LOS ANGELES – Testifying under the threat of jail, one of Phil Spector's former attorneys said she saw a forensic expert at the scene of Lana Clarkson's death pick up a small white object -- which prosecutors contend could have been a fingernail fragment that would indicate a struggle.
Attorney Sara Caplan testified, however, that the object was too large to be a missing fragment of the actress' nail.
Called by the prosecution in Spector's murder trial, Caplan gave essentially the same story she had in a previous hearing without jurors present. This time she used a diagram to compare sizes.
She said she saw Henry Lee, a forensic expert for the defense, pick up an item about 1 inch in circumference, with rough edges, and put it in a vial. She said she never saw the item again.
Under questioning by defense lawyer Linda Kenney-Baden, Caplan drew a small diagram of the item, then looked at a photo of the dead woman's hand missing a fragment of acrylic nail from the thumb. Caplan said the item was larger than the missing nail fragment.
Caplan had earlier refused to testify about the item, and Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler ruled her in contempt of court and threatened to jail her. He cited precedents which said the privilege did not apply in cases where evidence allegedly was destroyed.
Lee has adamantly denied that he found or withheld anything, but the judge said he was more inclined to believe Caplan and ordered her to repeat her statements to the jury. She only agreed to testify after the California Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal.
At the time of the alleged discovery, Caplan was part of an original defense team that examined the foyer of Spector's mansion, where Clarkson died from a bullet fired from a snub-nose .38-caliber revolver stuck in her mouth on Feb. 3, 2003.
The defense claims Clarkson shot herself.
Kenney-Baden suggested in questioning that there were many other white things in the foyer, and Caplan agreed.
Caplan was prevented from trying to redeem the reputation of Lee, with whom she has worked many times, including on the O.J. Simpson case. When Kenney-Baden asked whether she had ever known Lee to withhold evidence, there was a strong objection from prosecutor Alan Jackson and the judge ordered the question stricken from the record.
Asked by the prosecutor who she last saw handling the item, she said, "Dr. Lee."
As she left the courtroom she stopped briefly by Spector. Outside court, she said she had wished him good luck.
Also outside, Caplan said she "certainly never intended to be stuck in a position of having to impugn the credibility of one of the most amazing professional criminalists in the world."
Asked what Lee may have picked up, Caplan said, "It could have been something someone dragged in on their foot."
Lee, meanwhile, said he probably won't testify in the case, suggesting the attack on his credibility was an attempt by prosecutors to keep him off the witness stand.
"The bottom line is I did not take a fingernail," he told The Associated Press earlier this week. "But they made it a smoke screen."