September 27, 2007

The Jurors Of La-La Land

Let's take a scenario that could come from a badly-written murder mystery. A man with a history of threatening women with handguns walks out of his house, blood on his clothes, holding a gun, and tells his driver, "I think I may have killed someone." Inside the house, the body of a woman the man just met at a nightclub lies slumped in a chair, dead from a gunshot wound to the mouth. When police arrive, the gun somehow has ended up under the dead woman's ankle, and the man tells the investigators that the woman grew despondent and killed herself -- with his gun, despite never having been in the house before.

Think it takes Sherlock Holmes to solve that mystery? It does if the killing takes place in Los Angeles and involves a celebrity:

The murder trial of Phil Spector ended today with the jury unable to decide if the legendary music producer killed an actress he had known for only a few hours before her body was discovered in the foyer of his Alhambra mansion.

On its 12th day of deliberations, the jury of nine men and three women told Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler that it could not reach a verdict and was split 10 to 2 after six ballots. The majority position was not given in open court, but jurors afterward said 10 favored conviction.

The final count was a shift from the earlier deadlock of 7 to 5.

The jurors were asked by the judge if there was any hope of reaching a verdict. Each "no," dropped like an anchor into the hushed downtown Los Angeles courtroom where the often trembling Spector, 67, has been on trial since the end of April.

When I was in the Los Angeles area last week, I warned friends and family that a Los Angeles jury would not convict a celebrity, not even a second-rate star like Phil Spector. It didn't give me much pleasure to say it, and even less to be proven correct. However, when it comes to celebrities, juries in LA throw common sense out the window and bend over backwards to find reasons to acquit.

At least this jury just hung. It didn't acquit Spector, like LA juries have done with OJ Simpson, Michael Jackson, and Robert Blake. The district attorney has the option to retry the case, and the DA's spokesperson has confirmed they will refile charges immediately. There remains some small chance that Lana Clarkson's family can see a measure of justice.

The evidence and the circumstances both point to Spector's obvious guilt. Five women testified that Spector had held guns to their heads, threatening to kill them if they left. Nine others were blocked from testifying by the judge, who felt the jury had gotten the point. The gun belonged to Spector. His driver testified to his statement, and also that Spector had the gun in his hand before the police arrived, which strongly indicated that Spector had manipulated the crime scene. He had blood on his clothes, a spatter pattern that showed he was close to the shooting when it occurred.

So what kept two Los Angeles jurors from convicting Spector? One complained that the prosecution never provided a psychological profile of the victim to rebut the defense's claim that she committed suicide. Clarkson, who had to be cajoled into going to Spector's home in the first place, supposedly was so despondent that she opted to commit suicide in someone else's home, a place she had never before been, and supposedly figured out where to find Spector's gun. They discounted the driver's testimony because he's Brazilian, and the fountain was too loud outside, even though the driver's story has remained consistent all along.

This should demonstrate the difference between reasonable doubt and irrational doubt. It also shows that celebrities get a different brand of justice than everyone else in LA. It's gone beyond coincidence to a pattern.


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Comments (23)

Posted by John | September 27, 2007 7:31 AM

Maybe there was a wall of sound preventing the jury from hearing the incriminating testimony.

Posted by vet66 | September 27, 2007 8:24 AM

The pattern appears in the obvious as well as the less than obvious cases. Having been on several juries during my time in L.A. and it's environs, the fear of passing judgement on the accused is palpable.

In true Timothy Leary style, intellectualism has been turned on it's head in the classic "turn on, tune in, drop out!" Welcome to "la la land" home of the aging baby boomer, sanctuary city, HOLYwood, and assorted new age dreamers.

I moved out of that state many years ago after two Watts riots, Rodney King, and the O.J. trial.

Posted by rbj | September 27, 2007 8:32 AM

This is what happens when you go from trying to find an intelligent jury who can be impartial to a jury where no one has heard about the crime.

Utterly ridiculous. RIP, Lana Clarkson.

Posted by NahnCee | September 27, 2007 8:36 AM

Article in the LA Times where the jury is quoted congratulating each other on how very hard they'd worked, and how well they got along with each other.

I think once they get out in the Real World and discover that they're considered to be as braindead and irresponsible as OJ's idiot jury, their tone might change.

It might also make it harder to empanel another jury, that fear of being laughed at if they bring in the wrong decision. If I was the prosecution, I would NOT allow anyone on the jury who doesn't believe in DNA evidence, which several of these jurors claimed they would disregard if it didn't fit with whatever scenario they could come up with in their own minds. If you don't believe in DNA evidence, then you've obviously into witchcraft and magic, and cannot possibly know the difference between doubt and "reasonable" doubt.

