Prosecutors will not seek death for Blake

April 25, 2002 at 7:00 PM
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LOS ANGELES, April 25 (UPI) -- Prosecutors in Los Angeles said Thursday they have decided not to seek the death penalty in the murder case against actor Robert Blake.

Instead, prosecutors said they would seek life in prison without the possibility of parole if Blake is convicted of killing his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, in May 2001. Blake was arrested on April 18, 16 days shy of the first anniversary of his wife's death.

The decision was announced after a meeting of the district attorney's Special Circumstances Committee, which routinely reviews potential death penalty cases.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the quick decision indicates that prosecutors want to take the case to trial quickly.

"We are very anxious to get this case into court as soon as possible,'' she said. "`We are ready to go to trial now.''

Blake's lawyer, Harland Braun, agreed with the prosecution's decision.

"It was the right decision and they made it early and quickly and ended the speculation," said Braun. "You reserve the death penalty for the most egregious cases."

The criminal complaint against Blake alleged that he "personally and intentionally discharged the firearm which caused great bodily injury and death to Bobby Lee Bakley." The complaint said Blake committed the crime by means of special circumstances -- lying in wait -- making him eligible for capital punishment under California law.

Blake pleaded not guilty on Monday to one count of murder, two counts of solicitation to commit murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Earle Caldwell, described as a bodyguard and chauffer for Blake, pleaded innocent to one count of conspiracy to commit murder.

A hearing is scheduled for May 1 to set a date for a preliminary hearing in the case. Prosecutors and defense attorneys may take up the question at that hearing of whether bail should be granted.

Prosecutors have said they would oppose bail for the 68-year-old Emmy-winning star of the '70s police drama "Baretta." Braun said he would argue for bail, which would be $1 million in a case involving murder with special circumstances -- and is rarely, if ever, granted.

The criminal complaint alleged that Blake committed at least 18 overt acts as part of an ongoing campaign to end his wife's life. In one part of the complaint, investigators said that in March 2001 -- two months before Bakley was killed -- Blake asked someone to hide in a van in a desert area and kill Bakley.

The complaint also alleges that Blake drove one person to a spot near Vitello's -- a restaurant in the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles -- to look at a possible murder site. Bakley, 44, was shot to death May 4 last year as she sat in Blake's car near the restaurant.

Blake told police he left her in the car while he went back inside the restaurant to retrieve a gun he had left in their booth, and came back to find her shot and dying.

Prosecutors said that Caldwell kept a list of items handy -- at Blake's request -- including two shovels, a small sledge, a crowbar, old rugs, duct tape, Drano, pool acid and lye. They said the list included an instruction: "Get blank gun ready."

Police said they had gathered "significant and compelling" evidence against Blake during their nearly yearlong investigation. More evidence will be brought up in open court when prosecutors make their case at a preliminary hearing.

Two veteran Hollywood stuntmen who worked with Blake on "Baretta" claim the actor tried to hire them to kill his wife, according to Braun. He identified Gary McLarty and Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton, as the two witnesses who police have said will testify that Blake solicited them to murder Bakley.

"They made comments that he thought were jokes," said Braun in an interview with CNN. "Now they're attributing their comments to him."

McLarty was stunt coordinator on a segment of "Twilight Zone -- The Movie" when actor Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed in a helicopter accident while filming a scene in 1982. Braun successfully defended director John Landis in a 1987 manslaughter trial arising out of the tragedy.

McLarty -- who was in the helicopter -- was a witness at the trial.

Braun said that he has known for months that McLarty and Hambleton were telling investigators that Blake had solicited them to commit murder. However, he questioned their value as prosecution witnesses, wondering aloud why McLarty and Hambleton didn't go to the police right away if they were solicited.

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