Skip to content
Name: People v. Spector
Case #: B216425
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 05/02/2011
Subsequent History: opn. mod. on 5/26/2011
Summary

(1) The trial court does not err in admitting into evidence a video showing trial judge and criminalist discussing blood spatter evidence during a first trial. In February 2003, record producer Phillip Spector went to the House of Blues club in Los Angeles where he met a club employee named Clarkson. As the club was closing, Clarkson agreed to accompany Spector to his home. A few hours later, Spector emerged from his home, holding a gun and telling his driver “I think I killed someone.” Clarkson’s body was found inside the house; she had been shot in the mouth. Spector’s first murder trial ended in a hung jury. In his appeal following conviction after retrial, Spector alleged the court erred by admitting into evidence a video made during an evidentiary hearing in the first trial of criminalist Lintemoote describing the location of blood spatter evidence on the victim’s hands. The first trial judge had clarified with the criminalist the exact location of the blood. The Court of Appeal found this evidence did not violate Spector’s right of confrontation, because the trial court did no more than seek clarification of Lintemoote’s testimony. The court’s questions were admissible for the nonhearsay purpose of giving context and meaning to Lintemoote’s responses. Because the court’s words were not admitted for their truth, they were not “testimonial” within the meaning of Crawford v. Washington (2004) 541 U.S. 36. Nor did the questions violate Spector’s due process right to an impartial tribunal or run afoul of Evidence Code section 703 (“Judge as Witness”), because the court never became a witness against Spector. A trial court has the inherent power, indeed the duty, to clarify testimony.
(2) The trial court did not err by admitting “other crimes” evidence regarding appellant’s gun assaults on additional women. Spector challenged on a number of grounds the admission of testimony of five women regarding his gun assaults and threats against them, under very specific circumstances. The Court of Appeal found the evidence properly admitted. First, the evidence was admissible to prove absence of mistake, accident or suicide. Here Spector did not assert the absence of an actus reus, but denied he was the cause of death. The other crimes evidence raised a reasonable inference that Clarkson had not shot herself intentionally or accidentally, as Spector attempted to prove. Second, the evidence was relevant because of the evidentiary “doctrine of chances” principle, i.e., to allow the jury to consider “by operation of the doctrine of chances, the unlikelihood that this time it was the woman, not Spector, who reached for a gun.” Third, the evidence was relevant to motive, which uncharged crimes may prove in two ways. On the one hand, the motive for the charged offense may be the uncharged crime, i.e., they are related. In the other category, both the charged and uncharged offenses are explainable as a result of the same motive. Here, the other crimes evidence reflected Spector’s gun assaults against other women occurred under similar circumstances — where he was alone with a woman, sexually interested in her, had been drinking, became enraged and lost control when the women attempted to leave. From these circumstances, the jury could reasonably infer that Spector lost control and had the same motive in the charged offense as he did in the seven previous events. Third, the other offenses were not more prejudicial than probative or unduly remote in time, as Spector exhibited a history of armed assaults against women under very specific and similar circumstances. Fourth, it was not improper to allow the prosecution to argue that Spector demonstrated a “pattern” of violent, misogynistic behavior towards women, as Spector’s conduct did form a pattern of behavior at times when he was faced with a specific set of circumstances. This “pattern” helped the jury understand how and why Clarkson came to be shot in Spector’s house on the occasion of her death.
(3) There was no error in the admission of “generic threat” evidence. The trial court admitted evidence of Spector’s threatening behavior at several parties under Evidence Code section 1250 (evidence of a declarant’s state of mind). A private security officer testified that at several parties held at Joan River’s house, Spector pulled out a gun, made derogatory comments about women, and said “they all deserve a bullet in their heads.” Spector asserted this was error, as intent was not at issue in this case. However, Spector’s not guilty plea placed in issue all elements of the alleged crime. Intent was at issue because even implied malice includes the intent to commit an act, the consequences of which are dangerous to life. A statement of a declarant’s intention to commit certain acts is admissible to prove that he committed such acts or engaged in such conduct on a later occasion. While Spector’s statement that women deserve to be shot in the head did not necessarily prove he was planning to kill, it did support a finding he was of a mind to commit an act with conscious disregard for a woman’s life.
(4) The prosecutor did not commit misconduct in arguing the defense offered a “pay for say” defense. Spector argued the prosecutor committed misconduct during final argument by saying the defense “bought” a scientist who stated ridiculous conclusions in an effort to hide the truth. However, this was fair argument, as expert opinions are subject to reasonable debate and an attorney’s good faith hiring of an expert does not adversely reflect on the attorney’s ethics. Here, the prosecutor did not denigrate counsel’s integrity; attacks on the credibility of witnesses are permissible. Further, the prosecutor may remind the jurors of the potential prejudice of paid witnesses and is free to argue the witness’s testimony is unsound and unbelievable.