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Judge in Phil Spector case sets rules for jury visit to murder suspect's mansion

January 26, 2009 |  2:03 pm

The judge at Phil Spector's murder retrial placed restrictions today on a proposed jury visit to the music producer’s mansion, saying a newly revealed e-mail suggests the defense in the first trial may have manipulated key evidence in advance of that jury’s trip to the residence.

Over the objections of prosecutors, who wanted the field trip barred completely, Judge Larry Paul Fidler granted Spector’s request to allow the jurors to inspect portions of the estate related to the fatal 2003 shooting of actress Lana Clarkson. But in a tentative ruling, the judge said an outdoor fountain important to the defense’s case must be shut off for the visit. Fidler cited an e-mail from Spector’s jury consultant to the defense team, written on the eve of the 2007 jury visit.

“Fountain will be on full bore for site visit tomorrow, yes?” consultant Richard Gabriel wrote.

The level of sound created by the fountain is crucial to defense attempts to discredit Adriano DeSouza, a chauffeur who claims that immediately after a gun went off inside the house, Spector walked outside and said, “I think I killed somebody.”

Spector’s lawyer contends the burbling of the fountain interfered with the driver’s hearing. Fidler said manipulation of the fountain was a “reasonable inference” from the e-mail, but “whether there was or wasn’t, I cannot conclusively say because there is not enough evidence.”

The e-mail came into prosecutors’ hands after Spector accidentally forwarded it to a former assistant, who posted it online. In a filing, prosecutors called the e-mail evidence of “a blatant and unveiled attempt to mislead and manipulate the jury” by tampering with the volume of the fountain.

The reference to “full bore,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson told the judge, “suggests there is something else, maybe half bore or three-quarters bore.”

But Spector’s attorney, Doron Weinberg, told the judge, “All he is saying is make sure it isn’t turned down.”

Reached in his office, Gabriel said the intent of the e-mail was to ensure a “truly neutral jury view.”

“Our concern was that jurors would be able to experience the sound of the fountain as it had been that night and nothing more,” he said.

The judge said he would finalize his ruling unless Spector’s lawyer presents evidence that the volume of the fountain cannot be changed. If the judge orders the fountain silenced, the defense could cancel the site view.

Fidler also barred Spector’s wife, Rachelle, from appearing at her husband’s side during the jury’s visit, as she did during the first trial. Jackson objected to her presence before jurors, which, he said, conveyed the image of “a nice little family.” The judge said Rachelle Spector is allowed to remain on the premises but must stay out of the jury’s sight.

Spector, 68, faces 18 years in prison if convicted of murdering Clarkson. His defense, which is to begin calling witnesses this afternoon, contends the actress shot herself.

-- Harriet Ryan