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The first witness for the defense in the Phil Spector murder trial, a noted forensic expert on gunshot wounds, declared Tuesday that actress Lana Clarkson committed suicide by shooting herself in the mouth at the record producer’s mansion.
Vincent DiMaio, a physician with a specialty in forensic medicine, spent more than an hour giving jurors an impressive history of his credentials and a professorial lecture on the science of analyzing gunshot wounds before attorney Christopher Plourd asked for his conclusion on the manner of Clarkson’s Feb. 3, 2003, death.
“She died of a self-inflicted wound,” DiMaio said. “There is no objective scientific evidence that anyone else held the gun. Everything else is speculative. The physical evidence is consistent with her having the gun and her having discharged the gun.”
He said the proof was in gunshot residue and blood on her hands as well as the nature of the wound in her mouth.
“She’s got blood on her hands, gunshot residue on her hands, an intra-oral wound. Ninety-nine percent, it’s suicide,” DiMaio said.
DiMaio said that since the 1970s he has performed thousands of autopsies, analyzed the manner of death in criminal cases and in his entire career has seen only three homicides with intra-oral wounds.
DiMaio, the former chief medical examiner in Dallas and San Antonio and author of scholarly books and treatises on gunshot wounds, said there might be speculation about motivations of a suicide victim but he suggested only science could tell the true story.
“Did she write something suicidal? Well, there’s no suicide note. Seventy-five percent of the people don’t write notes,” he said.
Answering predictable questions about his theory, he said to those who would argue that people don’t commit suicide in public, “Yes they do. You see the politician who put the gun in his mouth and killed himself on TV? And, well, there was no planning. A suicide is many times impulsive. … These aren’t planned things.”
“And then you add alcohol,” he said, noting that Clarkson had a .12% blood-alcohol level and Vicodin in her system.
“People on alcohol do stupid things,” he said.
Many, he suggested, will say it was something other than suicide.
“Anything could be anything,” DiMaio said. “But when you stick to the objective, scientific facts, it’s suicide.”
Deputy Los Angeles County Medical Examiner Louis Pena testified earlier in the trial that he ruled the death a homicide, based on many factors including Clarkson’s letters and e-mails that convinced him she was “a hopeful person.”
Pena also cited evidence that the gun had been wiped and a large amount of Clarkson’s blood was in the left pocket of Spector’s pants, which could indicate the gun was placed in the pocket. He also cited Spector’s statement to his chauffeur that night: “I think I killed somebody.”
Before DiMaio took the stand, Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler angrily warned the defense that DiMaio would not be allowed to refer to a so-called life story found on Clarkson’s computer which he called unreliable. He has banned that evidence from the trial along with statements Spector made at a police station in which he told officers that Clarkson had killed herself. The judge ruled earlier those were unreliable because Spector had time to think about his explanation before making the statements.
“I am not going to let the jury hear inadmissible evidence that the prosecution cannot rebut,” said the judge, warning that any experts who mention the material will be dismissed and their testimony stricken. He said he might consider allowing jurors to hear e-mails written by Clarkson in which she expressed despondency about her career in the months before her death.
DiMaio took the stand after sheriff’s criminalist Lynne Herold, finished several days of testimony in which she discussed blood spatter on Spector’s jacket but could not say that he fired the gun. She was the 33rd prosecution witness called in 25 days of testimony over two months.
Prosecutors did not formally rest their case, awaiting a chance to present evidence from former Spector lawyer Sara Caplan, who has been found in contempt and is facing jail for refusing to testify about possible evidence that has never been turned over to the prosecution.
Clarkson was a struggling actress who met Spector at her job as a House of Blues hostess. According to testimony, she went to Spector’s mansion for a drink when she got off work and a few hours later was dead from a single bullet fired into her mouth. Her body was found in a chair in a foyer, one hand resting on her purse and a bloody revolver at her feet.
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