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Robert BLAKE

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


Birth name: Michael James Vincenzo Gubitosi
 
Classification: Murderer?
Characteristics: American actor most famous for starring in the U.S. television series Baretta
Number of victims: 1 ?
Date of murder: May 4, 2001
Date of arrest: April 18, 2002
Date of birth: September 18, 1933
Victim profile: Bonny Lee Bakley, 44 (his wife of six months and the mother of his 4-year-old daughter)
Method of murder: Shooting (Walther P-38 9 mm pistol)
Location: Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Status: Acquitted by a jury on March 16, 2005. In a civil suit a jury found Blake liable for the wrongful death of his wife and ordered him to pay US$30 million in damages to her children on November 18, 2005
 
 
 
 
 

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The Gunshot Residue Evidence of People v. Robert Blake

 
 
 
 
 
 

Actor Robert Blake acquitted of his wife's murder

March 17, 2005

VAN NUYS, Calif. Robert Blake walked out of court a free man Wednesday after a jury acquitted him of the murder of Bonny Lee Bakley, his wife of six months and the mother of his 4-year-old daughter.

Outside the courthouse, Blake borrowed a pair of cutters from a cameraman, sliced off the electronic monitor that had been strapped around his right ankle, and handed it to his attorney, who held it up in a victory gesture.

"It don't feel bad," Blake said, when asked how freedom felt.

The panel also found Blake not guilty of solicitation of murder, but were unable to reach a verdict on a second solicitation count, which was subsequently dismissed.

The 71-year-old actor would have faced life in prison for a first-degree murder conviction.

Blake, the former star of the '70s show "Baretta," broke down when hearing the verdict. He sighed and wept heavily, hugged his defense lawyer, and then sat trembling at the defense table before he was allowed to leave the courtroom.

Bonny Lee Bakley's daughter, Holly Gawron, broke down in tears when the verdict was read, and did not stop crying even as the courtroom was cleared.

Blake, who has been under house arrest throughout the 10-week trial, did not take the stand in his defense.

Jurors received the case Friday, March 4, and deliberated for about 35 hours over nine days before reaching their decision Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, the panelists cited a lack of direct evidence and credibility issues with the prosecution's key witnesses in explaining their decision.

Juror No. 5, foreman Thomas Nicholson, called the case "flimsy" and "disjointed."

"You couldn't put the gun in his hand," Nicholson said. "There was no [gun shot residue], no blood on the clothing there was nothing."

Juror No. 1, Lori Moore, said, "We just didn't have enough evidence to say whether or not he did it."

During their deliberations, the jury asked to rehear testimony from three witnesses who saw Blake within 10 to 15 minutes of Bakley's shooting death, as well as testimony from Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton, a stuntman who claims Blake asked him to "snuff" his wife.

Hambleton's testimony, considered central to the state's case, was thoroughly unconvincing to jurors. Although Hambleton said Blake asked him to kill his wife, the jury also heard testimony about Hambleton's history of drug-influenced delusional behavior.

The foreman, Nicholson, dismissed Hambleton's testimony entirely, calling him a "prolific liar."

"I wouldn't trust a drug addict," Nicholson said, adding that defense expert Ronald Siegel, who testified about the long-term effects of methamphetamine and cocaine use, was one of the most compelling witnesses to take the stand.

Jurors were split 11-1 in favor of acquittal on the undecided count, which related to Hambleton's testimony.

After a brief sidebar, the judge announced that she would dismiss the count in the interest of justice.

The second solicitation count related to the claims of another stuntman, Gary "Whiz Kid" McLarty, who also said that Blake spoke with him about killing his wife.

Nicholson said McClarty's testimony was "so disjointed, so irregular" that it "had no bearing on anything."

Even McLarty's son and wife testified that years of cocaine abuse made the stuntman paranoid and delusional.

"God bless Karen and Cole McLarty," Blake told reporters outside the courthouse, during the middle of a long, Academy Awards-style speech, in which he thanked the lawyers, investigators and friends who helped him win an acquittal.

"This small band of dedicated warriors saved my life," Blake said. "They saved Rosie's daddy's life."

