Preliminary hearing testimony

Defendant Robert Blake

Day one of the preliminary

Medical Examiner

Interview of Paul Gawron by Lt. Knolls

Testimony of Detective Ron Ito

Private Detective William Welch

Retired Stuntman Gary McLarty

Retired Stuntman Ronald Hambleton

Detective Arturo Zorrilla

Detective Brian Tyndall

Plotting against Bakley

Taking baby Rose: Cody Blackwell's story

Drugs in the Bakley car

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lloyd Nash

Contamination of crime scene evidence

Search of Caldwell home

Bank records

Interviews at Vitello's

Evidence at the crime scene

Testing for gunshot residue

Interpreting evidence

The murder weapon

Computer evidence search

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prosecutor Gregory A. Dohi

The long-awaited preliminary hearing began with much fanfare on the 26th of February, 2003, at the Los Angeles Superior Court, Van Nuys Division, in the courtroom of Judge Lloyd Nash. Present were prosecutors Gregory A. Dohi (left) and Patrick R. Dixon; the defendant, Blake, with his attorney Thomas Mesereau, Jr.; and co-defendant Earle Caldwell, represented by Arna Zlotnick.

The state's first witness was Jeffrey Gutstadt, M.D., Deputy Medical Examiner for the City of Los Angeles. Gutstadt, who did the autopsy on Bakley, testified that Bakley had died of "multiple" (two) gunshot wounds, both fired from the passenger side of the car. One lodged in the shoulder, the other struck Bakley in the cheek, Gutstadt told the court.

Deputy Medical Examiner Jeffrey Gutstadt, M.D.

As in another celebrity murder case a few years ago, the prosecution clearly intended to produce a "mountain of evidence." But in this case - or so it seemed as the first week drew to a close - that evidence would include neither forensic evidence from the crime scene nor witnesses to the shooting.

But on cross-examination of this very first witness, it began to look as though the prosecution's case might fall apart. Gutstadt (at right) had not only missed a broken clavicle on the deceased which had shown up in an X-ray, but he also made an error on the location of an injury to the neck. Moreover, he conceded that there was a dark blotch on Bakley's skin.

These injuries could indicate that Bakley struggled with her killer, a fact that clearly does not fit the prosecution's ambush theory. Some attention was likewise given to the trajectory path of the bullets, suggesting that the defense may later attempt to show either that Bakley had turned her face away from the killer as if trying to prevent him from recognizing her, or that she was gunned down by a person who held the gun at an angle inconsistent with Robert Blake's height. Further, at least one bullet - specifically the one that lodged in Bakley's shoulder - might have been fired at fairly long range (over five feet), indicating that the killer may not have been able to get as close as Blake could have.

Lt. Charles Knolls

Further, as Gutstadt and later witnesses would show, there was no evidence of gunshot residue either on Bakley or on Blake. Because the wounds to Bakley showed no evidence of "stippling" (soot that is found at the entry point of a bullet fired at close range) no further tests were done to detect it's presence on her hair. Moreover, there apparently was no gunshot residue on Blake, as there should have been if he fired the gun. Normally, tests are not done for gunshot residue on clothing because it cannot be dated. Even washing a garment once or twice will not fully eliminate traces of gunshot residue, and it is impossible to know if it is a day old or a year old. (1)

All of that is theoretical, of course. But with the second witness, Lt. Charles Knolls of the Los Angeles City Robbery Homicide Division (see photos at above left and lower right), came information of a different sort. Knolls was called to the stand to authenticate a tape recording made by Bakley of a conversation that took place between herself and Blake sometime in late 1999. (2) Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau, Jr. objected on the grounds that the tape, in which Blake demands that Bakley get an abortion, was recorded without Blake's knowledge or consent and in violation of California law. But the fact that Judge Lloyd Nash ruled it admissible proved useful to the defense. It not only showed Bakley to be insistent and manipulative, but it also allowed the defense to question the credibility of the "witness" - Bakley - whose testimony was being heard on the tape.

Lt. Charles Knolls

Knolls had gone to Memphis, Tennessee to talk to Paul Gawron, a Bakley ex-husband and business partner, who had sold the tape to a tabloid newspaper. Not only was Gawron unable to state that the tape was complete, accurate, or unedited, but he was a veritable goldmine of interesting facts about what Mesereau called Bakley's "sex business."

