Script for murder? Actor Robert Blake and his bodyguard are charged in wife's killing


Tuesday, April 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


LOS ANGELES (AP) _ In a complaint that could be the script for one of Robert Blake's movies, prosecutors allege that the actor and his bodyguard plotted his wife's murder for months, visiting remote places for the killing and buying duct tape, lye and shovels.

Blake, who played the tough, street-smart detective on the 1970s series ``Baretta,'' appeared calm Monday as he pleaded innocent to charges that could bring him the death penalty if convicted. His bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, also pleaded innocent during a five-minute arraignment.

``His defense is simple,'' said Blake's attorney, Harland Braun. ``He didn't do it.''

Blake and Caldwell are accused of hatching a complicated plot to kill Bonny Lee Bakley _ a scheme that prosecutors say evolved over time from plans to have her killed and buried in the desert to her being shot behind an Italian restaurant near Blake's home.

Blake has said his wife was shot after he returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he accidentally left behind. He said he was carrying the weapon to protect Bakley, 44, from threats she had received.

Caldwell, 46, was charged with conspiring with Blake on or about Jan. 2, 2001, and continuing to participate in the conspiracy until Bakley was shot to death on May 4, 2001, as she sat in her husband's car after the meal.

``It was just awful after reading the complaint,'' Margerry Bakley, the victim's sister, said tearfully outside court. ``I feel terrible. I feel absolutely terrible.''

Both men said nothing in court Monday except when asked for their pleas. Blake remained held without bail. Caldwell's bail has been set at $1 million.

The 18 ``overt'' acts in the complaint allege that Blake approached two different people and solicited them to kill the mother of his baby daughter. Names of those two crucial witnesses were not immediately disclosed.

Prosecutors allege that Blake personally asked the two to kill his wife in different locations _ Parker, Ariz., Three Rivers, Calif., and outside Vitello's Italian restaurant.

The complaint does not explain why prosecutors believe Blake ultimately decided to carry out the killing himself.

Besides murder, prosecutors have accused Blake, 68, of two counts of solicitation of murder, conspiracy and the special circumstance of lying in wait. They said they will decide later whether to seek the death penalty.

The complaint links Caldwell to a list of items characterized as murder implements, including two shovels, a small sledgehammer, crowbar, old rugs, duct tape, pool acid, lye and a solvent used to unclog drains.

Asked to explain, Braun said, ``It's actually a list of supplies they used for pool cleaning and construction.''

Blake and Caldwell were arrested Thursday after an investigation covering more than 900 items of evidence, more than 150 witnesses and police travel throughout the country.

Should the case go to trial, the defense is expected to focus on Bakley's past.

Blake married her after she gave birth to a child she initially said was fathered either by Blake or Christian Brando, the son of actor Marlon Brando. DNA tests showed Blake was the father of the girl, who will turn 2 in June.

Blake's attorney has suggested there could be many suspects other than the actor because Bakley ran a mail-order business soliciting money from lonely men who answered her ads in magazines and newspapers.

Police contend that Blake had the most motive because he held Bakley in ``contempt'' and felt ``trapped'' in the marriage.

On another issue, Court Commissioner Michael M. Duffey allowed TV cameras in court for the arraignment but did not rule on whether they could be present for the trial.