By Steven Mikulan – LA Weekly – Every day of the ongoing trial in L.A. County Superior Court’s Department 106, Lana Clarkson’s mother, Donna, and sister, Fawn, stoically observe the prosecution make its case that music producer Phil Spector murdered the actress in 2003. Occasionally, when graphic images are projected onto a screen, the two turn their heads away. But neither were present last week when forensic pathologist Dr. Louis Peña came to court with his crime-scene photos and autopsy sketches. Gone was the Laura Palmer/Twin Peaks–styleheadshot of a beautiful, smiling Lana that the prosecution projected at every opportunity, replaced by photos of her bloodied face and close-ups of her broken front teeth. Had they been there, Clarkson’s survivors would have had crippling neck kinks by the time Peña finished testifying.
Fromthe start, Peña said it was highly unusual for someone of his seniority to be ordered out to the Spector mansion to examine a body, but this was no ordinary case. It fell, as the first line of the coroner’s report says, under the heading, “Celebrity, Gunshot Wound, Media Interest, Victim of Crime.” Very early on in his testimony, Peña pronounced thedeath a homicide, based not only on the crime-scene evidence, but onClarkson’s lack of past suicidal tendencies — an absence the defense plans to fill with its own contrary evidence.
Peña proved to be an unbelievably believable expert witness — matter-of-factly answering defense attorney Christopher Plourd’s polite cross-examination questions about blood spatter and traumatized-tissue flow as though he were discussing his golf swing. Except for a nervous habit of pulling up one of his socks while on the witness stand, Peña remained unruffled and seemed downright helpful, often delivering his opinion directly to the jurors and engaging the monotone Plourd in a warm, conversational manner, occasionally replying with, “You know, that’s a good question,” or, as when explaining the unpredictability of gunfire, “The bullet will do its thing.”
For three full days he was the charming, avuncular face of the coroner’s office — Mr. Science and not Dr. Death — breaking down esoteric subjects into homey analogies that everyone could understand.
“Remember when you were a kid, you’d go to Baskin-Robbins?” he asked as he described how blood was absent from the grooves of the wiped-clean gun that killed Clarkson. “You get that cone, they put ice cream on it, it starts to melt, right? That ice cream gets on your fingers, and it gets on the crevices there; you get the napkins and start to wipe the ice cream where you know it was, but you know it’s in the crevice too, right?”
Then, to explain a shooting victim’s red skin lesions produced by gunpowder stippling: “If you’ve been to a pool hall and played dart board games, it looks like that — all around the dart board [it’s] pinpointed [by holes] all the same size.”