REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: Day 1 at the Phil Spector Murder Trial
LOS ANGELES – Too evil for heaven, too controlling for hell.
That's how the then-powerful, ingenious and innovative rock legend Phil Spector once described himself to a reporter. That was back in the day … way back. Now, in an infamous Los Angeles courthouse where the nefarious acts of huge celebs seem etched in concrete, the diminutive, frail Spector seems desperate to climb back to a place of esteem. Perhaps that explains the 3-inch heels adorning his boy-sized feet.
The former powerhouse music producer is so tiny, I'm sure my 5-foot, 5-inch, 115-pound frame could take him down. It's hard to imagine the statuesque, 6-foot, 160-pound "goddess of physical fitness" Lana Clarkson falling victim to this cartoonish stick figure -- allegedly.
Day 1: Opening Statements
In the hallway, before proceedings, Spector is flanked by three of the biggest bodyguards I have ever seen. Think Suge Knight look-alikes. But once the courthouse doors swing open, Spector, looking like a cross between Homer Simpson's boss, Mr. Burns, and my Aunt Rose from Cleveland, chooses to make his grand entrance solo. The celebrated '60s Afro hair-do, by the way, now seems a little bleached and in the style of Austin Powers.
It's weird. He stares blankly at the crowd, walking like it's hard to keep his balance. He stares mostly at the victim's family and then at the reporters. Once the defendant tales his seat, he holds his hands in praying position. Vanity Fair "trial icon" Dominick Dunne and I agreed he is trying to keep his hands from shaking. They shake anyway. The dark bags under his eyes are so profound that, at first, I am certain he is wearing shaded spectacles. He isn't. Under the unforgiving fluorescent lights, it appears his face has been surgically altered, and not well. Strange lines and indentations cross his nose and cheeks.
Spector's got a big-gun defense team. The jury is out on how the abrasive style of New Yorker Bruce Cutler, of John Gotti fame, will sit with this Los Angeles jury. The accent is quite "Sopranos": "Mista Specta changed the world" and "Yer On-a, I object." His voice covers a ZIP code.
The laid-back jury seems taken aback, but then again, out here, we're used to drama. Personally, I love it. Looking like the rotund elder statesman of the court, Cutler recently referred to one of the male prosecutors as "girlie." L.A. co-counsel Roger Rosen looks like a print ad for Brooks Brothers; he's so meticulous about his appearance he's known to floss his teeth in the hallway after lunch.
The wife of famed forensic expert Dr. Michael Baden is also on the defense team. Linda Baden, a great attorney in her own right, is the only member of the team who sits close to Spector, almost like a protective sister. Since she complimented my shoes in the women's bathroom, I feel a certain simpatico.
The prosecutors are sooooooo L.A — and I mean that in a good way. Baby-faced Texas original Alan Jackson has a male-model like presence and he's considered a brilliant prosecutor. His Elvis-like hair and smooth, self-effacing style are charming. His partner, Pat Dixon, wears a perpetual tan, fine suits and loves to talk about his Porsches when he is outside the courtroom. I told him recently that the Boxter is not a real Porsche and you can't be a true Porsche freak if you've got that silly Tiptronic thing."I shift gears with my old 911," he retorts.
I don't know about his gear-shifting, but he's a successful prosecutor. He and Jackson just got a conviction in the murder of racecar legend Mickey Thompson. It was a tough case.
Spector's self-consciousness must have really gone into a tailspin when prosecutors told the jury that Lana Clarkson thought he was a woman the first time she met him at the House of Blues. She even referred to him as "Mrs. Spector," to which he shot back, "It's Phil. Phil Spector!"
I take a break to do an interview with French Television. They want to know if this case compares to O.J. This case is fascinating, but nothing will ever, ever compare to O.J. On the celebrity level, this case ranks high because of Spector's onetime superstar status. By lunch, we have heard references to Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor, Dan Aykroyd, Ahmet Ertegun and Lenny Bruce. As for celeb witnesses: Word is that Keith Richards will testify on Spector's behalf. As for famous prosecution witnesses: We music freaks are holding our breath for any remaining member of the Ramones. Allegedly the band ducked for cover years ago when an agitated Spector fired his weapon in the recording studio.
When Spector reportedly did the same thing in John Lennon's presence, the Beatle yelled, "If you're going to kill me, kill me. But for [explicative] sake, watch my ears. I need them."
The jury's got me stumped when it comes to figuring out what they are thinking.
First of all, it's mostly men -- 13 out of 18, including alternates. Will they be less sympathetic to a woman as victim? I can guarantee you that all but two have heard of Spector and know of the music he created. The majority appear to be black, Latino, Asian and Middle Eastern. What that means as far as Spector is concerned? I don't have a clue. They are stone-faced and attentive.
You won't see Spector's sons Gary and Donte in the gallery. They don't hold much affection for their dad. Gary told me that when he and his brother were young, they were forced to watch and participate in bizarre sex acts with his father and others.
Spector's only family appears to be his new wife Rachelle. She is around 30 years his junior. I spoke to her in the hallway. She's cute, wide-eyed and wordless with a permanent smile. A defense lawyer suggestion, I'm sure. Welcome to justice, L.A. style -- allegedly.
Pat LaLama is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist and commentator based in Los Angeles. She has covered countless high-profile court cases, including the O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson trials. LaLama is a frequent guest on "The O'Reilly Factor," "Hannity & Colmes," "The Live Desk" and "Fox & Friends." Outside the news world, LaLama is a child mentor, avid swimmer and blues singer.