You may have heard about GSR on CSI. It’s got a lot of attention and significance in a real life trial going on now with legendary music producer, Phil Spector. Spector is being charged with capital murder in the death of Hollywood movie B-list actress Lana Clarkson. For the jury of nine men and three women, the choices are limited to murder or suicide.
The 41 year old actress was found slumped in a chair with a gun on the floor closest to her right hand. The prosecution team points out that the actress was left-handed, suggesting that the scene was staged. The actress was murdered by an out-of-control entertainment mogul who was described as having a history of threats against women involving guns. The judge allowed some of the women from Spector’s past to enter testimony into the court record.
Phil Spector, whose name was once so well known that it was used as a verb in one of Bob Dylan’s songs, says the actress killed herself. He’s hired and fired celebrity lawyers like Bob Shapiro, who defended O.J. Simpson. Now Spector is represented by Bruce Cutler and Linda Kenny-Baden. The latter is the spouse of Dr. Henry Baden, a forensics medicine expert scheduled to testify on behalf of the defendant. The former, Bruce Cutler, is known for his avid and successful defenses of deceased mob boss John Gotti.
Dr. Baden’s not the only star forensics expert in the defense card deck. Dr. Henry Lee is also set to testify for the defense, and noted Pennsylvania criminologist Dr. Cyril Wecht.
GSR, or gunshot residue, is at the heart of the case. The jury members will be treated to a crash course in GSR 101 but it is likely they will need a crash course in GSR 102 if they are to be effective. Spector and Clarkson were alone in the home. Clarkson can’t testify because she’s dead, and we have only Spector’s assertion that the actress committed suicide. When examined by the police, Spector was found to have no gunshot residue on his hands nor on the white jacket he wore when Clarkson died. The star panel of experts will be put through their paces in a series of steps designed to validate Spector’s claim that the actress shot herself.
So what about gunshot residue? The weapon used in the death of Ms. Clarkson was a .38 Special revolver. That is in itself significant. Revolvers are very much different from pistols in design and construction. One of the chief differences is that the revolver has an open ended cylinder where the rounds are placed before firing. When fired, a revolver permits gases to escape in every direction: forward through the barrel, but also backward and sideways in an explosive and spherical cloud which can have a diameter of two to three feet depending on the strength of the gunpowder used.
A pistol or semi-automatic handgun, has a closed design and very few gases go backwards. Most gases go out the front with the bullet or out of ejector when the shell casing is automatically extracted. Since there is no question that the gun containing the single bullet which killed Lana Clarkson was a revolver, the GSR becomes a matter of vital importance to the prosecution and defense teams.
The defense offers the simple explanation that Spector had time to wash his hands and wipe down the weapon before the police came. The hosts of the Court TV show made a point when they quoted a legendary defense attorney about court trials:
“If the facts are in your favor, you pound the prosecution with the facts. If the facts are against you, you pound the police and scientists providing the facts. If there are no facts, you pound the table,” goes the saying.
Or something to that effect.
Bruce Cutler has done a lot of table pounding and a lot of pounding the prosecution. His flamboyant and bold sorties against the prosecution have hammered a phrase into the minds of the court’s spectators. Cutler and other attorneys have perhaps coached Spector himself in a statement issued prior to the trial about how the police descended like a company of storm troopers with “murder on their minds.” That’s the phrase Cutler likes to hurl through the courtroom like a bolt of thunder. With murder on their minds.
The court tapestry of Lana Clarkson’s life and death is a simple matter of forest and trees. Lana Clarkson died with the barrel of a gun in her mouth. It remains to be seen if the jurors will be swayed by the agile panegyrics of Bruce Cutler and the fact magnifying techniques of Linda Kenny-Baden.