The Day Phil Spector Was Convicted of Murder
The late Phil Spector's April 13, 2009 conviction for second-degree murder of an actress who'd had bit parts in Scarface and Fast Times at Ridgemont High marked a tragic end to a career that saw as many dizzying heights as it did truly bizarre twists.
Into the '70s, Spector built his professional profile around a now-trademark "Wall of Sound" technique in the studio, featuring layers of instrumental tracks, vocals and percussion. Among his biggest initial successes were the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'" and the Ronette's "Be My Baby," both '60s-era charttoppers. He later produced the Beatles swan song Let It Be, and worked with John Lennon and George Harrison on huge solo hits.
But sessions for a Lennon oldies project that would eventually be released in 1975 as Rock 'n' Roll found Spector becoming increasingly erratic – and then violent: "You see the man come in one day dressed as a doctor, the next as a karate expert," Lennon's mistress May Pang once said. At one point, Spector disappeared with the tapes – forcing Lennon to complete the album himself.
He'd reportedly pulled a gun on Lennon, and it wouldn't be the last time. Similar incidents were also said to have happened with Leonard Cohen, Debbie Harry of Blondie, the Ramones and his ex-wife Ronnie – early signs, it seemed, of his propensity toward violence.
Ronnie, lead singer of the Ronettes, detailed his increasingly cruel and erratic behavior in a 1990 autobiography. He'd even berated Tina Turner for exposing Ike Turner's brutality, while giving her ex-husband's eulogy.
So what eventually happened with Lana Clarkson, a blond actress found shot to death in the legendary producer's 30-room mansion, might have seemed pre-ordained. The only mystery seemed to be when Spector would be found guilty amid all of that anecdotal evidence, and some shocking testimony surrounding the 2003 incident.
The initial trial commenced four years later, with prosecutors laying out a grisly scene: Clarkson, they said, was working as a House of Blues hostess on the Sunset Strip when she met Spector. He asked her out for a night of drinking, and they eventually ended up at his castle-style mansion. When Clarkson spurned his advances, prosecutors said Spector shoved a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.
Spector's own driver said he heard a loud noise on the night in question, then saw the producer fleeing his home – pistol in hand – saying: "I think I killed someone." Prosecutors also said the producer, who'd taken to wearing outlandish wigs, tried to clean up the scene.
Five women took the stand and testified that Spector threatened them with firearms, as well. There was one more twist still to come: The jury somehow hung, causing a mistrial. They deliberated for 15 days, but remained deadlocked with 10-2 in favor of conviction.
A second trial began a year later, and this time – despite new Spector lawyer Doron Weinberg's counter claim that his DNA was not found on the murder weapon – Spector was found guilty. Lawyers also argued over the course of six years and two court proceedings that Clarkson was suicidal, to no avail.
Jurors deliberated during these subsequent proceedings for some 30 hours before announcing their verdict. They also found Spector, decked out in a trademark knee-length suit jacket and another of his whimsical lapel pins, guilty of illegally discharging a firearm.
Judge Larry Paul Fidler denied Spector's bond as he awaited sentencing, citing the producer's years-long "pattern of violence" involving firearms. He was then ordered to serve 19-years-to-life, with the possibility of parole at age 88.
That day never came. Spector filed an unsuccessful appeal before dying on Jan. 16, 2021 after contracting COVID-19. He was 81.