Knolls was asked, for instance, about personal belongings, including clothing, false and stolen ID cards, and other goods that Bakley had left with Gawron when she moved to California. Also discussed was Bakley's marriage history and the fact that she would leave home for weeks at a time, returning after having taken another husband and ready to begin her search for the next. The conversation got even more astounding when it turned to Bakley's star-stalking, however.

Mesereau: Did he [Gawron] tell you that Ms. Bakley would try anything to get pregnant from a movie star or wealthy person?

Knolls: Yes, sir.

Mesereau: Did he tell you she'd gone as far as using a turkey baster?

Mesereau: Yes, sir.

The answer was once again "Yes, sir" when the attorney asked Knolls if Gawron had told him that Bakley "wanted to get social security for Mr. Blake's child." And finally, Mesereau turned to Bakley's identity-theft practice:

Mesereau: Did [Gawron] tell you that he'd seen Bonny Bakley steal purses and suitcases at the airport?"

Knolls: Yes, he did.

Questioning by Mesereau of later witnesses suggested that Bakley had still other tactics she used in her attempt to ensure she got pregnant by a celebrity, including inserting a cellphane-wrapped tampon after intercourse and standing on her head.

Detective Ron Ito

Detective Ron Ito, the lead investigator on the case, made his appearance on the second and third days of the hearing. Ito (at left) staggered under the cross-examination of Mr. Mesereau, admitting that he brought along a crime writer, Miles Corwin, on the police investigation, at one point introducing him to a prospective witness as one of his partners. Ito admitted allowing Corwin to handle evidence and sit in on interviews. He was asked if he expected the information to remain confidential and he responded, "yes," but later retracted that answer, saying that he had known Corwin was writing a book about the case which, said Ito, was expected to be out in print before Blake went on trial.

At one point, prosecutors raised strong objections to the cross-examination, but Judge Nash himself addressed the seriousness of the problem. "Bringing along an author presents the possibility of contamination of evidence," he chided prosecutors, adding that the situation presents "all sorts of problems" and therefore is "a proper area for cross-examination."

Ito is shown above with a poster showing a package of bullets which the police mistakenly linked to the murder weapon. Under questioning, the detective stated that the bullets had no connection whatever to the crime. Ito was also quizzed about his desire to gain publicity and monetary benefit from the Blake trial.

Mesereau: Detective Ito, isn't it true that you told one witness that you worked for a year on the O.J. Simpson case but never got on TV?

Ito: Yes.

Mesereau: And you mentioned to that witness that officers Vannatter and Lang got on TV but you didn't, correct?

Ito: That's right.

Detective Ron Ito

There was also this awkward series of questions:

Mesereau: Detective, do you remember interviewing someone named Hillary Rudolph?

Ito: Yes.

Mesereau: Who's Hillary Rudolph?

Ito: Hillary Rudolph is a girlfriend of Gary McLarty.

Mesereau: And do you remember being asked when are you going to arrest Robert Blake?

Ito: Not by Hillary Rudolph.

Mesereau: Somebody asked you that, thought, right?

Ito: Yes.

Mesereau: And your response was, 'not before we have made enough overtime money,' correct?

Prosecutor Gregory A. Dohi

Ito: That's correct.

But the information that author Miles Corwin had accompanied the detectives throughout the investigation, even handling evidence before the defense team could test it, was most damaging. Ito told the court that Corwin had been present at the crime scene itself, then at the North Hollywood Police Station when Blake was interrogated, and at Blake's residence during a police search of his property. In an exchange about those events, Ito was evasive:

Mesereau: Mr. Corwin traveled with you, Detective Ito, through various parts of this investigation, correct?

Ito: Yes.

Mesereau: He was initialy at the North Hollywood station with you, right?

Ito: Yes.

Detective Ron Ito

Mesereau: He was at the crime scene with you, correct?

Ito: Yes.

....

Mesereau: You went to Mr. Blake's home the day after the shooting occurred, correct?

Ito: Yes.

Mesereau: You did a search of his home, correct?

Ito: Yes.

Mesereau: You talked to Mr. Blake, right?

Ito: Not at his home, no.

Mesereau: Did you ever talk to him?

