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Spector murder trial: Misstep could haunt renowned scientist

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Editor's Note: As part of's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from This story was first published in 2007.

(Court TV) -- On the lower portion of Dr. Henry Lee's Web site, under a link to his 85-page curriculum vitae and adjacent to a list of his five honorary Ph.D. degrees, is a section entitled "The Winner's Attitude."

"The winner is always part of the answer; the loser is always part of the problem," it begins.

For two decades, law enforcement agencies and defense attorneys in high-profile cases have turned with confidence to Lee for scientific answers. But this week, in the Phil Spector murder trial, Lee was identified as part of a serious problem.

The judge in that case concluded that Lee hid or destroyed evidence from the scene of an actress's death, evidence that the prosecution contends was potentially damaging to the music producer's case.

Lee, who denied the allegation at a hearing last week, has not responded publicly to the findings of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler. His assistant in Connecticut, where he is the emeritus chief of the state police, wrote in an e-mail that Lee is out of the country lecturing until June and unreachable for comment.

When he testified before Fidler, Lee said he was astonished and insulted by claims by two former members of Spector's defense team that he had collected a small white object that was never turned over to prosecutors, as the law requires.

"I think my reputation [is] severely damaged," he said then.

Spector's lawyers, who touted his appearance in opening statements, still plan to call Lee as their star forensic witness, even though prosecutors will be able to present the same evidence that convinced Fidler of misconduct to the jury weighing the murder charge against Spector. Prosecutors contend the missing evidence was a torn acrylic nail that proves the actress, Lana Clarkson, did not commit suicide.

"We are prepared to contest this issue before a jury on a factual basis," defense attorney Christopher Plourd said Wednesday of the missing evidence allegations.

Just how the judge's conclusion will affect Lee and his career as one of the country's most well-known forensic scientists is unclear. His previous cases include O.J. Simpson, William Kennedy Smith, JonBenet Ramsey and Michael Peterson.

Experts say that in the future, when Lee is called to the stand as an expert witness, judges may allow cross-examination on the missing evidence in the Spector case.

University of Southern California law professor Jean Rosenbluth said Fidler's ruling will not prevent Lee from qualifying as an expert witness, "but it is something that could be used to impeach him [and] his credibility when he takes the stand."

She said, however, that the "very narrow" scope of the wrongdoing Fidler found would limit how Lee might be attacked as a witness.

In comments before his ruling, the judge suggested that Lee testified falsely about the evidence. In his official "findings of fact," however, Fidler said only that Lee recovered a small white object the size of a fingernail and that the object was never presented to prosecutors.

"Although he implied it, he didn't make a finding that Henry Lee lied on the stand and he didn't make a finding that he acted maliciously," Rosenbluth said.

Stan Goldman, a Loyola Law School professor, said he thinks judges in future cases will allow only one or two questions about the Spector ruling or preclude them entirely.

What is more likely, Goldman said, is that some lawyers will not hire Lee as an expert.

"It makes Henry Lee appear more suspect to anybody thinking of calling him. They might not want to take the chance that something might come in to discredit him," he said.

He added, however, that he thinks most people considering Lee as an expert witness will not be dissuaded by the judge's findings.

"It's like a highly regarded movie director making a dud. Steven Spielberg survived '1941.' He made 'Jaws' before. He made 'Schindler's List' after. People will keep hiring Henry Lee," Goldman said.

A year ago, prosecutors in Lucas County, Ohio, called on Lee to testify about bloodstain evidence at the trial of a Catholic priest, the Rev. Gerald Robinson, accused of murdering a nun in Toledo. Robinson was convicted.

Asked if he would use Lee as an expert witness again given the developments in the Spector case, Christopher Anderson, the deputy chief prosecutor of the criminal division, hesitated.

"It's hard to say. This would create some baggage that we don't necessarily want to deal with," said Anderson, a forensics specialist who taught a class with Lee in February at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensics Sciences.

He said his policy is never to call as a witness a police officer who has lied in the past, but he said Lee would likely be an exception, because "a street cop doesn't have Dr. Lee's reputation" or his grounding in science.

"That's different from a lay witness whose testimony depends solely on credibility," Anderson said.

Christopher Morano, former chief state's attorney in Connecticut, worked with Lee on many cases, including the murder of Martha Moxley, and said he cannot square the findings of misconduct with the man he knows.

"Even if the facts did not fit our case, he didn't tailor them. He wasn't here to decide guilt or innocence or be an advocate," Morano said.

He said it is premature to predict the fallout for Lee, but noted that one of his strengths as a witness is his ability to stand up to tough cross-examinations.

"At this point, I wouldn't hesitate to call him as a witness," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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