Murder of Lana Clarkson

Murder of Lana Clarkson
Lana Clarkson (1962-2003).jpg
Clarkson in a promotional photo
LocationPyrenees Castle, 1700 Grandview Drive, Alhambra, California, U.S.
Coordinates34°04′26″N 118°09′18″W / 34.0738°N 118.1550°W / 34.0738; -118.1550Coordinates: 34°04′26″N 118°09′18″W / 34.0738°N 118.1550°W / 34.0738; -118.1550
DateFebruary 3, 2003; 18 years ago (2003-02-03)
about 5:00 AM PST
Attack type
Second-degree murder
Weapons.38 Colt Cobra revolver
DeathsLana Clarkson
PerpetratorPhil Spector

On the morning of February 3, 2003, American actress Lana Clarkson was found dead at age 40 in the Pyrenees Castle, the Alhambra, California mansion of record producer Phil Spector. In the early hours of that morning, Clarkson had met Spector while working at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. After leaving in Spector's limousine, the two were driven to Spector's mansion and went inside while his driver waited in the car.[1] About an hour later, the driver heard a gunshot before Spector exited his house through the back door with a gun. He was quoted as saying, according to affidavits, "I think I just shot her."[1] Spector later said Clarkson's death was an "accidental suicide" and that she "kissed the gun".

Spector was tried for the murder of Clarkson in 2007. On September 26 of that year, a mistrial was declared due to a hung jury, with ten jurors of twelve favoring conviction. He was tried again for second-degree murder beginning on October 20, 2008. On April 13, 2009, the jury found Spector guilty of murdering Clarkson. On May 29, 2009, he was sentenced to nineteen years to life in state prison. Spector died in a prison hospital in 2021.


On February 3, 2003, actress Lana Clarkson was found dead in record producer Phil Spector's mansion, the Pyrenees Castle, in Alhambra, California. Her body was found slumped in a chair with a single gunshot wound to her mouth with broken teeth scattered over the carpet.[2] Spector told Esquire magazine in July 2003 that Clarkson's death was an "accidental suicide" and that she "kissed the gun".[3][4] The 9-1-1 call from Spector's home, made by his driver, Adriano de Souza, quotes Spector as saying, "I think I've killed someone".[4] De Souza added that he saw Spector come out the back door of the house with a gun in his hand.[4] Forensic examinations could not find Spector's fingerprints on the gun.[5]

According to the prosecution, Spector had previously pulled a gun on four women. In each case, he had been drinking and "was romantically interested in the woman, but grew angry after the woman spurned him." The prosecution alleged that on each occasion, he pointed a gun at the woman to prevent her from walking out.[6] The prosecution argued that the testimony of the other women was important in demonstrating a "common plan or scheme." The defense sought to prevent the women from providing such testimony. Though the law generally forbids the introduction of evidence showing a defendant's previous transgressions, the judge ruled the testimony "can be used to show lack of accident or mistake."[6]


2009 mug shot.

Spector remained free on $1 million bail while awaiting trial, which began on March 19, 2007. Presiding Judge Larry Paul Fidler allowed the proceedings in Los Angeles Superior Court to be televised.[7] At the start of the trial, the defense forensic expert Henry Lee was accused of hiding crucial evidence that the district attorney's office claimed could prove Spector's guilt. On September 26, 2007, Judge Fidler declared a mistrial because of a hung jury (ten to two for conviction).[8][9][10]

Before and during the first trial, Spector went through at least three sets of attorneys. Defense attorney Robert Shapiro represented Spector at the arraignment and early pretrial hearings and achieved his release on $1 million bail. Bruce Cutler represented him during the 2007 trial, but withdrew on August 27, 2007, claiming "a difference of opinion between Mr. Spector and me on strategy". Attorney Linda Kenney Baden then became lead lawyer for closing arguments.[11]

