Ex-Spector lawyer testifies about missing evidence


Sara Caplan, a former lawyer for Phil Spector, reluctantly testified under threat of jail Thursday that she saw a defense forensic expert pick up a small white object at the scene of Lana Clarkson's death but it was not the size of a missing piece of the actress' fingernail.

Called by the prosecution in Spector's murder trial, Caplan gave essentially the same story she had in a previous hearing without jurors present, but this time used a diagram to compare sizes.

She said she saw forensic scientist Henry Lee pick up an item about 1 inch in circumference with rough edges and put it in a vial. She said she never saw the item again.

Under questioning by defense lawyer Linda Kenney-Baden, Caplan drew a small diagram of the item, then looked at a photo of the dead woman's hand missing a fragment of acrylic nail from the thumb.

"Was the item you saw the same size?" asked Kenney-Baden.

"No," said Caplan.

"Was what you saw larger than that missing fragment?" Kenney-Baden asked.

"Yes," said Caplan.

Prosecutors contend the item could be evidence of a struggle but was never turned over to them.

Caplan had earlier refused to testify about the item, and Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler ruled her in contempt of court and threatened to jail her. He cited precedents which said the privilege did not apply in cases where evidence allegedly was destroyed.

Lee vehemently denied he found or withheld such an item but the judge said he believed Caplan and ordered her to repeat her statements to the jury. She only agreed to testify after the California Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal.

At the time of the alleged discovery Caplan was part of an original defense team that examined the foyer of Spector's mansion where Clarkson died from a bullet fired from a snub-nose .38-caliber revolver stuck in her mouth on Feb. 3, 2003. The defense claims Clarkson shot herself.

Kenney-Baden suggested in questioning that there were many other white things in the foyer, and Caplan agreed.

Caplan was prevented from trying to redeem the reputation of Lee, a renowned forensic star with whom she has worked many times including on the O.J. Simpson case. When Kenney-Baden asked if she had ever known Lee to withhold evidence, there was a strong objection from prosecutor Alan Jackson. The judge ordered the question stricken from the record.

Jackson also pressed Caplan on the size of the object, noting that in the earlier hearing she said the object was the size of her own fingernail "perhaps." Caplan acknowledged that if that word was in the transcript she said it.

Asked by the prosecutor who was last person she saw handling the item, she said, "Dr. Lee."

As she left the courtroom she stopped briefly by Spector. Outside, she said she told him, "Good luck, Mr. Spector."

The issue of whether Caplan could claim attorney-client privilege and refuse to face the jury took her on a quest for help to a state appeals court and the California Supreme Court. Both refused to hear the case without comment.

When the judge ordered her to appear Thursday morning, Caplan agreed to testify and indicated she wanted to be done with it.

"This has taken so much time out of my work and my life, my family," she said. "I haven't been able to go on vacation with my son. I was supposed to start a trial today. I have other clients, too."

Ironically, Lee now says he probably won't testify in the case, suggesting the attack on him by prosescutors was designed to keep him off the witness stand.

"The bottom line is I did not take a fingernail," he told The Associated Press earlier this week. "But they made it a smoke screen."

Lee flew to China on a business trip Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the defense moved forward, calling the sister of a prosecution witness in an effort to impeach her credibility. Angela Pileggi Silverstein, who is estranged from her sister, Melissa Grosvenor, said that Grosvenor made up a story about Spector threatening her with a gun because she wanted to testify in the high-profile trial.

"She was bragging about going to be on Court TV and on the Phil Spector trial," she said.

"I knew she was lying," she said of Grosvenor's testimony.

But on cross-examination she said she never notified authorities about her sister's alleged history as a petty thief and embezzler and once asked Spector to arrange backstage passes for herself and a boyfriend at a Rolling Stones concert.

Of Spector she said, "He's a wonderful man. I adore him."