Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Murdered Bonny Lee Bakley?

Updates to July 2003

February, 2003 - July, 2003

From February 2003 until July, 2003, the major events in this case are as follows:

1) Despite legal advice, Blake speaks to Barbara Walters.

Robert Blake with his lawyer, Thomas Mesereau
Robert Blake with his lawyer, Thomas

On February 18, 2003, Court TV reported that despite two of his lawyers quitting and a protracted court battle, Robert Blake eventually got to tell his side of the story on national television to ABC's Barbara Walters. The jailhouse interview lasted for more than two hours and came about after the county sheriff approved Walters's request because she had conducted other similar interviews at the jail.

Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., Blake's current lawyer also disagreed with his client's decision to make a public statement but said he "empathized" with Blake and would "stand by" him.

"He's an innocent man and I'm going to defend him," Mesereau said Monday. "I am concerned, however, that prosecutors will try to take what he says out of context and manipulate and misconstrue his statements."

2) Blake's stunt "doubles" implicate him.

Ten days later, Court TV reported that two stuntman who had once worked as Robert Blake's body doubles in the Baretta TV series, testified the actor offered them money in exchange for help in killing his wife.

Gary 'Whiz Kid' McLarty, a veteran Hollywood stuntman, testified that Blake had offered him $10,000 to "pop" his wife in a bizarre set-up similar to her 2001 murder behind an Italian restaurant.

Ronald Duffy Hambleton
Stuntman Ronald Duffy
Hambleton testifies in court

The second stuntman, Ronald 'Duffy' Hambleton, also testified that Blake asked him to help kill Bakley and even suggested a number of scenarios in which Hambleton could carry out the murder. 

Hambleton had previously told police that he had fed false information to a "snitch" roommate indicating that Blake had offered him $100,000 to murder Bakley — a figure he made up after reading coverage of the case in the tabloids. 

Despite the fact that Hambleton maintained at the time that Blake had never actually solicited him he is still considered a key witness.

3) Blake granted bail, to stand trial for wife's murder.

On March 13, 2003, Court TV reported that the judge presiding over Robert Blake's preliminary hearing ruled that prosecutors had presented ample evidence for the actor to stand trial for murder. "He had the time, the opportunity, and the motive to commit the shooting," said Superior Court Judge Lloyd M. Nash. He also announced that Blake would be released on $1.5 million bail and ordered that the actor be confined to one residence and wear an electronic monitoring device. Blake will also be required to surrender his passport.

4) Blake pleads not guilty at re-arraignment.

On March 27, 2003, Court TV reported that Robert Blake had appeared at Los Angeles Superior Court for his arraignment and answered not guilty to charges of murdering Bonnie Lee Bakley, conspiracy to commit murder, and solicitation. Blake also denied the so-called special circumstance of lying in wait.

Blake had earlier told reporters that he considered himself to be "the luckiest person" alive. 

"I believe in the system. I'm standing here in front of you and that's proof that this is still America and it still works. I'm just happy to be alive."

Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp set a June 19 date for a preliminary hearing. Blake's next court appearance is August 22.

5) Potential star witness for Robert Blake's murder defense not allowed to videotape testimony.

Bonnie Lee Bakley
Bonnie Lee Bakley, victim

On July 10, 2003, Court TV reported that a potential star witness for Robert Blake's murder defense will not be allowed to videotape her testimony in advance of the actor's trial despite her claim that Marlon Brando's son Christian may kill her if she appears in court.

At a special hearing before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp, Dianne Mattson, a Washington state blueberry picker, told the judge that she had overheard a conversation that could implicate Christian Brando, a former companion, in the killing of Blake's wife.

Despite Mattson's tearful pleas, Judge Schempp ordered her to appear at Blake's trial, now scheduled to begin in February.

Summer, 2002 - January, 2003

For the last half of 2002, the major events in this case can be summarized into four categories:

1) Blake's attempts to be released on bail which culminated in a denial of bail by the California Supreme Court in November.

2) Blake's unusual behavior of granting pretrial interviews in which he reaffirms his innocence.

3) The significant loss of Harlan Braun as Blake's prestigious defense attorney. On October 29, 2002, Fox News reported, Braun said he had met with Blake and expressed his opposition 
to an interview with Diane Sawyer. 

"He insists on doing an interview on camera with Diane Sawyer," Braun said. "I think it's insane for a person charged with a crime to go on camera to answer questions about the case. No lawyer in the country would allow a defendant to do this."

The interview did not take place, but Braun did not rescind his resignation."

Braun was replaced by Thomas Mesereau Jr., who represented Mike Tyson in a 2001 rape case, and Jennifer Keller, former president of the Orange County Bar Association.

4) Attempts by lawyers in the wrongful death civil suit representing the four children of Bonnie Lee Bakley to depose Blake. Blake did not show up for the deposition that was scheduled in mid-November. Even if Eric Dubin, the Bakley family's lawyer, gets a court order to force the deposition, Blake can invoke the Fifth Amendment.

The strain of jail life was showing its strain on Robert Blake, which became obvious as mid-January, 2003, approached. Blake had been ordered by Thomas Mesereau Jr., one of his attorneys, not to answer questions at the deposition for the civil suit. However on January 15, Blake broke down into tears and begged Mesereau to let him answer questions.

Fearful that he was going to die in jail, Blake argued with his lawyer. "I'm an old man. I'm pushing 70. If I'm going to die in that box, I want to talk before I go." 

"I have been in solitary confinement," Blake said. "I live in a cement block 24 hours a day, every day. I have no human contact. I get out for ten minutes every other day for a shower by myself. I get a priest for a half hour on Sunday. ... I get to shake his hand. That's the human contact I have.

"I get to go up on the roof every two days for an hour at a time and sit in a cage like a monkey."