Spector's defense concentrated at trial on the claim Clarkson's death was a suicide. As a result, counsel did not bring up Spector's severe 1974 head trauma, but some observers have made the link.[12] Studies have found traumatic brain injury raises the odds of subsequent violent crime, particularly in association with substance abuse.[13]

The retrial of Spector for murder in the second degree began on October 20, 2008,[14] with Judge Fidler again presiding; this time it was not televised. The case went to the jury on March 26, 2009, and nineteen days later, on April 13, the jury returned a guilty verdict.[15][16] Additionally, Spector was found guilty of using a firearm in the commission of a crime, which added four years to the sentence.[17] Spector was immediately taken into custody and was sentenced, on May 29, 2009, to nineteen years to life in the California state prison system.[18]


The California Second District Court of Appeal affirmed Spector's conviction in May 2011 and denied his request for a rehearing of the appeal shortly thereafter.[19] On August 17, 2011, the California Supreme Court declined to review the court of appeal's decision to affirm his conviction.[20][21][22]

In December 2011, Spector's attorneys petitioned for review by the U.S. Supreme Court,[23] arguing that his constitutional due process rights were violated when prosecutors used the trial judge's comments about an expert's testimony, effectively making the judge a witness for the prosecution. Spector's attorney Dennis Riordan argued the constitutional right to confront witnesses did not permit the prosecution to introduce at trial a videotape of statements made by the judge at a pretrial hearing that were never subjected to cross examination. In February 2012, the Supreme Court denied the petition.[24]

In June 2012, Spector's attorneys filed a habeas corpus appeal in Federal District Court, once again on grounds that the original trial judge "did numerous inappropriate things which caused [Spector] a denial of his due process".[25] In July 2013, Attorney Dennis Riordan filed a petition with a US Magistrate urging prompt action due to Spector's ill health. In June 2015, Federal Magistrate Judge Paul L. Abrams recommended denial of Spector's habeas corpus petition and dismissal of the appeal. The dismissal was ordered the following month by District Judge S. James Otero, who also denied Spector's request to certify the case for further appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.[26] In August 2015, Spector's lawyers filed another motion for a certificate of appealability to the Ninth Circuit.[27]

Spector died in January 2021 of COVID-19 complications while he was serving his sentence at the California Health Care Facility, California State Prison (Stockton, California).[28][29] He would have been eligible for parole in 2024.[18][30]

Films inspired by the case

  • The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, a television documentary directed by Vikram Jayanti, premiered on BBC Two in mid-April 2008. It consists of Spector's first screen interview—breaking a long period of media silence. During the conversation, images from his first murder trial are juxtaposed with live appearances of his tracks on television programs from the 1960s and 1970s, along with subtitles giving critical interpretation of some of his song production values. While Jayanti does not take a position on Spector's guilt, the court case proceedings shown try to give further explanation of the facts surrounding the murder charges leveled against the producer. Spector also speaks about his life in the music business.[31]
  • Phil Spector, a 2013 HBO film written and directed by David Mamet and starring Al Pacino as Spector and Helen Mirren as defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden, depicts a fictionalized account of the murder and first trial. The film drew criticism from Clarkson's family and friends, who charged that the suicide defense was given more merit than it deserved, and also from Spector's wife, who argued that Spector was portrayed as a "foul-mouthed megalomaniac" and a "minotaur".[32][33]


