This is a picture of Lana Clarkson, actress and model. Like countless thousands of young attractive women, she came to Los Angeles in her late teens hoping to break into show business. She was much more successful than the average aspiring actress. She had small roles in well-known films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Scarface, a lot of guest appearances on TV shows, several modeling and commercial jobs and starring roles in small budget films, most notably Roger Corman's Barbarian Queen and its sequel. Corman called the film "the original Xena", and in some ways, Ms. Clarkson's career parallels a career like that of Lucy Lawless, but without that one show or performance that breaks out of the pack to turn her from a working actress to a name the public recognizes. (In the interest of full disclosure, Ms. Clarkson had a brief role as an eight foot tall giantess on Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories anthology series, so her name is better known among My People than it is among the public at large.)
Lana had lots of work early in her career, back in the mid 1980's, but got less roles as time went on. By 2003, she worked at The House Of Blues restaurant as a VIP hostess, and on February 3, agreed to go home for a drink with one of the patrons, the record producer Phil Spector.
That night, someone put a gun in Lana Clarkson's mouth and pulled the trigger. Spector's chauffeur says he heard the gunshot from inside the house and Spector came out and told him "I think I just killed somebody." Later, Spector's story was that Clarkson, a stranger to him before that night, had become despondent at his home and shot herself. The story left the front pages after a little while, and the District Attorney's office in Los Angeles was not sure what to do. They finally indicted Spector for murder on Sept. 24, 2004, nearly twenty months after her death. The trial finally started this year and Spector's fate is now in the hands of the jury.
Besides the chauffeur's testimony, the prosecution was able to get into evidence past acts of Spector, who has a history of threatening people with guns, both people he knew well and relative strangers, often but not always women. The press has made light of the fact that Spector is fond of wearing outlandish wigs and the trial has become a circus, as entirely too many trials in Los Angeles have in the past few decades. As of this week, the jury is deadlocked 7-5, and has come back to the judge to ask questions about the instructions as well as to review evidence. The news reports have not said whether the 7 are for conviction or acquittal, but with that even a split it hardly matters.
As a Californian, I'm ashamed at yet another sign that our state is the place where killing a pretty blonde isn't really a crime if you have enough money, and that district attorneys are a bunch of incompetent second string losers. (Technically, I'm a Northern Californian, and most of the truly ridiculous verdicts have come from Southern California, but for most of the country, that is a distinction without a difference.)
As an American, I'm disappointed at yet another example of justice incredibly delayed. 20 months to get an indictment and another 30 months before the case sees a courtroom, and this for a murder! Every case is different, of course, but earlier this decade we had Martha Stewart accused, tried, convicted, jailed and released from prison before the Enron trials even went to court. The last thing any civilized person should want is vigilante justice, but it's hard to argue that our system isn't terribly broken.
As a person, it's the story of Lana Clarkson that makes me so sad. In the reports of the trial, she is "B-movie actress Lana Clarkson" or "struggling actress Lana Clarkson", which somehow makes it seem like this increase in her fame level is actually a turn for the better when she became "murder victim Lana Clarkson". Her career is probably in the 95th percentile of success for people who come to Hollywood trying to break into show business, but the names the public knows are the people in the 99th percentile or possibly higher.
She didn't know what a mistake she was making going to Phil Spector's house one night. She doesn't deserve to be the answer to a morbid trivia question. And most of all, she didn't deserve to die and her murderer doesn't deserve to be another example of what a joke the justice system has become in this country.
Update: As of this Wednesday afternoon, the jury has come back with the report that they cannot come to a unanimous decision and the judge has declared a mistrial. The prosecutor has promised to retry Spector for the murder. My heart goes out to Clarkson's friends and family, as a very long nightmare continues, due to prosecutorial incompetence and blinding stupidity on the part of the jury.