CNN reported on January 17 that another attorney has quit Robert Blake's murder case.

Citing her frustration with Blake's continued desire to talk to the media, Jennifer Keller asked to be taken off his case. A judge approved the request Friday.

Blake's remaining lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, promised the change would not delay the preliminary hearing, scheduled for Feb. 26.

On January 22, 2003, Earle Caldwell was deposed for two hours by Bakley lawyer Eric Dubin, but Caldwell invoked the Fifth consistently, giving only his name.

April, 2002 - Summer, 2002

April 23, 2002

"Not Guilty"

The day after their arrest Court TV reported that Blake and his bodyguard had pleaded not guilty to charges connected to the killing of his wife. 

The 68-year-old actor was charged with one count of murder with special circumstances, two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of murder conspiracy in the killing of Bonny Lee Bakley, his wife of six months. The murder charge is death-penalty eligible. 

A single count of murder conspiracy was filed against Blake's longtime bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, who was taken into custody a short time before Blake's arrest Thursday. Police have identified Blake as the triggerman in the case. 

The arraignment was postponed for several hours Monday before starting at 2:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. ET). 

His attorney, Harland Braun, entered the plea on his behalf.

April 26, 2002

Robert Blake Posts Bail for Bodyguard

Court TV reported that Robert Blake had posted $1 million bail for his longtime bodyguard Earle Caldwell. Caldwell is charged with conspiring to kill Blake's wife.

Attorney Harland Braun told reporters: "He's an employee and a friend and Robert felt responsible for him." Caldwell, 46, was released from jail early Friday but was not available for immediate comment.

April 29, 2002

Placing Blame

Court TV reported today that the estate of Bonny Lee Bakley  sued Robert Blake and Earle Caldwell for wrongful death in connection with the woman's May 2001 murder. The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. Suing on behalf of Bakley's four children, the estate did not attach a dollar amount to the damages claimed.

April 30, 2002

Blake Held Without Bail 

Court TV reported Wednesday that a judge had refused bail for Robert Blake. Police and prosecutors allege that Blake, who was unhappy with his marriage, killed his wife after trying unsuccessfully to hire hit men to do the job. In court papers filed Wednesday, prosecutors stated that Blake suggested having his wife killed to a private investigator as early as 1999.

Prosecutors filed court papers Wednesday indicating they would table forensic tests that showed gunpowder residue on Blake's body and clothing the night of the shooting.

Prosecutors had previously announced that they will not be seeking the death penalty against Blake but will seek a sentence of life without parole.

May 2, 2002

Blake Judge May Reconsider Bail

Court TV reported that accused murderer Robert Blake stood up in court and pleaded to be free on bail in order "to fight for my life." 

Blake's attorney was addressing the judge Wednesday in an attempt to gain the actor's release on $1 million bail when Blake suddenly asked if he could speak. 

"For the past year I've been silent while this town and this country said whatever they wanted about me," Blake said. "This is my right to fight for my life." 

Superior Court Judge Lloyd Nash rejected Blake's request for the time being, saying he might reconsider after he sees what evidence prosecutors have against Blake. 

Nash set a May 21 hearing to discuss further scheduling and said, "I am not opposed to your request for bail. I can't make a decision until after I hear the evidence." 

Blake said he wants to help his lawyer but is so severely dyslexic that he cannot read any of the legal documents and must have them read to him. 

"I can't read," he told the judge, adding that he had flunked courses in school because of the disability. "This is my chance to fight and I can't do it from that cement room with thousands of pages I can't read."

Blake's bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, charged with conspiracy, sat at the counsel table with him but said nothing. 

Prosecutors had opposed bail, laying out their arguments in legal filings that included extensive phone records allegedly showing that Blake made dozens of telephone calls to two stuntmen and a private investigator in the days preceding the shooting.

Prosecutors also raised questions about the independence of the bodyguard's defense because Blake is paying for it. The judge suggested there may be a conflict of interest and asked the attorneys to report back to him.

Prosecutors also summarized the testimony of a witness who said Blake talked of wanting Bakley to get an abortion and that, in the alternative, he could "whack her."

The calls billed to the telephone calling card were made to two stuntmen whom Blake allegedly solicited to kill her and to the private investigator. The calls continued until late in the afternoon of the day Bakley was killed.

The document said the stuntmen met separately with Blake at a different restaurant in Studio City and allege that Blake suggested methods by which his wife could be killed.

Prosecutors said Blake suggested to the stuntmen that the murder could take place behind Vitello's and that he showed him a .25-caliber gun he claimed was untraceable.

Court TV also reported Wednesday that Caldwell's attorney gave detectives an explanation for a list of items that was found in Caldwell's car after the murder. Arna Zlotnick told detectives the items — which included pool acid, duct tape and lye — were for cleaning and repairing the pool at one of Blake's homes. 

Prosecutors said the items "are consistent with plans to kill" Bakley.

May 3, 2002

Bonny Lee Bakley's Brother Arrested 

In a May 3 report, Court TV revealed that the brother of Bonny Lee Bakley, the slain wife of actor Robert Blake, was arrested on a fugitive warrant after he appeared on national television discussing the high-profile killing of his sister. 

Joseph E. Bakley, 36, was arrested by members of a fugitive task force in San Diego, authorities said Thursday. 

He was wanted by the Florida Department of Corrections for a parole violation stemming from a 1992 conviction for cocaine possession and grand theft auto. Florida officials learned he was in San Diego after he appeared last week on the ABC news program 20/20 to discuss the murder of his sister, according to James Schield, coordinator of the Fugitive Group of the San Diego Violent Crime Task Force.

The arrest occurred without incident and Bakley was taken to the San Diego County jail, where he will be held until he is extradited to Florida, Schield said.

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