New Spector instructions unorthodox, experts say

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Jurors in Phil Spector's murder trial resumed deliberations after a two-day break with a new set of instructions from the judge that legal experts deemed an unprecedented effort to break a deadlock.

Outside the jury's presence, defense attorneys on Thursday fought vigorously against the instructions, which inject new scenarios of how Spector might have killed actress Lana Clarkson.

They complained that Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler was presenting the jurors with new theories after they had already deliberated for days. And they said he was turning the defense's own evidence against Spector.

The jury, which got the case Sept. 10, resumed talks briefly Thursday and returned to deliberations Friday.

Among the scenarios offered by the judge was that Spector forced Clarkson to put a gun in her own mouth and it went off.

The focus of the defense's scientific evidence in the five-month trial was aimed at proving that the 40-year-old Clarkson had probably pulled the trigger herself, either by accident or in a suicide.

Spector, 67, is charged with killing Clarkson in the foyer of 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.

Prosecutor Alan Jackson embraced the judge's move on grounds there was "a plethora of evidence" that would support the hypothetical scenarios even though Jackson had not advocated them during the trial.

In response to defense arguments that there was no evidence of such hypotheticals in the trial, Fidler said: "It's a reasonable inference that can be drawn."

Stan Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who was in the courtroom Thursday, said that with the new instruction the judge has provided more reasons for a conviction.

"An acquittal would be an astonishing thing at this point," he said.

However, Goldman and other experts said jurors may continue to cling to their positions and maintain their 7-5 deadlock.

Fidler told the panel that to prove Spector guilty, "the people must prove that ... the defendant committed an act with a firearm that caused the death of Lana Clarkson, such as placing a gun in her mouth or forcing her to place the gun in her mouth at which time it discharged, pointing the gun at or against her head at which time it entered her mouth and discharged, pointing the gun at her to prevent her from leaving the house, causing a struggle which resulted in the gun entering her mouth and discharging."

Fidler then added a caution.

"By using these examples I am not suggesting that any of these acts took place. These are inferences you may draw from the evidences but are not required to do so. You may reject them. These are only possibilities that you may consider," the judge said.

Attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr., who represented Michael Jackson in a high profile trial, said he was shocked when he heard of Fidler's action.

"It is unprecedented and highly prejudicial to the defense," he said.

Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor, called the judge's instruction "unorthodox to put it mildly."

"If it does result in a conviction, you have a significant issue on appeal," she said. "I don't think the court of appeal has ever heard of anything like this."

Levenson said the judge also gave another instruction that is always controversial and is designed to push deadlocked jurors toward a verdict. It suggests that jurors change their method of deliberations, possibly switch the discussion leader or engage in reverse role-playing in which jurors argue opposing jurors' views.
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