LOS ANGELES – Prosecutors' claims that Phil Spector's defense concealed key evidence in an actress' shooting death got surprise support Thursday when a lawyer said she saw famed criminalist Henry Lee pick up a fingernail-size object at the scene.
The testimony, at a hearing outside the jury's presence, contradicts Lee's official report. Prosecutors say part of an acrylic fingernail missing from Lana Clarkson's right hand could show whether she was in a struggle when she died, but defense lawyers have claimed for more than three years that the nail does not exist.
Spector, 67, whose "Wall of Sound" transformed rock 'n' roll in the 1960s, has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers have argued the actress shot herself.
The prosecution is expected to ask for severe sanctions against the defense if it is shown that lawyers purposely withheld evidence in the Feb. 3, 2003, shooting at Spector's home. Spector's murder trial is under way, but jurors have been off this week because lead defense attorney Bruce Cutler called in sick.
The lawyer being questioned was Sara Caplan, an associate of Robert Shapiro, the first lawyer to represent Spector. They also worked together on the O.J. Simpson trial.
Caplan said under questioning by defense lawyer Roger Rosen that she was part of the defense delegation that went to Spector's home a day after the shooting, after authorities completed their evidence gathering at the scene. Lee was part of the team and all were scrutinizing the foyer area where Clarkson was shot, searching for anything that might have been overlooked by law enforcers.
"I pointed out a few things to Henry," said Caplan, recalling one white object. "He had on rubber gloves and had a tweezer. He said, 'Might be interesting."'
Lee picked it up and put it in a vial, Caplan said.
Asked to describe the object, she held up the thumb of her right hand and said, "About the size of my fingernail." She added, "It was flat with uneven edges, a solid object."
She said she had no idea what became of the item.
Lee has said in his official report that the only things he recovered were two white threads and some carpet fiber taken for samples.
Another witness, Stanley White, a retired sheriff's detective who worked for Shapiro as an investigator, said he was at the scene and also saw Lee pick up a small white object and hold it in a piece of tissue or a handkerchief.
"I shone my flashlight on it and said, 'A piece of fingernail,"' White recalled. "Dr. Lee said, 'You're crazy.' I said, 'You need glasses."'
The judge said Lee, who is in China, would be summoned as soon as he returns to the United States. Lee has been barred from commenting on the case. Meanwhile, the judge scheduled further hearings Friday with a return appearance by law clerk Greg Diamond.
Diamond, who first testified Wednesday, set off a court fight after he came forward to say that a small white piece of evidence was collected at the scene by Caplan and shown to the entire defense team.
Diamond, who once worked for Shapiro, said forensic pathologist Michael Baden handled the object and said he thought it was a tooth fragment.
"I would never touch an object at an alleged crime scene, ever," Caplan said. "I have been a criminal defense lawyer over 20 years. I know not to contaminate evidence. ... I value my ethical responsibilities."
Baden, who flew in from New York for the hearing Wednesday, said he didn't see any such object at the scene and didn't see Caplan pick up anything.
Diamond said that before he went to prosecutors with his information he called a number of news organizations including the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Web-based The Smoking Gun and Court TV, but that none of the media organizations published his material.