LOS ANGELES – The judge in Phil Spector's murder trial said Wednesday he will not give jurors the option of finding the record producer guilty of a lesser charge than second degree murder in order to help them break their impasse on a verdict.
Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler decided to take the possibility of involuntary manslaughter off the table. He said the jury might interpret being offered such an option at this point to mean that they should find Spector guilty of manslaughter.
"It's not so much the words, it's basically the timing when they've reached an impasse," Fidler said.
But he did say he would retract an instruction the jury found confusing, and would allow attorneys to reargue certain points in the case. He told the jury they would get some new instructions at 10 a.m. PDT Thursday, and sent them home overnight.
Spector, 67, a music legend, is charged with murdering actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra mansion on Feb. 3, 2003, a few hours after she met him 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 either on purpose or by accident.
Fidler discussed the problems with the attorneys and polled the jury panel again to clarify what was giving them trouble. Some jurors indicated it was the issue of "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" that was tripping a few of them up and said they needed further instructions on the difference between "doubt" and "reasonable doubt."
Before interviewing the jury, the judge asked attorneys outside jurors' presence for arguments about how existing jury instructions might be restated to aid the panel in deliberations — which were suspended after the impasse was reported Tuesday.
"We'd all like this case to get resolved and have the jury arrive at a result," said Fidler, noting the five-month ordeal for jurors, the defendant and the family of Clarkson.
Fidler called jurors in and asked them how the court might help them break the deadlock, which the foreman said was a 7-5 split without indicating which direction the panel was leaning.
Several jurors spoke up, citing differences of opinion among them on the evidence and on the concept of reasonable doubt. The judge said outside their presence that he would have to tell the jury that deciding reasonable doubt is "an individual determination" that is part of the deliberation process.
Fidler, citing the facts of the case, ruled earlier in the trial that the jury would only consider the charge of second-degree murder and not any so-called lesser included offenses.
But on Tuesday, Fidler changed course, saying he would consider downgrading the charge because jurors reported the impasse following seven days of deliberations.
Spector's defense team opposed the lesser-charge option to help jurors break their deadlock. Prosecutors argued for it. A lesser charge could have made the decision vulnerable to an appeal, legal scholars said.
The judge ultimately sided with the defense.
"At a certain point in deliberations after the jury has arrived at an impasse, to give them a new offense ... is essentially saying to them, 'If you can't find him guilty with what you have, try this,"' Fidler said. "It would be inappropriate to instruct the jury at this time on a lesser offense of manslaughter."
The judge rejected strenuous arguments from prosecutor Alan Jackson urging the instruction and accepted equally vigorous statements of law by defense attorney Bradley Brunon, who noted that the prosecution had never asked for an instruction on involuntary manslaughter and would be changing their theory of the case in midstream.
Jackson said he wasn't changing his theory, which could be applied to manslaughter as well as murder.
But the judge challenged him: "If the facts are so clear, why didn't you argue them? Why didn't you ask the court to include lessers?"
Jackson said it was "our strategic position at the time."
More than an hour of arguments revolved around interpretations of California Supreme Court precedents, one dating back to 1904.
Fidler had thrown defense lawyers into a panic on Tuesday when jurors reported the deadlock and he suggested that a case he had found might support giving an instruction on a lesser offense. But overnight, he said, he did further research that changed his mind. He said a new instruction would be perceived as telling them what to do.
"It's indicating to the jury that the other option is not acquittal; it's convicting on a lesser offense," he said. "It's instructing them what they should find."
Spector appeared grim during the hearing, as did Clarkson's mother and sister and their civil lawyers who were all in court. They have sued Spector for wrongful death and their civil trial will follow the criminal trial.
The jury foreman, a 32-year-old civil engineer, told the judge on Tuesday that he saw little hope of resolving the impasse and indicated jurors were in disagreement about facts in the case, not about the law.
"I believe it comes down to the individual jurors' conclusions that are drawn from the facts," said the foreman. "At this time I don't believe that anything else will change the positions of the jurors, based on the facts that are in evidence."
He said the panel had taken four votes before reporting the deadlock.
However, three jurors suggested that rereading jury instructions on the question of reasonable doubt might help. One juror asked for an explanation of "the difference between reasonable doubt and doubt."
The deadlocked jurors told the judge one legal instruction was a possible roadblock to a verdict. It tells the jurors that to convict Spector of second-degree murder, "The defendant must have committed an act that caused the death of Lana Clarkson." It goes on to specify that the act was pointing a gun at her which resulted in the gun entering her mouth while in Spector's hand.
"I think some jurors may have a question about whether every element of that instruction must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt," said one juror.
Another juror asked if they might be able to examine clothing referred to in the case but only shown in pictures. The clothing itself is not in evidence and could not be provided.
The jury foreman's comments pointed to the essential issue dividing jurors.
"Is it appropriate for one side to feel — for one juror to feel that it's reasonable and for another juror to feel that it's not reasonable — from the same facts that were presented in the case?" he asked.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.