Dallas jury consultant Robert Hirschhorn, who has been following the murder trial of music producer Phil Spector for the Los Angeles Times, says that fans of forensic TV shows will get an unusual chance to see the “Big Three” in action.
“As I understand it, the defense not only has Vince DiMaio, but also a couple of other heavyweight experts,” Hirschhorn tells Unfair Park. DiMaio, former chief medical examiner for Bexar County, took the stand this week to testify that “when you stick to the scientific evidence” -- including gunpowder residue and blood spatters -- it was “99 percent suicide,” meaning the victim, actress Lana Clarkson, shot herself in the mouth.
Hirschhorn says that also expected to testify on Spector’s behalf is Michael Baden, former chief medical examiner for New York City and current pathologist for the New York State police. He’s also host of Autopsy, HBO’s true-life version of CSI. The third expert is Cyril H. Wecht, forensic pathologist, lawyer and author of three true-crime books.
“They are the heavy-hitters,” says Hirschhorn. “If they were L.A. actors, they could command 20 million dollars a movie.”
For the last three months, Court TV has been following witnesses for the prosecution, which contends that on February 3, 2003, Spector stuck a gun in Clarkson’s mouth and pulled the trigger. Hirschhorn says that the prosecutors did a good job of laying out the evidence that supports the theory that Clarkson’s death was murder, not suicide.
But he calls DiMaio a “phenomenal witness” and says the trial’s outcome hinges on this: Can DiMaio, Baden and Wecht be as compelling as the prosecution’s forensic witnesses?
He says it’s not a foregone conclusion that the smartest people make the best witnesses. The question is: Can they communicate that knowledge to an L.A. jury? Hirschhorn says that the Big Three are renowned for that ability.
“It all comes down to this, the battle of the experts. These are world-class witnesses,” says Hirschhorn, who has worked on DiMaio’s side in two cases and on the opposite side in six.
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They'd better be. Hirschhorn says Spector, the man known for introducing the concept of the “Wall of Sound,” is in trouble. “The only wall being built right now a wall of conviction, because the prosecution has been building it brick by brick,” Hirschhorn says. And it doesn't help, he says, that Spector's "a goofy guy."
A jury consultant since 1985, Hirschhorn works for the Lewisville firm of Cathy E. Bennett and Associates, founded by his late wife. “Cat” died in 1992, about six months after they chose the jury for William Kennedy Smith, who was acquitted. As a commentator, Hirschhorn has followed about a dozen trials over the years and appeared on Court TV, CNN, Dateline NBC, 48 Hours, Nightline, MSNBC and Good Morning America.
Also a lawyer, Hirschhorn co-authored Blue’s Guide to Jury Selection with Dallas lawyer Lisa Blue. Hirschhorn picked the Galveston jury in the case of Robert Durst, who was acquitted of murder. “It was forensic evidence that set him free,” Hirschhorn says, “because the prosecutor couldn’t prove the cause of death. They didn’t have the head, and Durst claimed it was self-defense. That’s a classic example of forensic evidence not carrying the day for the prosecution.”
And Hirschhorn kindly offers this tip to defense lawyers trying a case in Dallas. “If I’m doing a criminal case, if a juror says [he reads] the Dallas Observer, we always keep them on the jury. That means they are willing to be a critical thinker and not just follow along and buy what the government says.” No, sir, thank you. --Glenna Whitley