A panel of three appellate judges gave lawyers on both sides a hostile reception Tuesday as they argued for and against motions to overturn the second-degree murder conviction of legendary music producer Phil Spector.
With his family and that of slain actress Lana Clarkson in the courtroom, Spector's appellate attorney, Dennis Riordan, insisted that a judge erred when he allowed prosecutors to show jurors a videotape from a hearing held outside the presence of Spector and the jury.
On the tape, Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler was seen interpreting the testimony of a key forensic witness about the position of blood spatter on Clarkson's body, Riordan argued.
Riordan said the judge had taken on the role of a witness.
Associate Justice Richard D. Aldrich and Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of the California 2nd District Court of Appeal seemed unimpressed with the argument.
Klein said when she was a trial judge, she sometimes interceded to clarify testimony for jurors. "Something that's a mere clarification of evidence _ judges do it all the time," said Klein. "...I've done it. It doesn't mean we're testifying."
But Riordan noted that the prosecution used the videotape and a picture of Fidler in their closing argument to validate their position.
The panel, which also included Associate Justice Patti S. Kitching, questioned points made by the state attorney general's office about admissibility of evidence in the case. They quizzed Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Daniels about Fidler's decision to allow the testimony of five women who claimed to have been threatened by Spector in the past.
"If that evidence hadn't come in, do you think you would have gotten a guilty verdict?" asked Klein, who suggested the evidence could be viewed as "highly prejudicial."
Daniels argued it was admissible and not prejudicial, and that coupled with other testimony, it showed that Spector killed the "Barbaraian Queen" star.
The judges have 90 days to issue a written ruling.
Spector was convicted two years ago of shooting to the actress to death at his Alhambra mansion in 2003. He's serving 19 years to life and didn't attend the hearing.
If the appellate court grants Spector a new trial, it would be his third. Spector's first jury deadlocked in the case in 2007; a second jury convicted him in 2009.
Spector's lawyers in both trials contended he did not kill Clarkson and suggested that forensic evidence showed was depressed and shot herself in the mouth. The 71-year-old rock music producer known for his "Wall of Sound" recording technique never testified.
Clarkson's mother, Donna, and another daughter attended the hearing with their attorney. Also in the audience were Spector's wife, Rachelle, and his grown children, Louis and Nicole.
Outside court, Riordan said it was impossible to predict what the court might do and noted that "the tenor of questions shifted" depending on the issues being addressed.
Rachelle Spector said she visits her husband in prison every weekend and that he has been waiting anxiously for the result of his appeal.
"I sincerely hope they take into consideration the evidence and do the right thing," she said.
The justices received some 360 pages of legal briefs and 10,000 pages of transcripts over the past year. They said they had studied the facts of the case closely.