When Robert Blake Was On Trial For Murder: What The Jury Didn’t See
In March 2005, a jury cleared him of criminal charges, but a civil jury found him responsible for her death and awarded Bakley’s family a $30 million settlement — which was later reduced to $15 million.
Here are a few key facts that the jury didn’t see:
History of Abuse
Long before he was accused of killing second wife Bonny Lee Bakley, Blake set up a hit on his ex-wife and the actor she was dating, according to a deposition given during the civil trial that was obtained by the Daily News. Sondra Kerr-Blake said, “I found out from several different people . . . that he had put a ‘contract’ out on me and the other man I was seeing at that time,” at a fact-finding session in the Bakley family’s wrongful-death suit against Blake.
Kerr Blake testified at Blake’s criminal case, but never mentioned the alleged murder contract.
The “CSI Effect”
The prosecution in Blake’s murder case had a problem: There was no forensic or eyewitness testimony linking Blake directly to the murder. Speaking at an event for the Society of Professional Journalists shortly after the trial, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said his office was aware of the “CSI effect” — a demand on the part of some juries for the kind of certainty shown on television programs such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, in which crimes are solved conclusively in less than an hour — and believed that it could have affected the jurors in this case.
“It does create false expectations,” he said. Blake jurors said in interviews that the evidence was insufficient to convict the actor beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the prosecution “could not put the gun” in the defendant’s hand.
During the same speech, Cooley also called jurors who acquitted Blake “incredibly stupid,” and insisted his office put on a good case.
Even the prosecutors acknowledged that Bakley “might be considered … a ‘grifter’ or ‘con artist,’” which led to several potential alternative suspects. The jury heard about the hundreds of men allegedly scammed by Bakley her in lonely-hearts cons, and her turbulent personal life.
One of the most cited potential suspects is Christian Brando, the son of Marlon Brando who pleaded guilty in 1991 to killing his sister’s boyfriend. Brando had an affair with Bakley and was reportedly outraged by her initially convincing him that her baby was his. In a taped conversation, a clearly upset Brando tells Bakley, “You’re lucky somebody ain’t out there to put a bullet in your head,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
But the judge ruled that the tape, in which Brando could be heard ranting against Bakley, could not be played at the trial.
The Private Eye
Scott Ross, a private eye who worked for the defense team, told NBC News that he doesn’t think Blake killed Bakley, but he does feel “he had everything to do with what happened.” Ross explained that he believes prosecutors would have gotten a conviction against Blake if they had given his bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, immunity and not charged him with murder conspiracy.
A police log entry from November 26, 2001, shows Caldwell was served with a grand jury subpoena, a sign that, Ross says, meant prosecutors hoped that he would give evidence against his boss.
A piece of paper with a laundry list of what prosecutors claimed were items needed for the murder — including shovels, a crowbar, old rugs, lye, and Drano — was found in Caldwell’s Jeep.
Instead, prosecutors made him Blake’s codefendant in April 2002.
For more on Robert Blake, watch the “An Inconvenient Murder” episode of Vanity Fair Confidential at 8/7c on Monday, April 16, on Investigation Discovery!
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Main photo: Robert Blake and Fred in Baretta [Wikipedia]
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