LOS ANGELES – Phil Spector on Monday faced a panel of prospective jurors who were warned by the judge that the murder trial of the music legend is not an opportunity for them to have their "15 minutes of fame."
"This case is not about you," Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler told some 100 prospective jurors.
Spector, the music producer who gained fame in the 1960s for his "Wall of Sound" recording technique, is accused of fatally shooting actress Lana Clarkson at his home four years ago.
The prospects had filled out questionnaires a month ago and returned Monday for questioning by lawyers.
Fidler told them they will remain anonymous and he encouraged them to reveal their innermost thoughts.
"This criminal justice system works extremely well if we end up with 12 impartial jurors willing to be fair to both sides," he said. "There are some people looking for their 15 minutes of fame. We're not looking for that kind of juror."
The process began with flamboyant defense attorney Bruce Cutler giving a combination of speeches and questions that led prosecutors to frequently interrupt and the judge to admonish him.
Much of his approach was to tell the prospects that he was from New York and that Spector was originally from there as well and he hoped they would not be prejudiced against them.
"I'm a foreigner here and I wanted them to know that and see if they have any difficulty with the fact I was not born and bred in California ... Phillip is also from New York. He was born in the Bronx where the Yankees play," Cutler said.
At that point the judge cut him off and said, "We have to move forward."
Asked about their knowledge of the case, one prospect said she had read Spector's statements to police and was aware Spector claimed Clarkson committed suicide.
Asked if she was prejudiced by information she read in the media, she said, "I'm not swayed by Entertainment Weekly or any trash magazines."
Another woman volunteered that she had formed an opinion before coming to court that Spector was guilty but she now knew the difference between opinion and evidence.
After the first round of questioning, Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson objected outside the jury's presence to a comment Cutler directed at him in the courtroom. Jackson said he didn't want an impression left that he was being threatened by Cutler.
Cutler responded, "I'm 58 years old and I didn't grow up with snickering and giggling at the (counsel) table. That's girlie stuff," he said, adding, "I'm not being sexist -- I'm quoting your governor of California."
The judge urged both parties to be civil with each other.
Another defense attorney, Roger Rosen, focused on a prospect who is an NBC-TV producer whose questionnaire indicated he knew more about the case than anyone in the jury pool.
The man said he had formed no opinion because "it's part of what I do for a living -- to keep an open mind and to listen to both sides."
He added, "The challenge will be keeping track of what the judge admits (into evidence) and what may be floating around in the back of my mind that has to be put aside. I believe I can do it."
No prospects had been removed from the panel when questioning ended for the day.
Spector, 67 (according to his lawyer) has pleaded not guilty and is free on $1 million bail. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Clarkson, 40, was shot in the foyer of Spector's home on Feb. 3, 2003. Her body was found slumped in a chair, her teeth blown out by a gunshot to her mouth.
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 the night she died.