Night out in Studio City

Bonny Lee Bakley was shot in the head on May 4, 2001, as she waited in Blake's car on a residential street near an Italian restaurant where the couple had just dined.

Blake claimed he had returned briefly to the restaurant to retrieve a revolver he had accidentally left behind and returned to find her dead. The gun, which he carried legally, was not the murder weapon.

The gun used in the killing, a World War II-era Walther P-38, was found in a Dumpster near the crime scene, but police were unable to trace it to Blake.

Blake maintained that someone else killed Bakley when he briefly left her alone. Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels argued that Blake's alibi was too loose, with plenty of time to spare for getting rid of evidence. But detectives were unable to recover any direct evidence to link Blake to Bakley's murder. No prints, no witnesses, no confessions.

"We believe the evidence was compelling," the district attorney's office announced in a statement to the press. "Unfortunately, this jury disagreed with our view of the evidence."

Bakley, a 44-year-old mother of four, was a successful mail-order pornographer who had conned several men. Blake's defense argued that any of her victims could have pulled the trigger. Jurors said, however, that Bakley's shady past and Blake's stardom carried no weight in their deliberations.

"Whether or not he's a celebrity ... had nothing to do with it," said juror No. 7, Cecilia Maldonado.

The jurors also rejected the prosecution's theory that Blake was so desperate to retain custody of the couple's infant daughter, Rosie, that when he couldn't convince the two stuntmen to kill Bakley, he pulled the trigger himself.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Blake thanked his defense team but complained that he had no money left. Quoting Johnnie Cochran, he quipped, "You're innocent until proven broke."

 
 

Robert Blake found liable for wife's death, ordered to pay $30 million

Dec. 14, 2005

BURBANK, Calif. A jury found actor Robert Blake liable for his wife's 2001 murder and ordered him to pay $30 million in damages to her children a figure one juror called "a message of deterrence."

With its verdict, reached over 28 hours of deliberation in eight days, the jury found that Blake likely caused the death of 44-year-old Bonny Lee Bakley by killing her himself or getting someone else to do it.

"No matter how bad a person she may have been, you don't have the right to take somebody's life," one juror told reporters outside the courtroom Friday, referring to testimony about Bakley's mail-order porn scams and penchant for bilking lonely men of cash. "How do you put a price on somebody's love?"

The panel's decision stands in stark contrast to the verdict in Blake's criminal trial in March, when a panel of 12 jurors unanimously found the actor not guilty of Bakley's murder.

Unlike in his criminal trial, the civil jury was not required to be unanimous. Nine votes were needed for a verdict. Ten of the 12 panelists agreed that Blake was liable, while nine of the 12 agreed with the $30 million sum.

Did they believe that Blake was the triggerman who shot his wife to death four years ago outside an Italian restaurant? Most jurors shrugged their shoulders and threw up their hands.

"We're not sure," one juror said. "We just don't know."

Blake, who sobbed openly following his acquittal in March, appeared emotionless as the civil finding was read Friday. His attorney, Peter Ezzell, shook his head. Both men left the courthouse without commenting.

Bakley's four surviving children filed the wrongful death suit in April 2002, seeking damages for the loss of their mother's love and companionship. None of the children were in court Friday for the verdict.

"These kids lost their mom, and this got overlooked over the years. This was a real family. This was a real person," Eric Dubin, the children's attorney, told reporters. He added that Blake was "not O.J." Simpson, who was also acquitted of his wife's murder but later found liable for her death.

"I have every reason to believe [Robert Blake] will make good on this judgment," Dubin said.

On May 4, 2001, Bakley was shot through the open passenger-side window of Blake's parked sports car, a few blocks from Vitello's restaurant in Studio City, where the couple had just finished their last dinner together.

Jurors heard testimony from several witnesses, including two stuntmen, that Blake begged them to help him find a way to "whack" and "pop" Bakley, even suggesting murder plots that were similar to her actual demise.

Blake has always maintained his innocence. He claims he left Bakley alone to walk back to the restaurant to retrieve a handgun he left under the booth, and returned minutes later to find her bleeding and unconscious.

His licensed revolver was not the murder weapon, and forensic investigators were unable to recover any prints from the vintage pistol found in a Dumpster that proved to be the gun that delivered two fatal shots to Bakley's head and shoulder.

