LOS ANGELES – Two months after opening statements in producer Phil Spector's murder trial, the defense on Tuesday began its effort to show that actress Lana Clarkson killed herself without the prosecution having to rest its case.
The prosecution wants to call a former member of Spector's defense team who has been found in contempt and is facing jail for refusing to testify about a piece of possible evidence that has never been turned over to the prosecution.
Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler told the jury that the defense would begin without the prosecution resting.
"At the present time there is at least one or perhaps more witnesses that are presently unavailable," Fidler told the panel. "Until we have resolved the issues of those witnesses the people will not rest. But rather than just wait for that to be resolved, the defense is now going to move forward with its case."
The defense called as its first witness Dr. Vincent DiMaio, a physician with a private practice in forensic pathology. His immediate testimony dealt with his education, credentials and experience.
Spector, 67, is accused of murdering actress Lana Clarkson, 40, who was a hostess at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip. According to testimony, she went to Spector's mansion for a drink when she got off work in the early morning of Feb. 3, 2003.
She died about 5 a.m. that day from a single bullet fired into her mouth. Her body was found in a chair in the foyer of the house, one hand resting on her purse and a bloody revolver at her feet.
The former Spector attorney facing jail, Sara Caplan, has refused to testify on grounds of attorney-client privilege. But the judge has ruled that the privilege does not apply to issues of destruction of evidence and has found her in contempt.
On Monday, the state 2nd District Court of Appeal turned down Caplan's bid for a hearing. The judge granted a stay of his jailing order to allow an appeal to the state Supreme Court, but said he would go forward if there is no action by the end the day Thursday.
Caplan was a member of an initial defense team that examined the death scene on Feb. 4, 2003, after sheriff's investigators were through. She became an issue during a series of hearings outside the jury's presence that explored claims about what that team did.
Caplan at one point took the stand and in a surprise said that defense forensic expert Henry Lee picked up a small white item the size of a fingernail and placed it in a test tube.
Prosecutors said Lee never turned over such an item, which they contend was a piece of acrylic fingernail missing from one of Clarkson's thumbs.
Lee denied withholding anything but the judge made a formal finding that Lee had taken something.
Spector was a leading producer of popular music in the 1960s and '70s after rising to fame with a recording technique that became known as the "Wall of Sound." As an actress, Clarkson was best known for Roger Corman's 1985 cult film "Barbarian Queen."