LOS ANGELES – Jurors in Phil Spector's murder trial will have only one question to decide: Is the music producer innocent or guilty of second-degree murder?
Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler told attorneys Wednesday he pondered whether there could be "lesser included offenses," which might allow the jury to consider voluntary or involuntary manslaughter rather than murder.
"I don't see it," he concluded.
Both the prosecution and defense agreed that the legal definitions of lesser crimes do not fit this case.
Spector, 67, is charged with murdering actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra mansion on Feb. 3, 2003, a few hours after she met the record producer at her job as a nightclub hostess and went home with him.
The defense maintains Clarkson, 40, was depressed and shot herself in the mouth.
"I'm sure we can all agree this is a case about who fired the gun," newly hired defense attorney Dennis Riordan told the judge.
Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson said he wanted to be assured that he would not be "sandbagged" by any defense attorney telling jurors in final arguments that there might be a lesser crime involved.
"I would never allow that," said Fidler. "The only verdict form they will get is second-degree murder."
The prosecution is seeking a second-degree murder conviction under the theory of "implied malice," which requires the taking of an extreme risk that could lead to death and a callous disregard for human life.
The penalty for second-degree murder is 15 years to life in prison and a convict has to serve 85 percent of the base term before becoming eligible for a parole hearing.
The standards for the lesser offenses would have been different. Involuntary manslaughter, for example, would require a finding of negligence.
There is no allegation in the Spector case of the premeditation or intent required for first-degree murder.
Fidler said this week that final arguments would be presented next Wednesday and Thursday, with jury deliberations to begin the following Friday, Sept. 7.
At the start of Wednesday's session, the judge clarified the new role of Riordan, a San Francisco attorney, who came in to handle jury instruction arguments. Spector's wife, Rachelle, had issued a press release Tuesday night saying that Riordan was hired as "chief counsel" to replace Bruce Cutler.
"I think that was a little bit of hyperbole," the judge said. Riordan also said he was not chief counsel.
Fidler said the chief counsel was Roger Rosen, who effectively became leader of the defense while Cutler was often absent for several weeks at a time to tape a TV judge show.
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.
The judge also delayed a final ruling on how he will 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 argued such instructions would tend to strengthen the prosecution case, which the defense said is impermissible. The prosecution insisted an instruction was required.
"There are consequences for conduct," said Jackson. "What we're talking about are intentional acts by the defense to undermine the prosecution and the court process and the rules by which we play. We have to live in a world of rules."
The judge said he would make his final instruction decisions next Wednesday before final arguments.