LOS ANGELES – Phil Spector's murder trial is headed toward closing arguments next week with his former lead defense attorney gone and a newly appointed lawyer on the music producer's team.
In a surprise development Tuesday evening, a day after the trial's final testimony, Spector's wife announced that the producer had hired San Francisco attorney Dennis Riordan to replace his ousted lead counsel, Bruce Cutler.
However, Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler disputed the lead counsel title for Riordan when court resumed Wednesday for discussions on how the jury will be instructed.
"I think that was a little bit of hyperbole," Fidler said when asked by the prosecution if there was a new chief defense counsel.
"Mr. Rosen is the chief counsel, the one we rely on as I understand it," Fidler said of attorney Roger Rosen, who effectively became leader of the defense while Cutler was often absent for several weeks to tape a TV judge show.
"Mr. Riordan is here to work on jury instructions," Fidler said. He said Riordan would be considered a member of the defense team while assisting with jury instructions.
Riordan, asked if that was his understanding, replied: "As far as I know, 'chief' refers to a Native American. I am not chief counsel."
Spector, 67, is charged with murdering actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra mansion on Feb. 3, 2003, a few hours after she went home with him from her job as a nightclub hostess.
The defense maintains Clarkson, 40, was depressed and shot herself in the mouth.
Spector's lawyers filed papers Tuesday asking the judge to tell jurors they must find the record producer either guilty or not guilty of murder, with no option to convict him of lesser offenses such as voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.
"It is the prosecution's position that Mr. Spector was the shooter and that he therefore is guilty of an offense no less serious than that of second-degree murder," said the defense motion. "It is the defense position that Mr. Spector did not fire the shot and thus is guilty of no crime whatsoever."
The defense's argument for an all-or-nothing verdict says the law does not allow a fallback position to "lesser included offenses."
Prosecutors said they would file their response Wednesday.
The defense also objected to the judge's plan to instruct jurors about discovery violations by the defense, which he said were designed to surprise the prosecution with evidence they could not immediately rebut.
The defense said such instructions would tend to strengthen the prosecution case, which the defense said is impermissible.
Fidler said this week that final arguments would be presented next Wednesday and Thursday, with jury deliberations to begin the following Friday, Sept. 7.
Cutler, who had been essentially sidelined after a bombastic opening statement and a rebuke by the judge for an aggressive cross-examination of a witness, abruptly left the case in a dispute with Spector over which attorney would deliver closing arguments.
Rachelle Spector said her husband decided to remove Cutler and that the music producer will now decide which attorney does the closing. Neither Spector nor his wife were in the courtroom Wednesday morning.