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Robert BLAKE



Evidence File


"Baretta" star Robert Blake is accused of killing his wife of six months, Bonny Lee Bakley, in a desperate attempt to retain custody of their infant daughter Rosie. Prosecutors say they have a strong circumstantial case against the 71-year-old actor, but no forensic evidence that directly links him to Bakley's murder.



On May 4, 2001, Bonny Lee Bakley was shot twice once in the right cheek and once in the right shoulder as she sat in the passenger seat of Blake's parked Dodge Stealth. Prosecutors say that when the veteran actor couldn't convince two former stuntmen to murder his new bride, he pulled the trigger himself.



The murder weapon, a Walther P-38 9 mm pistol, was found the next morning in a Dumpster near the crime scene. A firearms expert testified that the gun was standard issue for the German Army during World War II, and based on its markings, it was manufactured in 1944. Detectives could not link the serial number to Blake. The actor was carrying a licensed .38 Special Smith & Wesson revolver on the night of the shooting. He surrendered the revolver to authorities, and it would soon play a role in his alibi.



The Walther P-38 was covered in dirt when detectives found it in the Dumpster. Prosecutors say the gun was also covered in an unidentifiable oily substance, which could not be found on Blake or in his car. A forensic prints specialist testified that he was unable to recover a single print from the gun or its magazine and an unfired cartridge.



On the night of the murder, Blake and Bakley had their last meal together at Vitello's, an Italian restaurant where Blake had been a regular customer for decades.



That evening, Blake ordered his namesake dish, Fusilli e minestra alla Robert Blake corkscrew pasta with spinach and tomatoes. Witnesses later testified that they saw spinach-laced vomit in the men's bathroom. Blake's defense attorney says the elderly actor had trouble digesting his food.



Table No. 42, a semi-private booth (above left) near Vitello's front entrance, was Blake's favorite seat in the house. According to witness testimony, Blake's credit card was swiped at 9:23 p.m., and Blake was seen leaving shortly before 9:30 p.m. Blake claims that he walked Bakley to his car and then realized he forgot his gun in the booth. The 911 call came in at 9:40 p.m.



Blake says that Bakley was shot to death during the time it took him to walk the block and a half from the car back to the restaurant to retrieve his gun. However, no witnesses saw Blake return to Vitello's. Neighbor Sean Stanek, who called 911, testified that Blake banged on his door, yelling, "You gotta help me. They beat her up. Somebody mugged us or something."



A paramedic on the scene testified that the 44-year-old mother of four was bleeding profusely and was unresponsive. Other witnesses testified that Blake did not go to Bakley's side or try to comfort her. Bakley died at the hospital at 10:15 p.m.



Several witnesses testified that Blake's behavior that evening seemed disingenuous, and that his crying appeared forced and without tears. But others testified that Blake was vomiting and appeared "hysterical."



Blake's hands tested positive for five consistent particles of gunshot residue on the night of the murder, but the state's own experts testified that those particles could have come from Blake's handling his own revolver that evening. The prosecution contends that Blake may have rubbed gunshot residue off his hands by touching his head, shirt and the grass.



This note was found in the car of Blake's former handyman, Earle Caldwell. Prosecutors say it's a list of items needed to kill Bakley and bury her body in the desert. The defense claims it lists tools and cleaning products Caldwell needed to tend to Blake's home, and that "25 auto" was a reminder to get his oil changed at 25,000 miles. Murder and conspiracy charges against Caldwell were ultimately dropped due to a lack of evidence. Caldwell recently invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.



The so-called "murder list" detectives found in the car of Blake's bodyguard Earle Caldwell was nothing more than a handyman's shopping list, the defense says. Blake's workshop contained a slew of tools and implements that he and Caldwell used on odd jobs and remodeling projects around the actor's house.



Caldwell may have needed items like a "small sledge" and "crowbar" during the extensive remodeling being done at Blake's Hidden Hills property, according to the defense.



Blake's house went through several phases of remodeling, according to the testimony of Blake's daughter Delinah, who also lived there for a time.



Another view of construction at Blake's home.



Prosecutors believe that "pool acid," "Draino" [sic] and "duct tape black" written on Caldwell's list were needed to fulfill Blake's alleged diabolical scheme to rid every trace of Bonny Lee Bakley. But the defense says these were normal products needed to do things like acid-wash a pool or unclog drains. Blake had other pool-maintenance products, and black duct tape, in his workshop, as seen here.



Blake's Hidden Hills home had to be baby-proofed once Rosie arrived, according to his daughter Delinah's testimony. For example, the "old rugs" on Caldwell's list were used for wrapping around the exposed wooden beams, not for wrapping up a body, says the defense.



Blake claims he and stuntman Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton met to talk about a film project, not a murder project. Blake spent thousands of dollars on new chrome and refurbishment of his motorcycle in preparation, he says, for the biker flick he discussed with Duffy.



As patrons enter the front door of Vitello's, co-owners Steve and Joe Restivo might be seen standing behind the counter to the left, taking names and making sure regular customers get their favorite tables. The red vinyl booth at table #42, slightly visible in the entryway to the main dining room, was Blake's favorite table. It's where he and Bakley ate the night she was killed, and it's where Blake says he returned to retrieve his gun when someone else shot his wife.



No waitstaff or patrons can confirm Blake's alibi. The defense contends it's likely he was missed as he slipped in, took a straight path to table #42 to grab his .38 revolver and slipped back out. One view of the front door, standing here by the kitchen area, appears to be obscured.



Prosecutors say Blake's alibi doesn't add up: If he was already in the car and had keys in the ignition when he realized he forgot his gun, then why didn't he drive back to Vitello's to pick it up rather than walk the block and a half, leaving Bakley alone? Blake typically prefers to walk, the defense says.



Was Bakley's shooter right-handed or left-handed? No conclusive evidence was presented, but the defense co-opted this crime-scene reconstruction photo of Det. Steven Eguchi posing in the general area where the killer may have stood, in an attempt to make a point about trajectory, the location of spent casings, and a right-handed killer theory. Blake is left-handed.



On March 16, 2005, Robert Blake was spared life in prison when a jury found him not guilty of the murder of Bonny Lee Bakley. He was also acquitted of soliciting stuntman Gary "Whiz Kid" McLarty to kill Bakley. When jurors announced they were deadlocked 11-1 for an acquittal on the second solicitation charge, involving stuntman Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton, the judge dismissed the count "in the interest of justice."



After his victory in court, Blake, 71, thanked his lawyers, announced that he was broke and needed a job, and barked "Shaddup!" at a reporter who asked if he knew who Bonny Lee Bakley's real killer was.



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