In reality, there are several intriguing questions that are raised by the case.
If Blake didn't do the murder, or if there is insufficient proof to demonstrate his guilt beyond reasonable doubt, will Blake be able to get a fair trial that would result in acquittal? If he did, in fact, commit the crime, will the court allow the presentation of evidence about Bakley's behavior, about the actions that led up to the marriage, the sacrifice he made in marrying Bakley so he could care for the child? Will the court hear about Bonny's solicitation business and her wanton disregard for the agreement signed by both of them saying that she would engage in no such activities on Blake's premises?
Will a jury be allowed to consider the circumstances of the killing and, if convinced Blake pulled the trigger, be permitted to find him guilty on a lesser charge? Will they sympathize with the situation in which Blake found himself, consider the whole thing a sad and badly-bungled act of despair, and call it mere homicide, as opposed to first degree murder? Is it logical to put a violent killing of this sort into the self-defense category - or perhaps temporary insanity?
Will jurors ask themselves about matters that have been revealed thus far in the case - about what appears to be an attempt by Bakley to extort money and a marriage certificate from Blake through ill-treatment of the baby?
What about the other children Bakley had - the ones that she left with ex-husband Paul Gawron, Bakley's paid collaborator in the lonely-hearts and porn scams? And interesting look at their up-bringing turns up on a telephone conversation between Christian Brando and Bakley, taped by Bakley in about October of 2000 (just before her "marriage" to Blake). While Brando vehemently denies fathering Bakley's baby, the two discuss getting together for a sexual encounter. In that context, Bakley mentions that she might bring along her older daughter, then aged 17, as a "babysitter," and apparently remarked that Brando might want sex with the teenager (see photo of Holly Bakley, right). According to a report on Los Angeles television station KABC, Brando then asked Bakley whether she was serious when she suggested he might prefer sex with Bakley's daughter. The rest of the conversation, according to KABC, goes as follows:
"I don't know," said Bakley. "You might. She's got a real high IQ."
Brando: "Don't ever think I'd be hitting on a 17-year-old. You go to jail for that. I did 5½ years in the state pen. I'm not going to get caught up in a statutory rape charge."
Bakley: "She'll be 18 in November."
Brando: "I wouldn't know where to begin." (1)
Bakley - who has for all her adult life engaged in kinky sex, group sex, and worse - seems to be encouraging some kind of sexual contact between Brando and her minor daughter, perhaps even an incestuous threesome. If this is in fact the case, and if Blake so much as suspected that his daughter would be raised under such circumstances, how far would a court allow him to go in trying to get the baby away from Bakley? Would this present one of those "mitigating" circumstances that jury members can use to acquit or to convict on a lesser charge, even if convinced Blake pulled the trigger?
This is not the only allegation of the sort to come out of the Christian Brando affair. Indeed, a petition filed in court during July of 2003 described potential testimony about Bakley proposing that Brando have sex with one of her daughters. Bakley told a potential witness, former Brando caretaker Diane Mattson, that he had been offered one of Bakley's daughters for sexual purposes. According to Mattson, Brando also said he was told by Bakley that she and the daughters provided sex to customers together. Says the document: "[Brando stated that] Ms. Bakley had wanted to bring her [the daughter] out to meet him; he did not, however, want to have anything to do with her. Mr. Brando also told Ms. Mattson that the various members of the Bakley family 'were all in it goether,' living off what he described as 'a carnival family type enterprise' which 'bilked' men out of their money." (2)
Indeed, as previously noted, Bakley herself acknowledge to federal investigators that she had taken her oldest daughter Holly, then 13, to California to "service" a wealthy California immigrant who regularly sent large sums of money. Moreover, Blake, who had paid for a private investigation of Bakley after the birth of the baby, almost certainly would have known about Holly's involvement in the sex trade, as Bakley's admission appeared in Memphis FBI records.
And what about Bakley's obsession with celebrities? Will a court believe that the actor did all he legally could to protect himself with the custody agreement signed prior to the marriage? Will they see Bakley's fanaticism in pursuit of Jerry Lee Lewis, if it even becomes an issue at trial, as proof she could not be dealt with through normal legal channels, that Blake was pushed to the point of sheer desperation? Or will the jury say it was simple, cold-blooded murder?
Based on the testimony given at the preliminary hearing, which lasted from late February into the middle of March, the most likely defense will be that Blake could not possibly have done it. There is too little gunshot residue on his hands, and the old Walther handgun used in the murder was defective and would have spewed visible soot not only on Blake's hands but his clothing, his face, and his hair. No such evidence was found. Further, there is no trace evidence of blood srpray, something that is nearly always found to some degree on someone who commits a close-up shooting.