His own worst enemy

A dire lack of physical evidence DNA, prints, and gunshot residue linking Blake to the murder was the stumbling block for prosecutors in the criminal trial. Several jurors in that trial said afterward that they did not know if Blake was involved in his wife's death, but they could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he pulled the trigger.

Although jurors did not hear from Blake directly during his criminal trial, the actor gave seven days of testimony during the civil proceeding.

"As a group we believe that Mr. Blake was probably his worst enemy on the stand," the jury foreman told reporters Friday.

Blake was an antagonistic witness, who was quick to anger and seemed to enjoy calling the plaintiff's attorney "chief" and "liar." The panel said that Blake's "unprofessional" composure on the stand and his inconsistent recollections about his actions on the night of the murder hurt his credibility.

Blake's short stormy relationship with Bakley began in 1999 with a one-night stand and soon developed into a bitter love triangle with Christian Brando son of actor Marlon Brando when Bakley tricked Blake into getting her pregnant.

Bakley's daughter, born Shannon Christian Brando in summer 2000, was later renamed Rose Lenore Sophia Blake once DNA tests confirmed Blake's parentage.

Blake's defense painted Bakley as a notorious scammer of lonely men who likely died at the hands of a jilted lover. The defense also suggested that Mark Jones, a homeless pal of Christian Brando's, may have killed Bakley to impress his famous friend. Jones committed suicide in the months after Bakley's death.

One of the two jurors who disagreed with the liable finding told reporters that the Jones theory left him with too many doubts and he did not believe Blake had anything to do with his wife's death.

Though finding Blake liable Friday, the civil jury cleared his bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, who was accused of conspiring with Blake to commit the murder. Caldwell was out of town during the shooting and criminal charges initially filed against him were dropped. Friday's jury found him not liable by a vote of 10 to two.

Rosie, now five, has been legally adopted by Blake's adult daughter from a previous marriage.

Although the Bakley family has little or no contact with Rosie, she legally stands to gain $7.5 million from the $30 million judgment, which is to be divided among Bakley's four children.

"It's a good day for justice," Dubin remarked after the verdict.

 
 

Robert Blake (born September 18, 1933) is an American actor most famous for starring in the U.S. television series Baretta.

Biography

Blake was born Michael James Vincenzo Gubitosi in Nutley, New Jersey, to Giacomo Gubitosi (1906-1956) and Elizabeth Cafone (b. 1910). His brother was James Gubitosi (1930-1995) and his sister Giovanna Gubitosi.

His father was born in Italy, arriving in the United States in 1907, and his mother was an Italian-American born in New Jersey. They married in 1929. In 1930, James worked as a die setter for a can manufacturer. Eventually, James and Elizabeth began a song-and-dance act.

In 1936, the three children began performing, billed as "The Three Little Hillbillies." They moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1938, where the children began working as movie extras.

Film career

As a child actor

Mickey Gubitosi's acting career began when he appeared as Toto in the MGM movie Bridal Suite (1939) starring Annabella and Robert Young. Gubitosi then began appearing in MGM's Our Gang short subjects under his real name, replacing Eugene "Porky" Lee. He appeared in 40 of the shorts between 1939 and 1944, eventually becoming the series' final lead character. James and Jovanni Gubitosi also made appearances in the series as extras.

During his early Our Gang period, Gubitosi's character, Mickey, was often called upon to cry, and the young actor has been noted by some film critics as having been unsubtle and unconvincing.

In 1942, he acquired the stage name Bobby Blake, and his character in the series was renamed "Mickey Blake". In 1944, MGM discontinued Our Gang, releasing the final short in the series, Dancing Romeo, on April 29.

To date, Gubitosi is one of the few living Our Gang actors from the original series. Other notable surviving members are Jackie Cooper, Dorothy DeBorba, Dickie Moore, Shirley Jean Rickert, Jean Darling, Jerry Tucker, and Jackie Lynn Taylor.

