LOS ANGELES – As jurors returned to deliberations in Phil Spector's murder trial Monday, the record producer's defense filed a motion asking the judge to give the panel more guidance to clarify controversial new instructions he issued last week to help break a deadlock.
In a hearing outside the jury's presence, Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler listened to arguments on the motion and told attorneys he would think about it, but gave no indication of how he would rule.
Amid the developments, the jury sent a note asking for a VCR. It was not known what the panel wished to view. Trial evidence included a videotaped interview of Spector's chauffeur by sheriff's investigators. The driver testified Spector came out of his house with a gun and said, "I think I killed somebody." There was also videotape of a driveway fountain. The defense contends noises including the fountain made the quote suspect.
A VCR-TV was sent into the jury room during afternoon deliberations.
Spector, 67, is charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 3, 2003, death of actress Lana Clarkson, 40, from a gunshot fired in her mouth. The defense contends the shot was self-inflicted, either an accident or a suicide.
After the jury reported the 7-5 impasse last week, the judge withdrew a so-called pinpoint instruction that several jurors indicated was giving them trouble.
That instruction said that in order to convict Spector the jury had to find that "the defendant must have committed an act that caused the death of Lana Clarkson," and it specified the act was pointing a gun at her, which resulted in the gun entering her mouth while in Spector's hand.
The judge decided that the instruction misstated the law by unduly limiting possibilities that the jury could consider. He gave a new instruction that included examples of inferences the jury could draw from the evidence, including the possibility that Spector forced Clarkson to place the gun in her own mouth and it went off.
He also cautioned that he was not suggesting that any of the examples took place, and they could be rejected.
In the defense motion filed Monday, Spector's attorneys asked that the judge tell jurors there is no evidence in the record that Spector had a second firearm present other than the one that killed Clarkson -- an inference they said was required for the judge's scenario that Spector forced her to put a gun in her mouth and shoot herself.
The defense also asked that the jury be told that Spector cannot be found guilty merely for aiding, encouraging or advising Clarkson to commit suicide.
During the hearing on the motion, the prosecution argued that any further instruction on the issue of suicide would weigh against its case.
"It highlights the defense case," Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson told the judge. "It's saying if you believe she killed herself, don't bother with any of those other instructions."
The four-page motion said that the judge's instruction last week offered examples which could only lead to conviction, not to acquittal.
"The court was engaging in a comment on the evidence," the motion said.
It said that while comments are permitted by a judge after a jury has declared an impasse, the power to comment is subject to strict limitations.
The motion quoted from several legal precedent cases which said that a judge must be extremely careful in telling jurors how to deliberate. It quoted from one case that said: "The court's comments must be scrupulously fair and may not invade the province of the jury as the exclusive trier of fact."
The motion suggested additional language the judge could use to tell jurors that they are not required to consider the scenarios he offered them. It also asked that he tell the jury: "I did not intend to suggest that defendant be convicted of murder on the theory that he was legally responsible for Ms. Clarkson's suicide."
"A person who aids, encourages, or advises another to commit suicide is not guilty of murder, even if that person intended that the other person commit suicide and supplied the other person with the means to do so," said the suggested instruction.
The case went to the jury on Sept. 10 and the jury foreman told the judge on Sept. 18 that the panel was deadlocked after four ballots. After two days of contentious debate among attorneys on new instructions, the panel was sent back into deliberations late on Sept. 20. The jurors also deliberated Friday before taking the weekend off.