Spector murder trial begins

Proceedings commenced four years after an actress who starred in a cult movie was shot to death in the foyer of his castle-like home.


Jurors will be asked to decide if Spector was responsible for the death of Lana Clarkson, who was shot in the face on February 3, 2003.

They will consider conflicting evidence about what happened before police found Clarkson, 40, slumped dead in a chair, her teeth blown out by a gunshot to her mouth.

Clarkson was best known as the star of Roger Corman's cult film Barbarian Queen. She was working as a hostess at the House of Blues when she went home with Spector that night.

The coroner's office called it a homicide – "death by the hand of another" – but also noted that Clarkson had gunshot residue on both of her hands and may have pulled the trigger.

In an email to friends, Spector, 66, called the death "an accidental suicide".

Spector, who created the "wall of sound" that revolutionised the recording of rock music, was present as the first members of a prospective jury pool of 300 people entered the downtown courtroom.

He produced the Beatles' Let It Be album and George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh, and has been cited as an influence by Bruce Springsteen and countless other artists.

Trial to be televised

Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler has ordered that the trial can be televised, but cameras will not be present for jury selection.

Judge Fidler ordered the potential jurors to appear in court today and tomorrow. Most have already been prescreened by a jury commissioner. Those who survive the two-day session will be given questionnaires that will ask what they know about the highly publicised case and seek to discover whether they hold hidden prejudices that would deny Spector a fair trial.

After tomorrow's session, lawyers will take a one-month break – interrupted only by a pretrial hearing on April 9 – to read the prospective jurors' answers and hone their jury selection strategy. The trial is expected to last three months.

On April 16, the remaining prospects will return for "voir dire", the process in which they are questioned individually by lawyers and the judge. Lawyers will then use challenges to winnow the pool and choose the ultimate jury and alternates.

The jury is expected to be seated by April 30, when opening statements are scheduled to begin and cameras will roll.

Spector's appearance may rivet TV audiences. His theatrical attire usually includes three-inch-high boots, frock coats and outlandish wigs. His New York lawyer, Bruce Cutler, is known for flamboyant speeches in court.

He has pleaded not guilty and has been set free on $US1 million ($A1.2 million) bail since his arrest.

He faces life in prison if convicted.

Cutler said his defence will be simple: "He didn't shoot this woman."

Prosecutors will claim he placed the gun in her mouth and shot her.

Legal experts say that while Spector is a legend in the music business, the celebrity factor on this trial is likely to be minimal because only older members of the public are aware of his impact on pop music in the 1960s.

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