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5 Years Ago: Phil Spector Convicted of Murder

J. Emilio Flores, Getty Images

Phil Spector remains in prison today, convicted on April 13, 2009 for the second-degree murder of Lana Clarkson — a blond actress who was found shot to death in the legendary producer’s 30-room mansion. It was a tragic end to a music career that saw as many dizzying heights as it did truly bizarre twists.

Into the ’70s, Spector built his professional profile around a now-trademark “Wall of Sound” technique in the studio, featuring layers of instrumental tracks, vocals and percussion. Among his biggest initial successes were the Righteous Brothers’ ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’ and the Ronette’s “Be My Baby,” both ’60s-era charttoppers. He later produced the Beatles swan song ‘Let It Be,’ and worked with John Lennon and George Harrison on huge solo hits.

But sessions for a Lennon oldies project that would eventually be released in 1975 as ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ found Spector becoming increasingly eccentric — and then violent: “You see the man come in one day dressed as a doctor, the next as a karate expert,” Lennon’s mistress May Pang once said. At one point, Spector disappeared with the tapes — forcing Lennon to complete the album himself.

He’d reportedly pulled a gun on Lennon, and it wouldn’t be the last time. Similar incidents were also said to have happened with Leonard Cohen, Debbie Harry of Blondie, the Ramones and his ex-wife Ronnie — early signs, it seemed, of his propensity toward violence. Ronnie, lead singer of the Ronettes, detailed his increasingly cruel and erratic behavior in a 1990 autobiography. He’d even berated Tina Turner for exposing Ike Turner’s brutality, while giving her ex-husband’s eulogy.

As such, what eventually happened with Clarkson, an actress who’d had bit parts in ‘Scarface’ and ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High,’ might have seemed pre-ordained. The only mystery, at least first, seemed to be whether he would be found guilty — despite all of that anecdotal evidence, and some shocking testimony surrounding the 2003 incident.

Spector’s initial trial commenced four years later, with prosecutors laying out a grisly scene: Clarkson, they said, was working as a House of Blues hostess on the Sunset Strip when she met Spector. He asked her out for a night of drinking, and they eventually ended up at his castle-style mansion out of LA. There, when Clarkson spurned his advances, prosecutors said Spector shoved a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. Spector’s own driver said he heard a loud noise on the night in question, then saw the producer fleeing his home — pistol in hand — saying: ‘I think I killed someone.’ Prosecutors also said the producer, who’d taken to wearing outlandish wigs, tried to clean up the scene. Five women took the stand and testified that Spector had threatened them with firearms, as well. The jury hung, however, causing a mistrial. They’d deliberated for 15 days, but remained deadlocked with 10-2 in favor of conviction.

A second trial began a year later, and this time — despite new Spector lawyer Doron Weinberg’s counter claim that his DNA was not found on the murder weapon — Spector was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2009. Lawyers had also argued over the course of six years and two court proceedings that Clarkson was suicidal, to no avail.

Jurors deliberated during these subsequent proceedings for some 30 hours before announcing their verdict. The jury also found Spector, decked out in a trademark knee-length suit jacket and another of his whimsical lapel pins, guilty of illegally discharging a firearm. Judge Larry Paul Fidler denied Spector’s bond as he awaited sentencing, citing the producer’s years-long “pattern of violence” involving firearms. Spector is now serving 19 years in prison, making him eligible for parole at age 88.

Next: Steve Perry goes Solo

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