Ito: I spoke to him briefly at the North Hollywood police station.

Mesereau: Was Mr. Corwin there?

Ito: He was at the station, yes.

Mesereau: Listening to you talk to Mr. Blake?

Ito: I don't know.

Mesereau: You don't remember?

Ito: No, I don't remember.

The murder weapon

Mesereau: Was he with you the next day when you searched Mr. Blake's home?

Ito: Yes.

Mesereau: How did he end up being at Mr. Blake's home, if you know?

Ito: I don't know.

Mesereau: You never found out why?

Ito: Why he was there?

Mesereau: Yes.

Ito: Well, I knew why he was there.

Mesereau: Why was here there?

Ito: He was invited to be there.

Mesereau: By whom?

Ito: I'm not sure if it was me or somebody else.

Mesereau: You are not sure if you called an author and said, 'join me as we start this investigation into Robert Blake?'

Ito: Well, I'm not sure if that's what you asked me. Can you ask that question again?

Mesereau: You're not sure who called an author who was not a member of the Los Angeles Police Department to join you in the investigation, right?

Ito: No. I know who called Miles Corwin the first night to join the investigation.

Mesereau: Who was that?

Ito: That was myself.

A shaken detective Ito was finally asked, "So the city of Los Angeles was paying you for all the time you spent giving information to this author?" He responded, "That's right."

Another witness for the prosecution, William Welch, is a private investigator with offices not far from Blake's former residence and a former cop who worked robbery-homicide for the LAPD from 1972 to 1985. Welch testified that he had done investigations for Blake for several years and knew him personally.

Private Investigator William Welch

Welch (left) also related a conversation in which Blake told him about his problems with Bakley and said he wanted to force Bakley to undergo an abortion and, if he failed at that, to kill ("whack") her. Welch said he believed that Blake was serious, but he said he told Blake it was a bad idea and believed that he had persuaded Blake to change his mind. Welch did suggest to Blake that he pursue legitimate ways of getting rid of Bakley, including reporting to her Arkansas probation officer that she had come to California in violation of the terms of her probabtion. Blake at first rejected that, however, as he had knowledge that Bakley was providing sex to her probation supervisor and probably would not be incarcerated. In any case, she was pregnant at the time and the plan did nothing to convince Bakley to have an abortion.

According to Ron Ito, however, another private detective hired by Blake, William Jordan, did later get in contact with Arkansas and managed to have Bakley put under virtual house arrest. That apparently happened after Bakley gave birth to Rose, however.

Welch, it should be added, never reported the alleged "hit proposal" to the police, but hedged on cross-examination when asked if he was now interested mainly with helping his old friends at the Robbery Homicide Division to make a case against the actor.

Bonny Lee Bakley: a head shot from one of her nude photos

The private detective's testimony left the feeling that the conversation was real, but that Blake's remarks to Welch were made in much the same way one would vent feelings of anger and desperation in the presence of a psychotherapist. The prosecution has not charged Blake with attempting to induce Welch to commit murder, which further leads to the conclusion that whatever Blake may have said about his hatred for Bakley did not cross the line into solicitation. Certainly, given Bakley's threats and schemeing, Blake could have have helped but feel enough anger to wish harm to Bakely. That almost goes without saying. But the fact that he would seek out a former homicide cop with whom to share his frustration suggests more that Blake was looking for understanding and an alternative way of dealing with the problem.

Perhaps the most colorful witness to take the stand in the first week of the hearing was Gary McLarty, a former Hollywood stuntman who claimed that he was offered money and a gun by Blake to "pop" Bakley.

Gary McLarty

But McLarty proved a troublesome witness. He fatally shot a house-mate in 1991 but was not prosecuted because the shooting was ultimately found to be in self-defense. Nonetheless, McLarty was forced to admit on the witness stand that he hid the gun before the sheriffs arrived and then lied to them about even being present when the man, an ex-con named Daniel Deppe, was killed. In fact, it turned out that McLarty lied about a lot of things. He said he had never had a gun in his possession except for a few hours on the day Deppe was shot. When quizzed repeatedly by Mesereau, he admitted to one other occasion on which he had borrowed a friend's gun - and then another. Finally, when confronted with a cocaine possession arrest, he admitted having a gun on that occasion, too.

