Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Phil Spector Retrial: Day Sixteen of Testimony

December 9th, 2008

Prosecution Witnesses

#27 Steve Renteria (LA Co. Sheriff's Dept. DNA technical leader and expert; examined several items recovered at the scene for DNA; under direct examination)

Accredited Press inside the courtroom: Harriet Ryan of the Los Angeles Times for about 1/2 hour; possibly another woman for a short time, unidentified

The DNA Primer

Court was only a half day session today. A juror had an appointment. We don't know what kind of appointment, just that one of the jurors needed the afternoon off.

Steve Renteria took the stand this morning. Truc Do presented the witness. Renteria has been with the LA Co. Sheriff's Dept. for approximately 25 years. He's the DNA technical leader, the lead DNA administrator and the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) administration. He's responsible fore the LA County DNA database. His CV is discussed and that he's testified over 50 times in Superior Court.

(Most people find the scientific testimony boring but I enjoy it. GSR, DNA, I find it all fascinating. The toxicology evidence yesterday was a bit hard to follow but still interesting in the points each side was trying to make.)

Under direct examination Renteria gives a brief explanation of DNA for the jury. He also details in general terms how DNA is extracted from a cell and the steps taken to obtain a DNA profile and compare it to a reference sample. A reference sample is a known DNA sample obtained from a victim or suspect that is compared to collected evidence. Renteria testifies that a mixed profile can have a major and minor contributor to the sample, or a mixed profile can have an equal distribution of both contributors. Renteria explains that once a sample is compared they attach a "value" to it which helps to describe how rare or common that particular profile may have. (Such as 1 in 14 quadtrillion or some such astronomical number.)

Renteria testifies to the items he recovered at the scene (the bloody diaper) as well as the many items collected that he tested for DNA evidence. He also describes items that he observed at the scene such as the blood on the rear door inside door knob, the blood on the bolt latch, and the blood on the banister. He describes the blood he saw on the right side of Ms. Clarkson's jacket, on her purse and the blood that pooled on the floor. He describes how the criminalists talked at length at the scene how best to preserve the left side of Ms. Clarkson's jacket, but it became contaminated at the coroner's office by the purge event.

He tested the ginger ale bottle, the tequila bottle, the two brandy sniffers, and the eyelashes found on the back of the toilet. He also tested several items for blood evidence as well as swabs taken from Ms. Clarkson's wrist and mouth. He tested spots on Spector's jacket, and identified spots that appeared to be contact stains on the jacket verses blood spatter. He tested spots on Ms. Clarkson's dress, spots on the chair she was sitting in as well as the bloody diaper and the live rounds that were in the chamber of the weapon.

Renteria details all the items that had a mixture of DNA and those that had only a lone profile.

During the morning break, there was a middle aged gentleman in the gallery who captured Spector's attention by telling him as he walked by, "I'm Harvey's friend." (I believe he was referring to the white haired gentleman who has occasionally come to court to support Spector.) Spector then greeted him and said, "How are ya?" It appeared to me like he had never met the man before. Rachelle did not come to court today. I'm guessing she didn't put in the effort since it was only half day of testimony.

Before court started, I learned that Spector will have his vocal cord surgery at the end of the week. Last Thursday, Weinberg requested a "Friday and Monday" off for the surgery, so this coming Monday, December 15th, court will be dark. That leaves only five more days of testimony before the holiday break.

After the jury was excused at 12 noon, there was another hearing outside their presence. Spector waived his right to appear and left soon after the jury exited the courtroom. As he left, I noticed he was holding a small bottle of something, wrapped in a tissue. My best guess would be a cough or throat syrup of some kind. I don't know for certain.

Apparently, Weinberg already had his "in camera" meeting with Judge Fidler. I'm not positive but I think it might have been held exparte, without the prosecution there. He requested this meeting on Thursday, it was discussed on Monday but I didn't hear when it would be held.

Since Weinberg did not comply with the Judge's order to turn over Dr. Sieden's discovery, by Monday, the prosecution has decided to change their strategy and not ask Dr. Pena the manner of death of Ms. Clarkson. Weinberg states that he could "probably" provide the prosecution with an outline of Dr. Sieden's potential testimony by next Monday. Judge Fidler asks Mr. Jackson point blank his reason for wanting the defense expert witness fees. He asks if it's to cross and he needs an accurate amount on the witness.

For the first time that I've ever observed, AJ pauses longer than a few moments before he answers Judge Fidler. He then explains that he's trying to think to cover everything that he wants to mention. AJ then answers Fidler's question by saying yes, in general they want to knwo what they've been paid and verified how much. It's to show bias. Fidler states that this issue is somewhat vexing because there is no precedent. There is nothing in the law directly on point. (It appears that 'in camera' meeting was partially successful.) Fidler mentions a few cases and then states he could argue both sides of this issue both ways. At first, he believed that the fees [were part of the report]. But now comes up with a new ruling. "I think it is a better way to do this so that there's not a mistake. He mentions that the prosecution will need to prepare a subpoena "something." It's a Latin term and I don't quite catch it. And what this type of subpoena does is, unless the witness is called, the prosecution will not get the fee amount.

