might require him to give the jury the option of considering a lesser offense.
Ultimately, he said, “I do accept that it would be inappropriate at this time to instruct the jury with a new offense, that being the lesser offense of manslaughter, because I believe it’s basically directing them, if at all possible, that’s what they should find. And that is inappropriate.”
Aside from the timing, he added that he was not sure the precedent case applied to the Spector case.
The jury foreman, a 32-year-old civil engineer, told the judge yesterday that he saw little hope of resolving the impasse and indicated that jurors were in disagreement about facts in the case, not about the law.
“I believe it comes down to the individual jurors’ conclusions that are drawn from the facts,” the foreman said. “At this time, I don’t believe that anything else will change the positions of the jurors, based on the facts that are in evidence.” He said the panel had taken four votes before reporting the deadlock.
However, three jurors suggested that rereading jury instructions on the question of reasonable doubt might help. One juror asked for an explanation of “the difference between “reasonable doubt” and “doubt”.
The judge, clearly troubled by the prospect of a hung jury after five months of trial, told the jurors he might give them some new instructions or even have attorneys reargue part of the case.
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