McLarty also apparently notified the press before he want to the North Hollywood police station to tell his story several days after Bakley was murdered. His son sold the story to a tabloid.

Ronald 'Duffy' Hambleton

Arguably the most interesting of the witnesses appearing in the first week was Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton, another former stuntman who had worked with Blake in a few movies but who, like McLarty, hadn't seen him in many years. Hambleton told a rambling story of how Blake allegedly proposed hiring him to kill Bakley. Among other things, Hambleton related a conversation in which Blake allegedly said Bakley had one of her daughters in pornography at the age of eight and that he feared his own little daughter would meet the same fate.

But Hambleton, too, has a bizarre past. A web page associated with Court TV notes that on 26 December 1999, Hambleton called 911 and complained of intruders who were taking property from his Lucerne Valley home. According to the report, sheriff's deputies arrived at Hambleton's ranch only to find that there were no trespassers on the fenced property. The officers, says a San Bernardino County prosecutor, then got in touch with police dispatchers who advised that Hambleton was still on the telephone insisting that intruders were present.

"The deputies then cut through the fence ... and got on their squad car loudspeaker and said ... 'Come out with your hands up.' Nothing happened for several minutes. Then Hambleton came out with a .22 rifle and pointed it at the sheriff's deputies." Hambleton was arrested and charged with brandishing a firearm and resisting an officer. A search of his property revealed no sign of "the apparently imaginary intruders." (3)

Ronald 'Duffy' Hambleton

Gently stroked by prosecutors, Hambleton's testimony at first sounded confident and coherent. But that lasted only until the cross-examination began. Then, shortly after Mesereau began his questioning, Hambleton abruptly crash-landed. As it turns out, the elderly stunt worker first told the "hired hitman" story to a friend after reading about the murder in the tabloids. When the police heard about it, they visited Hambleton's home, at which time Hambleton assured them he had made the whole thing up. Later, he changed his mind and said Blake had indeed proposed that he shoot Bakley. In other words, he was lying when first told the police he was lying (but presumably not lying when he said he lied about lying, got it?).

As the questioning wore on, Hambleton's statements gradually descended into the delusional. He claimed, among other things, that he has been called as an expert witness in about a hundred trials and described himself as a "private investigator." Hambleton likewise claimed to have run a rehab center for ex-convicts and drug addicts, but has a criminal history of his own. He also denied being involved in drug selling, though later cross-examination would show that he admitted to police he used a "little meth."

The defense brought up an interview Hambleton had with police in which the elderly stuntman argued that the police had nothing but a bunch of "flakes" on which to base their case against Blake. Referring to the transcript of a police interview, Hambleton was asked:

Mesereau: Now what flakes were you referring to when you told the police they had nothing but flakes to build their case against Blake?

Hambleton: I was making reference to, ah, ah, specifically, ah, Mr. Atwater, ah, who I had obviously, ah, given some misinformation. And, ah, also, I was making reference to ah, to Sargeant Beckel, who had been in touch with the Los Angeles Police Department in regards to, if you will, a situation where I was deemed an unsavory character, I mean I was guilty by association, by those that I was taking in to the house over a period of time. I was running a half-way house for those less fortunate, if you will. And, ah, my feeling was, was that the information that they were getting was not credible in nature, and, ah, that, that, ah, I so informed them.

Prosecution Witness Duffy Hambleton

Mesereau: You were running a half-way house?

Hambleton: Pardon?

Mesereau: You were running a half-way house?

Hambleton: In a manner of speaking. It's been referred to on more than one occasion as a half-way house.

Mesereau: Okay, when you say "in a manner of speaking," what does that mean?

Hambleton: That's what it's been designated as far as Sargeant Beckel is concerned, as a half-way house for, ah, those who were getting out of correctional institutions and those who were trying to get off drugs, and, ah, many different situations, ah, over the period of years, yeah.

Mesereau: But you were using drugs on your property, correct?

Hambleton: That is totally incorrect.

Mesereau: Okay, never did?

Robert Blake in Van Nuys courtroom

Hambleton: No, no I didn't.

Prosecutor: [Inaudible]. Move to strike.

Judge: The answer is no.

Mesereau: Did you tell the police that you'd been taken in voir dire a hundred times in other cases? (4)

Hambleton: That is correct.

