LOS ANGELES – Actress Lana Clarkson had gunshot residue on both hands, a coroner testified Wednesday, but he refused to offer an opinion in Phil Spector's murder trial on whether that would suggest she fired the bullet that killed her.
Deputy Medical Examiner Louis Pena, who testified earlier that he is convinced Clarkson's death was a homicide, was led through an examination of forensic evidence by defense attorney Christopher Plourd.
The defense is seeking to show that the 40-year-old actress pulled the trigger of a handgun inserted in her mouth.
Pena was asked whether the gunshot residue meant Clarkson was holding the gun when it was fired.
"There are two ways to look at it," said Pena. "It implies the person could have been holding a weapon at the time of discharge or could be in the vicinity."
The attorney asked more specifically: "Could it be in her hands or could it be in the vicinity when discharged?"
The medical examiner said he was not an expert in that area of forensics.
"That's for somebody else," he said.
Plourd pressed on.
"In virtually every self-inflicted wound, is it correct that GSR tests are done?" he asked.
"Oh, yes," said Pena.
"And people who pull the trigger come up positive for GSR?" he asked.
"Not always," said Pena, but he did not explain.
Spector met the actress in the early morning of Feb. 3, 2003, at the House of Blues nightclub where she was a hostess. She went home with him and two hours after they arrived at his mansion she was dead, slumped in a chair in a foyer. A chauffeur has said he saw Spector emerge from the house about 5 a.m. holding a gun and declaring, "I think I shot somebody."
Prosecutors, portraying Spector, 67, as a man who terrorized women with guns in the past, had elicited from Pena testimony that Clarkson had a bruised tongue, indicating a gun was forced into her mouth.
Defense attorneys have said they will fight the case with scientific evidence and on Wednesday they showed that unlike the picture-perfect work of criminalists on TV's "CSI," there were mistakes in evidence collection and handling including the loss of a piece of one of Clarkson's teeth.
Pena acknowledged that the errors also included moving Clarkson's body in a way that caused blood to flow out of her mouth and soak the side of her dress, compromising evaluation of the garment for blood spatter.
Pena said the lost tooth fragment was the fault of an odontologist -- a forensic dentist -- who was called in on the case.
"There were three vials collected to be examined by the odontologist," Pena said. "What happened is on review in meeting with the odontologist he admitted he broke one of the vials and the tooth fragment was lost. It flew around the room somewhere."
Asked how this happened, Pena said, "When my back was turned he took it out, cracked the vial, panicked -- as he told me -- and sealed it again." Pena said the fragment was never found. It was not clear from testimony whether the vial cracked at the scene or at the coroner's office.
The coroner said he had found some of the tooth fragments on a red carpet in front of Clarkson's body and some on a staircase nearby, indicating that the force of the gunshot sent her two front teeth flying out.
The missing tooth fragment was among items in an in-house coroner's office memo about concerns in the case.
In addition, the memo said a criminalist used lift-off tape on Clarkson's dress to collect samples of evidence and inadvertently compromised the ability to evaluate blood spatter on the dress.
In other testimony, Pena said he was aware at the death scene that a piece of acrylic nail was missing from Clarkson's right thumb. He said crime lab technicians did not find it. The prosecution claims that defense experts later found the piece of nail when they searched the scene but withheld it from authorities.
Pena also said Clarkson had bruises on her right arm and hand but that he could not tell how recent they were. He said a medical report from one of Clarkson's doctors showed that she reported she bruised easily.
Spector rose to fame in the 1960s with what became known as the "Wall of Sound" recording technique that changed pop music. Clarkson was best known for her role in Roger Corman's 1985 cult film "Barbarian Queen."