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Judge Presiding Over Phil Spector Murder Trial to Withdraw Legal Instruction Cited in Juror Impasse

The deadlocked jury in the Phil Spector murder trial will not be given the option of convicting the music producer on a lesser charge of manslaughter.

With jurors split 7-5, Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler said on September 19 he planned to withdraw a legal instruction that some panelists cited as a point of dispute when they announced their impasse the previous day. The judge sent the jurors home early Wednesday and told them to return Thursday.

The instruction concerns the prosecutor's argument that Spector, 67, held a gun to 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson's mouth, and that the weapon discharged, causing her death. It says jurors must determine that Spector committed that act in order to find him guilty of second-degree murder. Fidler said he re-read the instruction and decided it should not have been given because it misstated the law. "It sort of takes your breath away," said attorney Harland Braun, who is not involved with the Spector case. "I've never heard of withdrawing an instruction after deliberations started."

Jurors were in their seventh day of deliberations Tuesday when they announced they were deadlocked. The judge offered defense lawyers the option of rearguing the case in an effort to break the impasse, but Spector's lawyers declined, saying it would give the prosecution a chance to argue a new theory. The judge also proposed allowing the jury to consider finding Spector guilty on a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. He rejected that idea Wednesday, saying it might be perceived as telling them what to do.

Attorney Royal Oakes, who has been observing the trial as a legal analyst, says the judge has revived the prosecution, which he described as being on "life support" before the jury's impasse. "I think the judge is trying to get very creative out of concern for people who have invested five months of their lives in this case," he said.

Phil Spector is accused of fatally shooting Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra, California home in February, 2003. The defense contends Clarkson was depressed at the time of their meeting, and shot herself in the mouth either intentionally or accidentally. Opening statements in the trial began April 25, 2007 in Los Angeles.