Mesereau: And that you're recognized by the courts as an expert witness, do you see that?

Hambleton: I was at one time, yes.

Mesereau: Okay, now when you said you've been taken in voir dire a hundred times in other cases, what were you talking about?

Hambleton: I was talking about being put on the stand, and my qualifications, as far as an investigator, has been challenged on numerous occasions.

Robert Blake at preliminary hearing

Mesereau: Have you testified a hundred times?

Hambleton: I probably have.

Mesereau: Just for the record, I think we had a little bit of commotion. Have you testified a hundred times, Mr. Hambleton?

Hambleton: I probably testified in court over a hundred times.

Mesereau: Over a hundred times?

Hambleton: Yeah.

Mesereau: Okay. As an expert?

Hambleton: As an expert witness in most every case, yes.

Mesereau: And again, as an expert witness, what were you testifying about?

Hambleton: It would have to do with my background as an investigator and having to do with, ah, ah, contracts. I was a former vice-president of a bank and contracts were basically my specialty.

Mesereau: Okay, so you were testifying as an expert on contracts, is that correct?

Hambleton: That is, that as well as my background as an investigator.

Mesereau: Okay. You're not a lawyer, correct?

Hambleton: No, I am not.

Mesereau: But you're saying that parties were hiring you, Mr. Hambleton, as an expert witness on contracts to testify in trials, correct?

Hambleton: That is correct.

Thomas Mesereau, Jr., attorney for Robert Blake

Mesereau: And what contracts are you an expert on?

Hambleton: Any type, from chattel mortgage to regular, ah, regular type contracts or agreements, ah, handwriting, ah, variations.

Mesereau: Let's go to page 38, lines 16 through 21. See those lines?

Hambleton: Ah, 16 through 21? Yes, I have it.

Mesereau: And we're still in the interview of Mr. Hambleton with the police which took place on May 21st 2001 and was recorded. You were again asked, Mr. Hambleton, by the police the following: "What we are interested in is whether Mr. Blake solicited you to kill his wife or to have you find somebody to do it. Now we don't believe you partook in that but we strongly suspect that he solicited you." And your answer was, "Well, he didn't." Correct?

Hambleton: That's correct.

Mesereau: Okay.

Prosecution witness Malcolm Ross

When Hambleton finally left the stand, the court heard from an "investigations manager" from AT&T (Malcolm Ross at right) who explained how calls made using prepaid phone cards, like one Blake allegedly purchased at a Seven-Eleven convenience store, can be traced through records. Ross was followed by former LAPD detective Arturo Zorrilla, then by a "co-lead detective" handling the Blake investigation, Brian Tyndall.

Zorrilla said he was contacted in 2000 by a private investigator named William C. Jordan, hired by Blake, who sought his assistance in turning Bakley in to authorities for her scams. At Jordan's request, Zorrilla looked up Bakley on a national crime database and found her to be on federal probabtion out of the Little Rock, Arkansas area. There was no arrest warrant for her, however. Zorrilla was at the time was working in the fugutive division of the LAPD, and after two more phone calls from Jordan, he phoned Blake. Blake told him about Bonny's younger brother, Joey Bakley, who might also be a fugitive.

Arturo Zorrilla, formerly of LAPD's fugitive division

Several days later, Zorrilla (left) and his partner visited Blake at Blake's home. Blake said at that time that he believed Joseph Bakley may have been involved in the murder of a New York police officer during a drug deal. On the same occasion, Blake also presented a folder containing correspondence to him from Bakley and asked Zorrilla for his opinion about whether the letters from Bakley constituted extortion. On that score, Zorrilla, a fugitive tracking specialist, said he had no expertise and recommended he contact police in the North Hollywood area. He also, at some point, suggested that Jordan further pursue the matter of Bonny's activities with her Arkansas probation officer.

As for the matter with Joey Bakley, Zorrilla was able to confirm that a New York policeman was killed at approximately the time Blake had mentioned in his discussion of Bakley's brother, but he learned that Bakley was not a suspect. Zorilla also told the court that Blake had indicated he was concerned "to the utmost" about a baby girl born to Bonny. He told Zorrilla that he was the father of that child.

