Defense opens case in Spector trial

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Lawyers for Phil Spector called their first witness on Tuesday in his murder trial, a forensic expert who told jurors that an actress the pioneering rock producer is accused of shooting dead probably committed suicide instead.

Dr. Vincent DiMaio was sworn in as the first defense witness two months after the trial began for Spector, who is charged with killing Lana Clarkson, 40, at his faux castle outside Los Angeles on Feb. 3, 2003.

Prosecutors have not formally rested their case because they want former Spector attorney Sara Caplan to testify about a missing piece of evidence. She has refused on the grounds of attorney-client privilege.

Caplan, who told a hearing in May that she saw famed criminalist Henry Lee pick up evidence in Spector's foyer, was held in contempt by Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler for refusing to testify for the prosecution and faces jail if she loses an appeal to the California Supreme Court.

Fidler has ruled that Lee, who was working for Spector's attorneys at the time, recovered the evidence and hid it from prosecutors.

Spector's defense lawyers have built their case around the theory that Clarkson killed herself and DiMaio, a former chief medical examiner in Bexar County, Texas, announced early in his testimony that he had reached exactly that conclusion based on the forensic evidence.

DiMaio said he was convinced by blood spatter and gunshot residue evidence that Clarkson, the star of such films as "Barbarian Queen" and "Amazon Women on the Moon," had been holding the gun when it went off in her mouth.

"She's got blood on her hands, she's got gunshot residue -- that's 99% suicide," DiMaio said, citing observations had had made during his long career as a forensic scientist. "When you stick to the scientific evidence, it's suicide."

Judge Fidler recessed trial for the day while defense attorney Christopher Plourd was still examining DiMaio, who has not yet been cross-examined by prosecutors.

DiMaio's testimony ran counter to that of prosecution experts, including a criminalist who told the court that Spector was likely standing directly in front of Clarkson when the Colt Cobra .38 special revolver went off and that the gun may have been wiped after it was fired.

It was not yet clear if Spector, who has described himself as battling depression and internal "devils" would take the witness stand in his own defense before the trial ends in July or August.
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