In Reversal, Spector Judge Considers Letting Jurors Consider Lesser Charge

Wednesday, September 19th 2007, 6:59 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The judge in Phil Spector's murder trial said he is considering giving jurors the option of finding the record producer guilty of a lesser charge than second degree murder after the panelists reported a 7-5 impasse following seven days of deliberations.

Spector's defense team was expected Wednesday to vigorously oppose Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler's expected proposal to help jurors break their deadlock, while legal scholars said a conviction on lesser charges could be vulnerable to appeal.

Fidler had previously rejected the option of letting jurors find Spector guilty of involuntary manslaughter rather than the second degree murder charge that has dominated the trial.

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.

The jury foreman, a 32-year-old civil engineer, told the judge 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 judge, clearly troubled by the prospect of a hung jury after five months of trial, told jurors he might give them some new instructions, or even have attorneys reargue part of the case.

Legal experts said Fidler would be risking appellate disapproval if a conviction was obtained after adding involuntary manslaughter as an option.

``He's certainly taking a gamble that the defense won't be able to make a plausible argument on appeal,'' said Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California.

The judge's apparent willingness to let jurors consider the lesser charge marks a departure from his comments before final arguments on Aug. 26, when he told attorneys he had researched the law and felt there was no legal reason to instruct jurors on so-called ``lesser included offenses'' of involuntary or voluntary manslaughter.

He told lawyers not to mention such an option in closing arguments.

``I would never allow that,'' Fidler said at the time. ``The only verdict form they will get is second-degree murder.''

On Tuesday, he said he had been researching the law while jurors were deliberating and had come upon a case that contradicted that view.

But Loyola University Law School professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor, said the case cited by Fidler as precedent did not involve a situation where jurors had already deliberated and reported an impasse.

If a conviction was obtained after they were instructed to consider a lesser charge, ``this would be the biggest issue on appeal,'' she said. ``If the judge gives the instruction now, it looks like he's pressing the jurors for a compromise verdict.''