Detective Brian Tyndall

Detective Brian Tyndall (right), who has been with the LAPD for 32 years and a homicide detective for more than 13 of those years, told the court about a Baltimore man, a native of Colombia by the name of Luis Mendoza, who had in late 2000 been called by a friend of his in Los Angeles who wanted him to work with a man who was having "marital problems." Mendoza, an FBI informant, visited Blake at his home twice, according to Tyndall, and was given materials related to Bakley's mail-order sex business and what Blake felt was an "extortion" attempt on her part. Mendoza was also told about Joseph Bakley's alleged involvement in the drug trade, and at one point turned over some of the information to a Miami FBI agent named Orihuela. Orihuela, in turn, suggested that the information about Bonny Bakley's con schemes, federal probabion violations, and credit card dealings, be given to the Los Angeles FBI.

Luis Mendoza, who did not appear as a witness at the hearing, was asked to return to California a second time on Blake's behalf in early November of 2000, according to Detective Tyndall. At this point, Blake was so desperate about Bakley's marriage demands that he cried and said he could not take it any more. Mendoza left the second meeting with Blake with some new information on Joey Bakley, including his auto license number. Mendoza faxed that information to a customs agent he knew.

As grim as some hearing testimony may have been, the proceedings were not without a few light moments. One came when Detective Tyndall was being cross-examined about the propriety of carrying book author Corwin around with police during critical parts of the investigation:

Mesereau: As co-lead detective in the investigation of Mr. Robert Blake, do you consider it appropriate conduct for a lead detective to describe a book writer as his or her partner when confronting a witness?

Tyndall: It would depend on the content [sic.].

Mesereau: So it might be okay in your mind, correct?

Tyndall: Yes.

Mesereau: Okay. It would be okay to mislead a witness into thinking that a book writer was a police officer?

Prosecutor: Objection. Argumentative.

Attorney Mesereau with Detective Tyndall

Judge: Overruled.

Tyndall: It would be, yes.

Mesereau: It would be what?

Tyndall: What was your question?

Mesereau: Well, what are you saying?

Tyndall: That's what I'm asking you.

Mesereau: Would it be appropriate--?

Judge: I know it's getting late in the day. Why don't you ask the question again.

Mesereau: Okay. Detective Tyndall, are you saying under oath that, in your opinion, it would be appropriate for a co-lead detective in this investigation to introduce book author Miles Corwin as his or her partner to a witness?

Prosecutor: Objection. Irrelevant. Why is this...?

Judge: Okay, we'll leave it at that.

Blake reacts to testimony on March 4, 2003

It should be noted that both of the schemes discussed by Zorrilla and Tyndall, the one involving Jordan and the other of which Mendoza was a part, were similiar to the idea presented earlier by William Welch, and violated no laws. Those activities were meant only to call Bakley and her brother to the attention of law enforcement. Indeed, the testimony reveals that Blake made an extraordinary effort over a lengthy period of time - undoubtedly at considerable expense to himself - to be rid of Bakley using entirely licit means.

Prosecutors undoubtedly hoped the testimony about Jordan and Mendoza would help to establish a motive for the killing by showing Blake's desperation about freeing himself and, even moreso, his baby, from Ms. Bakley. Blake, however, has never denied having a motive to kill the woman. And the prosecution's message only makes sense if one believes that after all these efforts, something in Blake simply snapped and he started looking among old acquaintances, namely the two stuntmen he barely knew and hadn't seen in almost 20 years, for someone he could hire to kill Bakley. (5)

Welch, the only credible witness to give testimony that Blake talked of killing Bakley, recalled a conversation which occurred in 1999, approximately six or seven months before the birth of little Rose, and long before Blake had confirmed the child was his. And Welch affirmed repeatedly that he hadn't seriously considered Blake a "potential killer" in an exchange with defense attorney Mesereau:

Mesereau: So, you're saying that for six months after October of 99, you concluded you were working for a potential killer, true?

Welch: No.

Mesereau: When you agreed to call the FBI on Mr. Blake's behalf after October of 99, did you think you were working for a potential killer?

Welch: No.

Mesereau: When you agreed to call the Secret Service on Mr. Blake's behalf after October of 99, did you think you were working for a potential killer?

Welch: No.

Neither of the two stuntmen who told stories of being solicited to kill Bakley withstood attorney Mesereau's intense cross-examination.

