Stuntmen who worked with Blake claim he solicited them to kill wife, defense lawyer says


Wednesday, April 24th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Two stuntmen who worked on the ``Baretta'' television series with Robert Blake are expected to testify that he tried to hire them to kill his wife, Blake's lawyer said Wednesday.

Gary McLarty and Ronald ``Duffy'' Hambleton will probably be key witnesses in Blake's murder trial, according to attorney Harland Braun and another source close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity.

``The problem with these witnesses is, if this is true, why didn't they call the police?'' Braun asked. ``Often these kinds of witnesses have some problem in their history or they want to jump on a big case to be in the spotlight.''

In 1991, McLarty killed a houseguest in a shooting that was ruled justifiable self-defense. Authorities said the victim, Donald Deppe, 50, was an ex-convict with a history of violent assaults and had threatened McLarty.

Braun is familiar McLarty from another high-profile Hollywood case: the 1982 deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children in an accident on a ``Twilight Zone'' movie set.

McLarty, the stunt coordinator for the film, was a witness in the ensuing involuntary manslaughter trial. Braun was a defense attorney.

Prosecutors have said Blake asked two other people to kill Bonny Lee Bakley last year before doing it himself. They have not identified the two and Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, declined to comment Wednesday on the names of the witnesses.

Blake was formally charged Monday with shooting Bakley, 44, to death after a dinner outing last May. Prosecutors said the 68-year-old Blake and his bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, plotted the slaying for about four months.

Besides murder, Blake is charged with solicitation of murder, conspiracy and the special circumstance of lying in wait, which gives prosecutors the option of seeking a death sentence. That decision has not been announced in Blake's case.

Caldwell, 46, is charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Both men pleaded innocent.

According to the source close to the case, Hambleton approached Blake last year and asked if they could get together and do a movie. He was part of a group called Stunts Unlimited and wanted to do an action movie.

Blake told Hambleton he could not get involved in a movie deal because he was distracted by his involvement with Bakley and the birth of their child, the source said.

Court records show Hambleton is facing three counts of exhibiting a firearm and one count of resisting a police officer for a 1999 incident in Victorville.

Also expected to testify is William Welch, a retired police officer who works as a private investigator. The source said Welch will claim Blake told him that his life would be much better if Bakley was dead.

None of the potential witnesses could immediately be reached by telephone.

In the ``Twilight Zone'' accident, Morrow and child actors Myca Le, 7, and Renee Chen, 6, were killed when a helicopter crashed during an action scene.

McLarty, who was in the helicopter, testified that Morrow had asked to do dangerous stunts himself and had resisted efforts to use a stunt double. Producer John Landis and four others were acquitted of involuntary manslaughter by a jury in 1987.