The next thing that AJ brings up is the fact that "...we are still under the impression, still a bit vexed about; at the beginning of the case the defense gave us a witness list. [..] At the beginning that's fine but we are about four witnesses away from ending our case. [...] If he doesn't know what experts that he's going to call now, I don't [know what to expect]. What he's clearly trying to do is keep us from knowing what witnesses are going to appear, regardless of the fees. [...] We'd like to know which of the defense witnesses they are going to call [and] where we go from here."

If the prosecution doesn't know who they are going to call, they might not be preparing for the correct witness who is called. It's general common courtesy to let the other party know what witness you are going to put on the next day.

Fidler responds with unwelcome news. Regarding 1054, it's not entirely reciprocal. "As far as notifying you, yes, it's a courtesy, but they don't have to. That [bed?] is actually allowable. [...] Outside of 1054, I have no more power [to compel]."

Weinberg responds something to the effect of, ...the issue is professional." I think we are only doing as the prosecution has done." And to support that, he mentions two times where the prosecution told him they were putting on one witness and they put on another. I have been told that it is a rare situation where both counsel are basically calling each other liars in open court.

The tension between the two sides is very apparent outside the presence of the jury. Judge Fidler is a fair judge to appear before and most attorney's generally get along and do their best to get along outside the courtroom. In fact, during a break on Monday, I was told that Roger Rosen was in the hallway. He was appearing before Judge Pastor in 107. Jackson and Rosen greeted each other and shook hands and spoke for a time. (Not surprisingly, Spector walked right on by and did not speak or acknowledge Rosen.) Even though they are on opposite sides, outside the courtroom Jackson and Rosen take the time to acknowledge and greet each other.

Here is something that was pointed out to me today that puts the prosecution's uphill battle in perspective. The reality is, this is not Weinberg's courthouse. He practices mostly in the San Francisco Bay area. He will most likely never have to work opposite Jackson again or appear before Fidler again. He doesn't care that his courtroom strategy might make it harder for him to try cases in this courthouse in the future. He's using this strategy to his advantage to make it as difficult for his opponent as possible. He's very crafty, Weinberg, and I'm wondering if this is the way Weinberg always approaches his opponents on his home turf.

Another bit of gossip. Before court started, Mr. Jackson and Rod Lindblom, one of the Clarkson family attorneys were chatting about the recent appointment of Ricardo Ocampo to the bench and where he's serving. AJ mentions that he's quite proud of his close friend and that even though he's now on the bench he could probably still have lunch with him; he just can't appear before him on a case [because of that close friendship]. Lindblom asks Jackson if he has aspirations to the bench. Jackson says no. I'm a social person, and I like a lot of interaction. I speak up and ask, "Mr. Jackson, would you ever consider crossing to the other side into defense work?" He replies, "Never." I told him that's what I suspected.

Special thanks to Harriet Ryan of the Los Angeles Times for directing any inquiries she receives on current trial coverage to T&T.

Court resumes tomorrow at 9:30 am.


Anonymous said...

Reading your updates goes with my morning coffee. Thanks much for being there. Court/Tru TV is now showing a two year old trial instead of the great interplay between Weinberg and Jackson/Do. Go figure! Thanks again. Bill

Anonymous said...

Do you think Weinberg can pull this off or is he a lot of hot air?
He lost the Bernie Ward child porn case.

Anonymous said...

Was wondering why this case is not being covered on Court tv?

zoz said...

The "subpeona something" was probably a subpoena duces tecum. Thank you so much for your excellent reports. They're so detailed and colorful, I feel like I'm in the courtroom with you!

Anonymous said...

Phil Spector's throat problem: I have been wondering about this, particularly as Lana was shot in the mouth. I could make a lot of speculations about it but they are just speculation. Karma? Psychological? or maybe just an odd coincidence.

Anonymous said...

Sprocket, Thank you so much for your great reporting. Also, thank God that Alan Jackson will not become a defense whore willing to sell his soul to the highest bidder. Keep up the great work!

Sprocket said...

Anon @ 4am: Thank you! It's been fascinating watching Weinberg trying to testify through a witness.

Anon @6:49 am: Are you asking will Weinberg pull a not guilty verdict for Spector? I don't think so. Is he raising reasonable doubt in a few jurors? Maybe.

Anon @ 9:29 am: I don't know why CourtTV/TruTV makes the programming or management decisions they do as to where to invest their resources. There are no cameras in the courtroom and it's very empty in the gallery.

Thank you zoz! I also got the confirmation from Ms. Do today on what the type of subpoena. The prosecution will now have to serve one on every single expert witness the defense had on their initial witness list.

Christine: I wouldn't even hazard a guess as to why Spector has developed a problem with his vocal cords. He should consider getting them fixed before there is a possibility that he will be moving into slightly smaller accommodations than what he's accustomed to.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your coverage. You are our only source as to what's going on with this case. For the life of me, I can't understand why Court/Tru TV has thrown the Spector retrial under the bus. Even from a pure cost benefit calculation, it doesn't seem to make any sense, considering the level of interest there was the first time around. And leaving the first trial fossilized on their website is equally nonsensical and frustrating. Keep up the good work. We need you!