It's going to be fun to find out who the two stand-alones for not-conviction are. Piling on and tormenting is always a better game when they've brought it on themselves and richly deserve to be poked, prodded and informed of what non-human idiots they are. Maybe they can move to Compton where the OJ jurors live, and get tea and sympathy there.

Posted by FedUp | September 27, 2007 8:41 AM

It's California... what else needs to be said?

Posted by skeneogden | September 27, 2007 8:49 AM

Seems Spector was found not guilty by two jurors who certainly are his "peers". My wife recently sat on a jury for a drunk driving case here in SoCal where the defendant admitted to drinking at least twelve beers before getting behind the wheel. Several jurors on her panel were not convinced that he was guilty of driving under the influence because of his supposed tolerance for alcohol. We truly live in a time of idiocy.

Posted by Stephen J. | September 27, 2007 8:51 AM

Before we pass judgement on the jurors with less evidence about their character and reasoning processes than they had about Phil Spector's, we might consider whether a case presented weakly enough that five out of twelve extremely carefully selected jurors (they don't just haul in any shlub off the street and they do take some effort to clarify a juror's attitude towards the defendant and reject those deemed likely to be biased) initially voted "not guilty" despite everything we've heard.

This is the year of the Duke lacrosse rape trial. I've stopped believing that anything the media tells us about a legal case is necessarily accurate, complete, fair, and placed in proper context. It should also be remembered that the one place the MSM tends to veer from its normal bias is when it has the chance to destroy a celebrity in public; there is a large streak of shark in that mindset.

Jurors willing to stick to their conscience against the consensus of their peers is a good thing, not a bad thing. Yes, people who almost certainly deserve a punishment will escape it as a result. But our entire system is founded on the idea that that's preferable to the alternative.

Posted by skippystalin | September 27, 2007 9:07 AM

Perhaps the DA's office simply overcharged. When the jury first came back to advise the court that they were deadlocked, they indicated that they were more than willing to convict on involuntary manslaughter. They knew that young Phillip was guilty of something, they just had doubts that it was first-degree murder. Given the circumstances, I can't say that those doubts were unreasonable.

Spector is nuts and has been for a long, long time. Not content with just pulling guns on women, he has also brandished them at, among others, John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, and the Ramones. That's nearly 40 years of follish gunplay. Why wait so long to pull the trigger?

Is Phil guilty? Sure he is. And the jury was ready to so find, just not of murder one. The judge should have let the jury do its job and put the entire tawdry affair behind us all.

Also, Michael Jackson was aquitted by a Santa Barbara jury, not Los Angeles.

Posted by km | September 27, 2007 9:19 AM

California is said to be a holiday form reality. Nothing that happens there should be too suprising.

Posted by SCATTERSHOT | September 27, 2007 9:21 AM

Captain, a blog named Crime, Guns and Videotape, operated by a Private Investigator , Paul Huebl has been posting on this case. He found a lot of problems with the prosecution's case.

Posted by SCATTERSHOT | September 27, 2007 9:27 AM

Oops ! is the address for Crime,Guns and Videotape.

Posted by Jeff | September 27, 2007 9:42 AM

The typical US citizen is unable to articulate the distinction between "beyond a reasonable doubt" and "beyond the shadow of a doubt."

The phrases sound similar. That's good enough if you were educated in government schools.

Defense lawyers take advantage of illiteracy.

Expect more of this until the wretched baby boom leftists are removed from the education establishment and their stain is scrubbed from the landscape.

Posted by unclesmrgol | September 27, 2007 10:02 AM

No, it's not just California, it's the type of jury system we have which requires 12 peers to absolutely agree that the prosecution has proved the crime "beyond a doubt". All it takes is one "expert" or a good lawyer putting enough doubt into one juror to have that juror vote "not guilty".

Now, consider for a moment who a "peer" is, and you have the problem in a nutshell. Minor examples abound. You have the juror who once had a bad run-in with the police and therefore everything the authorities say is a lie ("proof by example"). You have the self-sufficient female juror who can't believe another woman could be so stupid as to do such a thing. You have the juror who believes everything they've ever read, and who fixates on printed graphic evidence. You have the juror who read something once upon a time and who wants to bring that out-of-court experience before the jury. You have the juror who thinks the judge erred in his/her jury instructions.

On the other side, you have the juror whose vacation is coming up and he wants this thing over. Who thinks that because the state brought the case in the first place, the accused must be guilty. And, last but not least, the forceful foreman who wants everyone to vote the way he/she does.

I've been on five juries here, and each one had
one or more of the above types. In two juries, we were unanimous, in three, one or two holdouts hung us.

Sadly, the jury of our peers is the best tool of justice we've been able to come up with. In this case, it's obvious that Spector either bought enough doubt to hang his jury or we had one or more of the caustic jury phenotypes on board.

That's the price we pay for having juries.

