Spector faces life sentence for actress's murder

Record producer shot Lana Clarkson in the mouth at his LA mansion
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The Independent US

Phil Spector, the legendary record producer who invented the "Wall of Sound" recording technique, is likely to spend the rest of his natural life behind bars after being found guilty of murdering a struggling actress at his hilltop castle in Los Angeles.

The 69-year-old music icon, who achieved fame in the 1960s and went on to shape some of the most influential music of the past 40 years, shot Lana Clarkson through the mouth during a late-night altercation at his sprawling Alhambra mansion.

A famous eccentric with a track record of abusive behaviour towards women and a fatal fascination with firearms, the characteristically dishevelled-looking Spector did not react when the verdict was read out by the foreman of the jury yesterday afternoon, following 30 hours of deliberations.

His wife Rachelle, a 28-year-old former Playboy model whom he married in 2006, began sobbing as the judge said he should be taken into custody immediately, pending sentencing at the end of next month. Second degree murder carries a sentence of between 15 years and life. In reaching its decision, the jury of six men and six women chose not to convict Spector on a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, which would have carried a sentence of between two and four years.

They found that Spector, who was a heavy drinker, killed Ms Clarkson with a single shot to the head after apparently falling into a jealous rage when she rejected his sexual advances. She was sitting on a chair in the hallway of his 30-room house. Despite being the only potential witness to the incident, he chose not to give evidence during the case. His only public comment about the killing remains an interview with Esquire magazine in late 2003, when he claimed Clarkson had: "kissed the gun."

In court, Spector's defence team claimed that the actress, whom he'd met at the House of Blues nightclub in Hollywood on 2 February 2003 and subsequently persuaded to return to his home for drinks, had decided to kill herself on a whim, after discovering his .38 Colt Cobra pistol. They argued that Clarkson, 40, who starred in the 1980s cult film Barbarian Queen but had since struggled to find acting jobs, was distressed over the state of both her career and her finances.

That was enough to prevent the jury in a previous trial from reaching the unanimous verdict required in murder cases under Californian law. However the prosecution in his retrial succeeded in portraying him as a "demonic maniac" who habitually abused women.

Prosecutor Truc Do produced five previous girlfriends who testified that Spector had become violent and waved firearms at them when drunk.

"Behind the VIP was a very dangerous man, a man who believed that all women deserve a bullet in their head," she said, in a highly theatrical closing argument. "This case is about a man who has had a history of playing Russian roulette with the lives of women. Five women got the empty chamber. Lana got the sixth bullet." The prosecution case also involved evidence from Spector's driver, who claimed the defendant had staggered into the driveway after the incident, clutching a pistol and crying "I think I killed somebody!"

Yesterday's verdict leaves Spector, a man whose fortune was once estimated at $50m (£33.6m), and who was responsible for producing "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by the Righteous Brothers facing financial ruin.

Since Clarkson's death he has retained more than 13 defence lawyers since, some of whom are on $1 million a year. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that he was liquidating assets to pay for the legal fees. During the most recent trial, he paid $400,000 for several blood-spatter experts to give evidence that suggested the circumstances of Clarkson's killing were consistent with suicide.

Spector appeared in the LA Superior Court in a selection of bizarre designer outfits during the trial, sporting eccentric haircuts and make-up. At times he looked heavily medicated.

He created his "Wall of Sound" production style by employing large groups of musicians, sometimes using double and triple instrumentation, to create a dense sound. He once described his technique as "a Wagnerian approach to rock'n'roll: little symphonies for the kids."

Stories about his behaviour are legion. According to the biography Wall of Pain, he kept a gun in the studio, fired a shot during an acrimonious recording session with John Lennon, and once pressed a pistol to singer Leonard Cohen's neck.