What about the reports that no blood was found on Blake immediately after the shooting? If true, that could be extremely important. It is nearly impossible, experts say, to fire a gun into a person's head at point-blank range and not to have even the tiniest speck of blood blow back on the shooter. And what about the gun found in the dumpster secured by police at the scene? Evidently, no fingerprints were found on the gun because it had been "splashed with oil," making it impossible to recover fingerprints. (3) But that begs the question whether Robert Blake could have taken such a step (which would have had to be done in little more than seconds, according to the prosecution's case) without having some traces of oil on him when police arrived. What evidence was seized from Blake's home in two raids right after the murder?
At the preliminary, detectives who investigated the case reluctantly provided testimony that supports Blake's story about returning to the restaurant to retrieve a gun and then finding Bakley shot and bleeding in the front seat of the car on his return. All the "suspicious" inferences of pre-hearing days were pretty much put to rest as witness after witness was cross-examined by Blake's then-attorney Thomas Mesereau, Jr. What about the story, so prevalent in the media, that Blake never made a reservation before dining at Vitello's until the night of the murder? Wrong. It turns out that he usually "called ahead" when he brought a guest. And why didn't he avail himself of the valet parking at Vitello's, choosing instead to park a block and a half away? First of all, there is no valet parking at Vitello's, except when the place is rented out to private parties and wedding banquets and the like. As for the parking space, Blake parked there regularly. The restaurant parking lot is small, and this was a Friday night, at the busiest part of the dinner hour. What about the bus boy who cleaned the table and found no gun? That one's out the window, too. There was no testimony whatever to show that the table had even been cleared at that point; in fact, it probably hadn't, since Blake left around 9:30, about the time when many guests are leaving and few come in.
Even more intriguing is the series of events that began when Blake found Bakley shot. According to testimony given at the preliminary, Sean Stanek, who called 911 after Blake pounded at his door, went to the car to find Bakley still alive. Blake in the meantime rushed back to Vitello's again to try to find a doctor or nurse (a nurse accompanied him back to the scene). But before going to the car, Stanek changed clothes, as he was in his bathrobe when he answered the door. Bakley lived for a considerable time after her shooting. And her wounds are not such that one would necessarily assume they were deadly. She was shot twice - once in the right cheek and once in the shoulder, and not in the brain or the heart.
If Blake had done the shooting, wasn't he taking an awful risk trying to get police and paramedics to the scene so soon after the shooting? Wasn't there the possibility that she would be able to identify her killer?
Indeed, the possibility of Bonny pointing to her killer could have seemed entirely probable at the time and under the circumstances. This leads many to speculate that Blake may have acted so quickly in the hopes that she would name her killer and exhonerate him.
Then there is the hitman theory. Two retired Hollywood stunt men have claimed they were solicited by Blake to kill Bakley. But will their testimony stand up under cross-examination?
Ronald Hambleton, one of two Hollywood stuntmen who was allegedly approached by Blake to kill Bonny in a murder-for-hire scheme, is is currently facing weapons charges stemming from a bizarre confrontation with police. On the 26th of December, 1999, Hambleton called 911 to report an ongoing theft at his Lucerne Valley home. But when officers arrived, they found nothing amiss and checked with the dispatcher who assured them that Hambleton was still on the line and complaining about the presence of intruders. When the officers tried to cut through a fence to enter the property, Hambleton came out with a rifle pointed at them. He was arrested and charged with three misdemeanors - two counts of brandishing a firearm and one count of resisting arrest. A thorough search of the premises found no intruders. His case is still pending because of several continuances - the most recent being an assertion by Hambleton's public defender that his client was "extremely ill." (4)
At the preliminary hearing, Hambleton virtually crumbled under Mesereau's cross-examination (above left). He said repeatedly that the story about the murder plot was made up. Even worse, he appeared to be psychotic, telling fantastic tales about appearing at a hundred trials as an expert on "contracts" and "handwriting." (5)
Gary McLarty, said to be the other would-be hired gun, has had similar problems with the law. Cited several years ago for unlawful construction work on his property, he failed to appear in court and a bench warrant, still outstanding, was issued for his arrest. McLarty, who claimed to be near destitute and "living off the sale of firewood," had also been in trouble for failure to pay child support to an ex-wife. He was caught in several lies during the preliminary, most centering on his possession of firearms. McLarty also shot to death a housemate in 1991, and lied to the police afterward about having come home to find the man dead. (6)
Indeed, by the end of the preliminary hearing, the case against Blake seemed shaky at best. Wrote one legal expert:
The State's case seemed to have all the trappings of a good murder mystery. Indeed, at times the witness's testimony sounded like it came straight from the pages of an old Baretta script. The problem was that, by the end of the hearing, the mystery simply did not feel like it had necessarily been solved.