Is anyone a citizen of a state whose juries do not have to be unanimous? What is your experience which might relate to Spector's hung jury?

Posted by Lokki | September 27, 2007 10:53 AM

The O.J. case was a teaching moment for me. I really lost all faith in the jury system -

I'd watched the old movie "12 Angy Men" and drew the wrong lesson.

The lesson from that movie was not that juries ultimately do the right thing, as I naively thought it was.

The real lesson was that 99% of the time juries do the stupid, easy thing.

If you think about it for a moment, you'll agree -The norm (Dog bites Man) is never newsworthy enough to make a story. Only the exception (Jury thinks and works to make the right decision) is unusual enough to make an interesting story.

Japan doesn't have the jury system. They use a panel of 3 Judges.

Just a thought.

Posted by Bikerken | September 27, 2007 11:35 AM

I think we need to give serious consideration to having at least some professional jurors. What if we required law school grads to serve two years on a state paid jury, (which could also work off their college loans) and mix them up with a few public peer jurors, maybe half and half? The average American is just too uneducated and forgive me, dumb as a brick, to be making such serious decisions. That way we can keep the ambulance chasers off the street for a couple years too. Jurors are injecting too much of their political biases into decisions today. Remember Scooter Libby, OJ, Robert Blake, Ramos and Compean, etc? And what do you think would have happened to the Duke three if they got in front of a liberal jury in NC? Anybody who can see a statement such as, "If the glove don't fit, you must aquit." as a rational logical statemnet is an idiot and should not have the power over life and death in any situation.

Posted by LarryD | September 27, 2007 12:35 PM

Lokki, the Founders were familiar with the English legal system, and how often judges were "in the pocket" of the Crown. They considered juries another check on government power.

I'm not willing to give that up.

I am kind of interested in the Scottish "Not Proven" verdict alternative though. As I understand it, it basically means "The prosecution failed to make it's case, but we really don't think the defendant is innocent. Try again."

Posted by Terry | September 27, 2007 1:23 PM

Captain the vote was 10-2 for guilty.
It was two idoits that hung the verdict.
You make it sound like it was all of them.

They didn't reveal who the two juries were.
They're were nine men and three women on the jury.
Maybe will find out and if we do, I bet the idoits are two of the three women.

Posted by Page Jackson | September 27, 2007 3:02 PM

I have spent 18 years as a trial lawyer in the federal court system and I find it difficult to blame the result on the jury when the entire trial was a circus. It is either the judge's fault or the fault of a California judicial system that allows such extreme latitude in admission of irrelevant facts and endless cross-examination. As in the OJ trial, both the prosecution and defense were permitted to wonder far-a-field from the facts of the case.

This jury had to sit for months to hear a case that could have been effectively presented in a matter of weeks. One trial judge in the State of Maryland told me that the prosecution's case would have been limited to about 4 days in his courtroom.

We all watched OJ's trial drag out for months in a California state courtroom. Yet a few months later the Oklahoma City federal building bombing case (much more complex in scope) was efficiently tried in federal court in a significantly shorter period.

Judges are suppose to control the trial as well as the courtroom. It is the judge's duty to have the evidence presented to the jury in a cogent manner. That did not happen here. California is giving the jury system a black eye!

Posted by NahnCee | September 27, 2007 4:56 PM

Maybe will find out and if we do, I bet the idoits are two of the three women.

One of the two idiots was the jury foreman, a man. It can't be good that a hold-out is the foreman - it occurs to wonder something about latching onto transitory power psychologically and being unwilling to give it up. No wonder he was patting the jury on the back yesterday, yammering about how hard they had worked.

The other hold-out is a woman who works in the court system --how *could* she!? I hope both of them get pilloried when they return to work.

But it does go to show that we are an equal opportunity country when it comes to idiocy between the sexes.

Posted by George | September 27, 2007 7:45 PM

This is where originalists have it right. Instead of having 12 people carefully selected so as to balance out their various biases, we should have the 12 people who know most about the circumstances on juries. Real peers, in other words.

Posted by NahnCee | September 27, 2007 8:12 PM

So then, in order to convict a terrorist, you' have to have 12 other terrorists on the jury to judge him or her?

And where are you gonna get 12 serial murderers to convict Ted Bundy, or 12 Presidential assassins to convict Sirhan Sirhan?

Posted by D. Kosloff | September 27, 2007 9:04 PM

None of the evidence presented supports a charge of first-degree murder. The holdouts appear to be right. If Spector had not been wealthy, the DA probably would have pled out the case to voluntary manslaughter.

Posted by T.G. Scott | September 28, 2007 12:09 PM

We here in fly-over country think California is pretty much a bowl of granola: just nuts and flakes. The OJ trial proved it. I can't even say I might visit but I'd never want to live there. I don't even want to visit. Sames goes for the East Coast up New England way.

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