LOS ANGELES — Before he fell back into the spotlight for murder charges, legendary rock producer Phil Spector seemed to have retired to the life of a bon vivant, living in a Pyrenees castle he called home, courting pretty women he called friends, and casually slipping $100 bills into the hands of maître d’s who never let him pay for his drinks.
But a recently unsealed deposition transcript reveals that the once-powerful music man has struggled with crippling depression for years, is under the regular care of a psychiatrist, and still disavows any responsibility for an alleged history of trouble when it comes to guns and women.
Spector, 66, is facing trial for allegedly shooting actress and nightclub hostess Lana Clarkson at his Alhambra mansion in the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 2003.
Spector pleaded not guilty, and has suggested that the 40-year-old shot herself.
But prosecutors say that before Clarkson, there was Dorothy Melvin, Stephanie Jennings and other women who testified during a grand jury proceeding that the producer pointed guns at them like toys when he didn’t get his way.
“Sycophants and parasites” is what Spector’s attorney Bruce Cutler called the alleged victims at a pretrial hearing when a judge ruled their testimony admissible.
Spector didn’t always have Cutler on his team.
Criminal defense attorney Robert Shapiro, renowned for defending O.J. Simpson, fetched Spector from jail the day of his arrest.
Shapiro secured Spector’s same-day release, snuck him out of prison away from the press, sent him to the posh Bel Air Hotel for a few days, and flew out experts Henry Lee and Michael Baden to begin investigating his case, according to the new deposition documents.
But Spector wanted more for his $1 million retainer fee. He fired Shapiro in January 2004, and then sued him for some of his money back. Hence, the civil deposition.
When Spector was deposed last summer, he found himself answering to Shapiro, a man he now says took advantage of him when he was most vulnerable.
Spector’s new defense team fought to keep the transcript out of the hands of the Los Angeles District Attorney. It contained privileged, private information, they said.
But a judge disagreed, making public for the first time portions in which Spector talks about his drinking habits, his prescriptions, and the thousands of dollars he spent on the night of Clarkson’s death.
He also claimed to be unaware of any previous accusations that he had threatened people with guns.
“First I’ve heard it,” Spector said.
A night out
So how does a rock producer in his twilight years spend a Sunday night in Los Angeles?
On the eve of Clarkson’s death, Spector and two female companions were chauffeured to Beverly Hills hot spots.
At about 8 p.m., he dined on prime rib and perhaps one vodka with orange juice at the Grill with a woman named Romy Davis.
Prosecutors claim Spector has a pattern of violent behavior that is exacerbated when he drinks. But Spector said in his deposition that he had no more than one cocktail that evening and that he “absolutely” never takes any illegal drugs.
A urinalysis report by the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner indicates that the 135-pound producer had a 0.07 ethanol level when officers took him into custody.
After taking Davis home, Spector said he went back to the Grill to pick up waitress Kathleen Sullivan. They were driven to Trader Vic’s, Dantana’s and, finally, the House of Blues, where he met Clarkson.
Spector dropped large tips, $100 or more each, to waiters, bartenders, maître d’s and other service-industry friends who comped his drinks, which he claims not to have touched, and cleared his table of salads and other dishes he says he routinely orders, but does not eat.
“You would describe yourself, in the circumstances, at least, of being at a restaurant, as being overly generous?” Shapiro asked, according to the transcript.
“Extraordinarily,” Spector said.
“And you would describe yourself as being that way in most things in your life?” Shapiro continued.
“Yes, especially with you,” Spector replied.
At the House of Blues, Spector took Sullivan upstairs to a private area called the “Foundation Room.”
This is where Clarkson was working.
And it’s also where Spector’s answers briefly come to a dead halt, with his attorney advising him to stay mum about what happened from the time he met Clarkson until Shapiro arrived at the Alhambra police station.
Shapiro asked a series of leading questions from his own knowledge of the case: “Did you come to realize that Ms. Clarkson was at the door, deciding which people could come in and which couldn’t come in?”; “Did you tell Ms. Clarkson, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ in order to gain admittance?”; “Did you at some time have your driver take Ms. Sullivan home so that you could romance Ms. Clarkson?”; “Did you bring a bottle of alcohol with you in the car with Ms. Clarkson?”
Raymond Boucher, Spector’s civil attorney repeated the stock answer: “Objection. I instruct the witness not to answer on Fifth Amendment grounds.”
A judge ruled that, while the deposition contains “no smoking gun,” Spector’s statements about his sobriety and the timeline of events were salient to the prosecution’s case. He has yet to release portions of the transcript that reveal financial details.
Spector, who dropped his civil suit against Shapiro in December, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted of Clarkson’s murder.
By Lisa Sweetingham