Jury Convicts Music Producer Phil Spector Of Murder

Legendary rock music producer Phil Spector was found guilty Monday of second-degree murder. Spector was on trial in the 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson — a woman he picked-up at a Los Angeles nightclub. He could be sentenced to spend at least 18 years in prison.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In Los Angeles this afternoon, a guilty verdict for legendary rock music producer Phil Spector. The 69-year-old Spector was being tried for second-degree murder in the 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson, a woman he picked up at an L.A. nightclub.

As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, it was Spector's second trial in Clarkson's death.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: The first time Phil Spector was tried for murder, the jury deadlocked 10-2. That was two years ago. The rock music producer was freed on a $1 million bail, and prosecutors went back to square one to try him again.

This time, the jury was in agreement and after 30 hours of deliberations, they found Spector guilty of shooting Lana Clarkson in the foyer of his mansion.

Unidentified Woman: We the jury, the above entitled action, find the defendant Philip Spector guilty of the crime of second-degree murder of Lana Clarkson.

DEL BARCO: Spector had no apparent reaction to the verdict and was immediately placed into custody. He was led away by sheriff's deputies and will remain in jail until his formal sentencing on May 29th.

Defense attorneys had tried to convince the jury that Clarkson was depressed over her failing acting career and that she shot herself at Spector's secluded home. Just hours earlier, the 40-year-old had met him at the House of Blues nightclub while working as a part-time hostess. Clarkson agreed to go home with him for a drink. But three hours later, she was dead.

Spector's chauffeur testified that he heard a gunshot and then saw Spector walk out of the house holding a gun, saying, I think I killed somebody.

Clarkson died of a single gunshot to the mouth. Defense lawyers argued it would have been nearly impossible for Spector to put the gun in her mouth. But prosecutors painted him as demonic maniac, a drinker with a history of using guns to threaten women.

(Soundbite of song, "The Long and Winding Road")

Mr. PAUL McCARTNEY (Musician): (Singing) You left me standing here a long long time ago.

DEL BARCO: Few of the jurors who convicted Spector knew anything about his legendary career. In the 1960s, he created the so-called Wall of Sound, a layered reverberant sound technique, which he used to produce The Beatles, The Righteous Brothers, The Ramones and other pop and rock groups.

Now that he's been convicted of second-degree murder, the 69-year-old Spector could face 18 years to life behind prison walls.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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Spector Verdict The End Of A Psychic Free Fall

Phil Spector 300

Music producer Phil Spector in September 2007, during his first murder trial after the 2003 death of actress Lana Clarkson. Gabriel Bouys-Pool/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Gabriel Bouys-Pool/Getty Images

Six years after the death of actress Lana Clarkson, and nearly two years after a 2007 mistrial, a jury found music producer Phil Spector guilty of second-degree murder on Monday. Spector, 68, will be sentenced May 29 and faces a prison sentence of 18 years to life.

Long before the jury's final verdict, Spector had vanished from the music industry. He hadn't completed an album since the 1970s. But it almost didn't matter. Spector produced some of the greatest recordings of the 20th century — with Ike and Tina Turner, The Ronettes, The Beatles and many others — but his work was always colored by his mental state.

Shortly before the shooting that led to Spector's arrest, journalist Mick Brown taped the reclusive producer's first interview in years, as he told NPR in 2007.

"Almost as soon as I sat down with Phil Spector, he started to talk about his mental state," Brown said. In the interview with Brown, Spector referred to "devils inside that fight me," adding, "I am my own worst enemy."

Insanity and insecurity haunted Spector's entire life. His older sister had to be institutionalized, and his father committed suicide when the boy was 9. The traumatized family moved from New York to Los Angeles. Spector's first hit, at age 18, was inspired by the inscription on his father's grave: "To Know Him Is to Love Him."

Spector can be heard in the background, harmonizing with The Teddy Bears. His perfect pitch and knack for a melody soon made him an A-list producer. He was only 21 when he co-founded his label.

The Symphony Conductor

Session drummer Hal Blaine recalled Spector's producing process in an interview with WHYY's Fresh Air.

"Every Phil Spector session was a party, sprinkling this fairy dust on the tape," Blaine says. "He used to be in the booth, and he'd run back and forth like he was conducting a symphony, and use certain symphonic movements, the way a conductor would do. Certain times, he would look at me and he would say, 'Now.' Which meant, 'Go for it.' "

Spector's trademark "Wall of Sound" propelled the hits of The Ronettes, whose lead singer married her producer. In 1990, Ronnie Spector told NPR that their songs were love letters.

"We always rehearsed them alone," Ronnie Spector says. "So we had this romance between my singing and him teaching me. It was like the best feeling in the world. It was like, 'Mmm!' "

Coming Apart

Those feelings began to be spiked by abuse. Phil Spector wouldn't let her wear shoes in the house for fear she would run away. He bought a glass-lidded coffin in which he threatened to display her if she left. Still, Spector produced an extraordinary string of hits, too numerous to name. He co-produced the legendary Concert for Bangladesh. But by the 1970s, Spector's career was in shambles. Brown says Spector's mounting obsession with guns signaled a psychic free-fall.

"You know, he was drinking very heavily," Brown says. "He wasn't a man in control of himself. He'd even [hold] guns on the phone with record executives, in order to give himself a bit of an edge, it seemed, over the telephone."

When Phil Spector produced a 1980 Ramones album, he reportedly pulled a gun on the group in the studio. Spector soon entered near-seclusion. He tried to record albums with other musicians, but ended up fighting with them. Music, it seems, was only a temporary balm for his pain.

"He had this one priceless gift," Brown says, "which was a musical ability. And he was able to create out of this gift these extraordinary records, these grandiloquent dreams of romance and love and escape, and fling those back into the face of the world. It was flinging them at his father, who killed himself; flinging at the kids who wouldn't talk to him at school; flinging it at the record industry, who thought he was a madman. These records were Spector's revenge."

And his legacy.

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