In 1944, Blake began playing an Indian boy, "Little Beaver," in the Red Ryder Western series at Republic Pictures, appearing in twenty-three of the movies until 1947. He also had roles in one of Laurel and Hardy's later films The Big Noise (1944), and the Warner Bros. movies Humoresque (1946), playing John Garfield's character as a child, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), playing the Mexican boy who sells Humphrey Bogart a winning lottery ticket, getting a glass of water thrown in his face in the process.

According to Blake, he had an unhappy childhood with a miserable home life and was abused by his alcoholic father. When he entered public school at age ten, he could not understand why the other children were hostile to him. He had fights, which led to his expulsion. When he was fourteen, he ran away from home. The next few years were a reportedly difficult period in his life.

As an adult actor

In 1950, he went into the army. When he returned to Southern California he entered Jeff Corey's acting class and began turning his life around, both personally and professionally. He matured and became a seasoned Hollywood actor, playing some choice dramatic roles in movies and television.

In 1956, he was billed as Robert Blake for the first time and in 1959 turned down the role of Little Joe Cartwright in the television series Bonanza.

Blake performed in numerous theatrical motion pictures as an adult, including his starring role in The Purple Gang (1960), a gangster movie, and featured roles in such movies as Ensign Pulver (1964) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

In 1967, he starred in his acclaimed role of real-life murderer Perry Smith in In Cold Blood, which was directed by Richard Brooks, who also adapted the story for the screen from the Truman Capote non-fiction work.

Blake also starred in the role of an Indian fugitive in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), a TV movie adaptation of Of Mice and Men (1981) and as a motorcycle highway patrolman in Electra Glide in Blue (1973). He played a small town stock car driver in search of a shot at the big time in Nascar in the film Corky made in 1972 by MGM. The film featured small scenes with real nascar drivers of the day such as Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough,

Blake driving a customized Plymouth Barracuda across the country to meet up with a supposed contact at Talladega speedway. It was a gritty role with Blake acting an emotional rollercoaster, going back to shoot his old boss as his life disintegrates around him, his inability to "straighten up" for his wife leading to their estrangement and ultimately his downfall.

Blake is probably best known for his Emmy Award-winning role of Tony Baretta in the popular TV series Baretta (1975 to 1978), in which he played an undercover police detective who specialized in disguises.

Trademarks of the show include his character's pet cockatoo, the proverbial sentence "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time," and a memorable theme song "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow" written by Dave Grusin and Morgan Ames and performed by Sammy Davis, Jr.

He continued to act through the 1980s and 1990s, mostly in television, including the role of Jimmy Hoffa in the miniseries Blood Feud (1983) and John List in the murder drama Judgment Day: The John List Story (1993), for which he received another Emmy. He had character parts in the theatrical movies Money Train (1995) and Lost Highway (1997). Blake also starred in another television series called Hell Town in which he played a priest working in a tough neighbourhood.

Personal life

He and actress Sondra Kerr were married in 1962 and divorced in 1983. They had two children, actor Noah Blake (born 1965) and Delinah Blake (born 1966).

Bonnie Lee Bakley

In 1999, Blake met Bonnie Lee Bakley, formerly of 6 Kossuth Street in Wharton, NJ, reportedly a woman with a history of exploiting older men for money, especially celebrities. She was seeing Christian Brando, son of Marlon Brando, during her relationship with Blake.

Bakley became pregnant and told both Brando and Blake that they were the father. Initially, Bakley named the baby "Christian Shannon Brando" and stated Brando was the father of her child. Bakley wrote letters describing her dubious motives to Blake.

Robert Blake ordered her to take a DNA test to prove the paternity. Blake and Bakley married November 19, 2000 after DNA tests proved that he was in fact the biological father of her child, renamed Rose. It was his second marriage, her tenth.

Although they were married, it was unconventional. Bakley lived in a small guest house behind her husband's house in the Studio City area of the San Fernando Valley.

On May 4, 2001, Blake took Bakley to an Italian dinner at Vitello's Restaurant on Tujunga Avenue in Studio City. Afterward, Bakley was murdered by a gunshot to the head while sitting in the car, which was parked on a side street around the corner from the restaurant.

Blake told the police that he had gone back to the restaurant to get a gun he left at the table and was there when the shooting occurred. When questioned later, no other diners or employees recalled Blake returning to the restaurant.