The State's evidence of motive was reasonably strong - Bakley, it suggested, was a grifter whom Blake had felt trapped into marrying. He'd wanted her out of his life. So was its evidence of solicitation of murder. Two stuntmen, and one former bodyguard of the actor, testified that Blake solicited them to "whack", "pop", or "snuff" Bakley.
But where was the evidence that Blake ultimately fired the gun that killed Bonny Lee? Ten days passed; twenty witnesses testified; and yet the State rested its case without presenting a single shred of evidence to prove Blake pulled the trigger.
No forensics. No fingerprints. No matching bullets. No blood spatter. No paper trail. No eyewitnesses to the shooting. Nothing. Any evidence in support of the contention that Blake had not only wanted to get someone else to murder Bonny Lee, but had actually done so himself, seemed to have ended up on the cutting room floor.
The absence of evidence was all the more striking in light of the fact that, unlike in most homicide investigations, Blake was at the scene and processed for forensic evidence the very night Bonny Lee died. (7)
Will there be others who might revitalize the case for the prosecution? What role will be played by Bakley's relatives, including sister Margerry (above right) who insists Bonny repeatedly told her she feared Blake was out to kill her? Lawyer Harlan Braun, addressing the possibility that Margerry might try to take baby Rose from Blake's daughter Delinah (below left) who currently cares her, warned that he had plenty of dirt on the whole family. Braun served as Blake's attorney until late November of 2002.
Bakley has just one brother, Joseph, a half-brother, Peter Carlyon, and one sister, Margerry. And it was supposedly her sister that helped Bonny to abscond with $350,000 from the bank account of Bonny's Port Charlotte, Florida husband of two days, William Weber. Not exactly the sort of thing that will endear her to a jury if Margerry takes the stand and her collaboration with Bonny's rip-off schemes is questioned. Margerry has long been involved with her sister's porn and scam operations, and even claims to have been the target of a murder plot in which Bonny and their mother schemed together to kill her. (8)
It is quite probable that the Bakley family's past will play a major role in the trial, being useful both to prosecutors and to the defense. Bonny's hideous lifestyle provides the prosecution with a motive as to why Blake would want to kill her. For Blake's side, her extraordinary criminal past points to a real possibility that others were out to get Bakley. Says former New York prosecutor Lisa Smith, who now teaches at the Brooklyn Law School, Bakley's past does more than just make her an unsympathetic victim in the eyes of jurors. It also raises reasonable doubt about the identity of the killer:
Her level of unlikeability, because it goes to her dishonesty in her life and the fact that she clearly has severe emotional problems and is crazy, goes into the motive ... and provides motive and opportunity to so many other people that the issue then becomes: Beyond a reasonable doubt, was it [Blake] or could it have been any one of a hundred others? (9)
Others agree about the relevance of Bakley's sex-and-swindle career. Julie Hilden, a writer for the legal issues web site Find-Law.com, is one who holds this position. "Significantly," she writes, "it is Bakley, and not Blake, who had a prior criminal record. That means Bakley will inevitably be besmirched and tainted at trial, while Blake will be left free to testify on his own behalf without fear that any prior crimes will be exposed on cross-examination." Hilden further remarks:
Even worse than the fact that Bakley had a record, from the prosecution's standpoint, is the fact that her record did not reflect an isolated crime. Rather, Bakley reportedly was a veteran con artist. Among other scams, she used "lonely hearts" magazine ads and subsequent letters to try to bilk single men out of money by promising nude photographs of herself, sex, or other inducements - and she seems to have continued to do so even after she married Blake and no longer needed the money. Bakley reportedly may also have been a porn dealer, and had posed for topless photographs on occasion.
Sadly, Bakley's marriage to Blake also had the flavor of a con. The prosecution and the defense agree that Blake only married Bakley because she was pregnant and the baby had turned out, after testing, to be his. (Indeed, it seems they may even agree that Bakley lied about using contraception and intentionally became pregnant in order to trap Blake into marriage.) (10)
Hilden also explains why the unsavory details of Bakley's life will become a legal issue before the jury:
....[E]vidence of Bakley's criminal and sexual history will be relevant to raise reasonable doubt. The defense may use this evidence to suggest that Bakley lived an underground life in which she consorted with dangerous people who could be killers. It may also suggest that through her scams, Bakley caused numerous men she duped to feel rage towards her, and potentially to seek revenge.
Not only is evidence of Bakley's background likely to be admitted, it is likely to be admitted in full - or at least in major part. Thus, the jury is likely to be privy to a panoply of Bakley's manipulative letters to "lonely hearts" targets, the full range of her communications with Blake, and other, similar evidence.
