Jury unable to reach verdict in murder trial of Spector

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The jury in the Phil Spector murder trial in Los Angeles announced yesterday that it was split almost exactly down the middle and unable to reach a verdict after seven days of deliberations.

The judge, Larry Fidler, sent the jurors home for the day and said he would walk them through the legal niceties again today in the hope of avoiding a final deadlock in the five-month-old trial.

The unexpected turn of events was almost certainly good news for Spector, the record producer who is accused of murdering a struggling 40-year-old actress called Lana Clarkson.

Spector invited Clarkson back to his fake Pyrenean chateau in the Los Angeles suburbs in February 2003 after picking her up in a West Hollywood nightclub, only to raise the alarm when a gun went off and blew Clarkson's brains out.

Spector's chauffeur, Adriano De Souza, told the court he saw Spector emerge from the house and tell him: "I think I killed someone."

The prosecution made strenuous efforts to depict Spector as a man with a long track record of terrorising women and pulling weapons when they either resisted his advances or sought to leave his house in the middle of the night.

But Spector's lawyers argued that Clarkson's death was the result of something they called "accidental suicide". In other words, she was playing dangerously with the .38-calibre Colt Cobra when it went off.

Neither side could prove definitively who was holding the weapon when it was fired. The prosecution sought to discredit expert witnesses for the defence, who said Spector was several feet away, according to the forensic evidence. But they were unable to produce any hard evidence to the contrary, indicating that he was holding the gun in her mouth when it went off.

The jury foreman said he and his colleagues had taken four ballots and could not move the panel past a 7-5 split. It was not clear whether it was seven votes for a guilty verdict, or seven votes for acquittal. "At this time we don't believe anything will change the positions of the jurors," the foreman told the court.