Arrest and trial for murder

He was arrested on April 18, 2002, and charged in connection with the murder of his wife. His longtime bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, was also arrested and charged with conspiracy in connection with the murder. The arrest came almost one year after the murder on May 4, 2001 in Studio City, California.

The final break in the case, which gave the LAPD the confidence to arrest Blake, came when a retired stuntman, Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton, agreed to testify against Blake. Hambleton alleged that Blake tried to hire him to kill Bonnie Lee Bakley. Another associate of Hambleton's, retired stuntman Gary McLarty, came forth with a similar story.

According to author Miles Corwin, Hambleton agreed to testify against Blake only after being told he would be subject to a Grand Jury subpoena and a pending misdemeanor charge. Hambleton's motives to testify against Blake were successfully called into question by Blake's defense team during the criminal trial.

On April 22, Blake was charged with one count of murder with special circumstances, an offense eligible for the death penalty. He was also charged with two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of murder conspiracy. Blake pled not guilty to all charges. Caldwell was charged with a single count of murder conspiracy and also pled not guilty.

On April 25, the Los Angeles District Attorney's office announced they would not seek the death penalty against Blake should he be convicted, but prosecutors would seek a sentence of life in prison without parole.

After Blake posted US$1 million bail, Caldwell was released on April 27. But a judge denied bail for Blake on May 1. On March 13, 2003, after almost a year in jail, Blake was granted bail, which was set at US$1.5 million, and allowed to go free to await trial.

Blake's story inspired an episode of the TV crime show Law & Order, titled Formerly Famous. It aired on NBC on November 7, 2001.

Acquittal

On March 16, 2005, Blake was found not guilty of the murder of Bonnie Lee Bakley, and of one of the two counts of soliciting a former stuntman to murder her. The other count of solicitation was dropped after it was revealed that the jury was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of an acquittal.

Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, commenting on this ruling, called Blake a "miserable human being" and the jurors "incredibly stupid." Blake's defense team and members of the jury responded that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. Trial analysts also agreed with the jury's verdict.

Civil case

Bakley's three children filed a civil suit against Blake asserting that he was responsible for their mother's death. On November 18, 2005, the jury found Blake liable for the wrongful death of his wife and ordered him to pay US$30 million. (Since this was a civil suit, the burden of proof was lower.)

On February 3, 2006, Blake filed for bankruptcy. Expressing disbelief that Blake was found liable by the jury in the civil trial, M. Gerald Schwartzbach (Blake's attorney in the criminal trial) vowed to appeal the jury verdict.

Civil trial verdict appeal

According to the Associated Press, M. Gerald Schwartzbach filed the appeal brief on February 28, 2007. It was also reported in the AP article that an LAPD Internal Affairs investigation has been opened regarding the lead detective in the original murder case, Detective Ron Ito. The complaint was filed by M. Gerald Schwartzbach and civil trial witness Brian Allan Fiebelkorn.

The complaint alleges that the detective failed to investigate leads that persons other than Robert Blake could have been responsible for the murder of Bonnie Lee Bakley. Fiebelkorn testified that associates of Christian Brando (originally claimed to have been the father of Bonnie Lee Bakley's daughter) may have been responsible for the murder of Ms. Bakley.

The defense theory of who may have been involved in the conspiracy to kill Bonnie Lee Bakley was laid out in a defense motion filed during the criminal trial proceedings.

Verdict upheld

On April 26, 2008, an appeals court upheld the civil case verdict, but cut Blake's penalty assessment in half. Blake's attorneys had protested that jurors improperly discussed the Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson verdicts during deliberations of his case, but the appeals judge ruled that such discussions were not improper.

Retirement and 2010 tax lien

Blake has maintained a very low profile since his acquittal and his filing for bankruptcy with debts of $3,000,000 for unpaid legal fees and state and federal taxes after the criminal and civil trials. Having retired from acting years before the murder of Bonnie Lee Bakley, and because of his legal issues, Blake has expressed that he might return to acting someday to help himself financially. On April 9, 2010, the state of California filed a tax lien against Blake for $1,110,878 with the Los Angeles County recorder of Deeds for unpaid back taxes.

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