By way of comparison, recall Judge Lance Ito's decision in the O.J. Simpson trial to allow only two instances of Detective Mark Fuhrman's frequent use of the "n-word" to reach the jury's ears. Ito apparently found evidence of additional uses of the word to be both cumulative (that is, repetitive) and prejudicial (that is, overly likely to inflame the jury's passions against Fuhrman and thus against the prosecution). In contrast, evidence of Bakley's past, and of her many scams, would probably be ruled to be neither cumulative nor prejudicial.
The defense can argue that this evidence is not cumulative because each "lonely heart scam" victim is a potential alternative killer, and the more there are, the more chance there is that the real killer was not Blake. The defense can also argue that this evidence is not unfairly prejudicial because, since it is directly relevant to the "reasonable doubt" test, it is central to the defense's case . In the end, more trial time could potentially be devoted to Bakley's many misdeeds and provocations than to Blake's alleged murder and solicitation of murder.
(As an interesting sidelight, it is worth noting that even if Bakley were still alive and claiming rape, assault, or attempted murder by Blake, her history would still doubtless have become an issue at trial. Rape-shield statutes exclude evidence of a rape victim's sexual history in some circumstances. But evidence of lying can almost always be admitted to challenge a witness's veracity, and the topic Bakley seems to have frequently lied about was sex - meaning that the admission of evidence of her lies would always bring with it evidence of her sordid sexual past as well.) (11)
And if that weren't enough, another relative with a wealth of personal knowledge of the victim's life may defect. According to a report aired in Los Angeles in June, Joseph Edward Bakley - brother of Bonny Lee and a potential prosecution witness - told sister Margerry that he might come to the aid of Blake's defense. Joseph Bakley was at that time sitting in a San Diego jail on a felony arrest warrant. He has since been sentenced to hard time on an identity theft conviction. In other words, like the rest of the Bakley kin, he lived a life of crime and specialized in identity theft and credit card fraud. It is unlikely the defense will need or even want him. (12)
For the state's part, the LAPD claims their investigation was "one of the most extensive in the LAPD's history," involving cross-country travel, extensive interviews, and the acquisition of hundreds of documents and other evidence:
While investigating Bakley's slaying, the team of detectives, led by Ronald Y. Ito, a veteran of the O.J. Simpson case, traveled to more than 20 states, interviewed more than 150 witnesses and collected more than 900 pieces of evidence. (13)
There are so many unknowns in this case that each piece of evidence and most of the testimony given at trial will come as new information to the public, as did much of what was discussed during the preliminary hearing. In October of 2002, a year and a half after the murder, attorney Harland Braun asked to withdraw from the case to protest a decision by Robert Blake to give an on-camera interview to ABC's Diane Sawyer. Jail officials nixed the television show, but Braun nonetheless wanted out. On 26 November, Superior Court Judge Lloyd Nash court reluctantly granted Braun's request to be taken off the case. He was replaced by Thomas Mesereau Jr. (shown with Blake at right during 6 Dec. 2002 court appearance) and Jennifer Keller. Keller withdrew from the case on the 17th of Jaunary. Then in a move that shocked the nation, Thomas Mesereau withdrew from the case in early February, after jury selection was underway and pre-trial arguments were being heard. His eleventh hour departure halted the trial, basically leaving the future of the trial uncertain. (14)
(1) "Defense Lawyer: Blake's Slain Wife Taped Prophetic Phone Call," KABC Television, Los Angeles (transcript no longer on web page).
(3) See Jean Guccione and Andrew Blankstein, "Blake Tip Needed Endless Legwork," Los Angeles Times, 23 December 2002 (Registration and payment needed to access full article.
(4) See "Eyeing Robert Blake's Accusers" (with links to actual court documents).
(8) See WMC-TV 5, Memphis, "Bakley Pictures Stolen From Memphis Attorney's Office" (previously cited). See also NetHollywood news release (27 February 2003).
(9) Law professor Lisa Smith, interviewed 5 March 2003 by Fred Graham, Court TV.
(10) See Julie Hilden, "The Robert Blake Murder Case: Why It Matters, And It's Not Because Of His Celebrity, 30 April 2002, Findlaw.com.
(11) See Julie Hilden, "The Robert Blake Murder Case," cited above.
(13) See Jean Guccione and Andrew Blankstein, "Blake Tip Needed Endless Legwork," cited above.
(14) See Jean Guccione, "Blake's Lawyer Seeks to Quit in Dispute Over TV Interview," Los Angeles Times, 29 October 2002. Also: Gina Keating, "Second Robert Blake Lawyer Leaves L.A. Murder Case," Reuters, 17 January 2003. See also, Court TV: Blake Case in Disarray, 5 February 2004. and Celebrity Justice Online, "Blake's Attorney Quits," 5 Feb. 2004.