A California judge may allow a deadlocked jury in the murder case against music producer Phil Spector to consider manslaughter instead. The Los Angeles Times says the case illustrates the fine line that can separate one crime from another. Judge Larry Paul Fidler had decided that jurors would face a single up-or-down proposition in determining Spector’s fate — guilt or innocence of second-degree murder in the death of actress Lana Clarkson. After at least five jurors said they would acquit Spector on those terms, Fidler, in an unusual move, said he may tell them to consider lesser manslaughter charges.
In many California murder cases, jurors have the option of convicting a defendant of a lesser crime. Manslaughter requires proving recklessness, but knowledge of a threat to life is not required. Distinguishing between murder and manslaughter can be difficult. “That’s one of the real problem areas in criminal law,” said Harry Caldwell, a law professor at Pepperdine University and a former prosecutor. “We’re talking fine gradations.” To help them fix criminal responsibility, jurors often look for the “I don’t care” attitude, Caldwell said. “If you can show they were aware a life could be lost, yet in the face of that, exhibited that ‘I just don’t give a damn whether this person dies or not’ attitude, then a [murder] conviction becomes a real possibility.”If jurors can see reason or logic, despite recklessness, they often opt for manslaughter, rather than murder. Legal scholars were surprised by the possibility that the judge, in the middle of deliberations, would tell jurors they could convict Spector of a new crime. “I’ve never heard of it,” said Loyola Law School professor Stanley Goldman.