  1. ^ a b "Phil Spector: The 'Mad Genius' of Rock'n'Roll". Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  2. ^ Phil Spector: The 'Mad Genius' of Rock'n'Roll, Archived December 10, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Killer Phil Spector Jailed For 19 Years". Sky News. Archived from the original on August 16, 2012. Retrieved June 30, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c "Phil Spector Jailed For 19 Years For Murdering Lana Clarkson". Retrieved June 30, 2010.
  5. ^ Adams, Guy (August 21, 2010). "Inside story: The weird world of Mr & Mrs Phil Spector". The Independent.
  6. ^ a b "Jury to hear of Spector's dubious gun history". The Sydney Morning Herald. May 25, 2005. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  7. ^ "US Spector trial to be televised", BBC News, February 17, 2007. Retrieved March 9, 2007.
  8. ^ Archibold, Randal C. (September 27, 2007). "Mistrial Declared in Spector Murder Case". The New York Times. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  9. ^ The Darwin Exception's complete day by day online coverage of the trial April 25, 2007
  10. ^ Facing the music: Did Hollywood record producer Phil Spector shoot actress Lana Clarkson late at night in the hilltop mansion Spector called "The Castle"? September 12, 2007
  11. ^ Ward, Stephanie Francis (2008). 94 A.B.A. J. 34. Full Court Coverage – What Happens When Defense Counsel and Ordinary Citizens Blog about High-Profile Trials.
  12. ^ "Phil Spector's Tortured Life In Prison Exposed". Celeb Dirty Laundry. February 17, 2013. Retrieved October 28, 2019.
  13. ^ Fazel, Seena; Lichtenstein, Paul; Grann, Martin; Långström, Niklas (December 27, 2011). "Risk of Violent Crime in Individuals with Epilepsy and Traumatic Brain Injury: A 35-Year Swedish Population Study". PLOS Medicine. 8 (12): e1001150. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001150. ISSN 1549-1676. PMC 3246446. PMID 22215988.
  14. ^ "Phil Spector murder retrial gets underway, Jury selection begins in LA". October 21, 2008. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  15. ^ Li, David K. (April 13, 2009). "Phil Spector Faces The Music". Retrieved June 30, 2010.
  16. ^ "Phil Spector convicted of murder". BBC News. April 13, 2009. Retrieved April 13, 2009.
  17. ^ Phil Spector Found Guilty Of 2nd Degree Murder[permanent dead link], AP, April 13, 2009
  18. ^ a b Duke, Alan (May 29, 2009). "Phil Spector gets 19 years to life for murder of actress". Retrieved May 30, 2009.
  19. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (May 3, 2011). "Court Denies Appeal of Spector's Murder Conviction". New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  20. ^ People v. Spector, Cal. Supreme Court (no. S193961, August 17, 2011); Petition for review denied. Accessed September 24, 2014.
  21. ^ "CA Supreme Court won't hear Phil Spector appeal". Yahoo News. Associated Press. August 18, 2011. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
  22. ^ "California Supreme Court turns down Phil Spector appeal". Reuters. August 18, 2011.
  23. ^ "Phil Spector Requests Appeal From U.S. Supreme Court". Rolling Stone. December 16, 2011. Retrieved June 21, 2012.
  24. ^ Spector v. California, no. 11-761, (docket report). February 21, 2012; retrieved September 24, 2014.
  25. ^ Jayanti, Vikram (March 19, 2013). "Phil Spector's Last Chance". Newsweek. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  26. ^ Federal District Court Rejects Phil Spector's Federal Court Appeal – Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate in Phil Spector's Federal Petition for Habeas Corpus., retrieved October 7, 2015.
  27. ^ Appellant Spector's Motion for a Certificate of Appealability to Permit an Appeal from the Denial of a Habeas Corpus Petition by a State Prisoner Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254., retrieved October 7, 2015.
  28. ^ "Phil Spector, Famed Music Producer Imprisoned in Slaying, Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved January 17, 2021.
  29. ^ "Phil Spector moved to California prison". CNN. June 24, 2009. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  30. ^ "Phil Spector jailed for 19 years". BBC News. May 29, 2009. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  31. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa, arts and media correspondent (February 18, 2008). "Phil Spector breaks his silence before second trial for murder". London: Music Guardian. Retrieved June 30, 2010.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  32. ^ Gupta, P. (March 15, 2013): Friends of Lana Clarkson protest HBO film "Phil Spector".
  33. ^ "Friends of Lana Clarkson protest HBO film about Phil Spector",; retrieved March 25, 2013.

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