Court TV's Catherine Crier speaks with Blake friend John Solari

This leaves the question of whether Blake actually solicited anyone to kill his tormentor. For someone who was seriously thinking of killing his wife, Blake certainly made a lot of contacts with law enforcement people and made abundantly clear to all of them his hatred for the woman. And, says John Solari, it hardly makes sense that the actor would have called on shady strangers to do the hit when he, Blake's good friend, would have been the logical one to ask about a murder plot. Solari, an actor who says he has done "hard time" at Attica and Sing Sing, was interviewed March 4 by Court TV's Catherine Crier about just that point (photo at right).

Crier: You find that Robert Blake is innocent because ... if he had wanted a hit man, he could have come to you, not necessarily to do the job but because you knew the people to go to. Is that fair?

Solari: Well, there's a possibility that I knew a lot of people like that. I mean, I didn't hang out with Mister Rogers. ...[Robert] knows my background. Why didn't he come to talk to me?...

Crier: Did he really, actually, tell you how bad things were with Bonny Bakley?

Solari: Oh, yeah. I saw the [Bakley] papers and the letters. Yeah, I know what it was all about. I was there in the house. We used to walk and talk. That's what I'm saying, I was really close to Robert.

Tyndall's testimony went into a second day, during which also spoke of an interview he did after Bakley's death with Cody Blackwell, a woman hired as an assistant by Blake. That interview, he said, took place on the 6th of July, 2001. According to the detective, Blackwell discussed a conversation she had a year before in which Blake had called Bakley the "scum of the earth" and said she liked to hang around with bikers, racketeers, drug dealers, and low-class "trailer park" people.

Patrick R. Dixon, prosecutor

Blackwell also reportedly told Tyndall about an incident in which she was placed in charge of Rose. Said Tyndall, Blake had asked Blackwell to come to his house while he went to pick up Bakley and the baby, instructing Blackwell to say that she was a nurse named Nancy so that Bakley would feel more comfortable leaving the baby with her. As soon as they arrived, the baby was left with Blackwell while Blake took Bakley to lunch, Tyndall said. Shortly after the two left, Blackwell received a phone call from Blake in which Blake asked Blackwell to take the baby to her home. An hour or so later, Blake allegedly called Blackwell at home and asked her to bring the baby to him at a specified meeting place, which she did. At that point, Tyndall told the court, Blake took the baby. But when the baby began crying, Blake asked Blackwell to hold the infant and to ride with him while he drove to another location. At the final location, Blake gave Blackwell money to go to lunch, and about an hour later took Blackwell back to her car.

Much has been made of this story and a "baby theft" report that Bakley reportedly filed concerning the incident. But among the piles of letters to Blake which the actor had collected was one in which Bakley herself agreed to leave the child with Blake and to stay out of the mix for several months while father and daughter got acquainted. It was another agreement that she obviously breached. Said Bakley in that undated letter:

"I agree of my own free will to stay out of the State of California for the next four months so that my daughter will have an opportunity to get to know her father." (6)

Co-defendant Earle Caldwell is charged with conspiracy

Another curious piece of testimony centered on drugs reportedly found in Bakley's car in Tennessee. According to Tyndall, who interviewed Glenn and Holly Gawron, Glenn was looking in Bonny's blue Mercedes automobile and found a lot of fishing equipment there -- rods, string, sinkers and the like. With that equipment was a small bag containing a white powdery substance that appeared to be a narcotic. The prosecution probably had hoped to link this to Earle Caldwell, using the story as evidence to show that Blake and alleged co-conspirator Earle Caldwell were trying to set up Bakley for a drug bust. If so, the evidence is gone. The substance was, indeed, a narcotic. But Bakley son Glenn promptly sold it to a friend for $700.

Robert Blake at preliminary hearing

That wasn't the only evidence problem that the prosecution encountered. At one point during the cross-examination of Detective Ito, it was revealed that Blake's car had been removed from the scene by a tow truck, rather than on a flatbed as is usual when a car contains evidence yet to be tested. The contents of a car move when the car is raised on its end for regular towing and, as a consequence, according to the police file on the case, the crime lab considered any trace evidence in the car to be worthless from a forensic point of view. Other crime scene evidence might also have been contaminated, as was revealed during this spirited exchange between Mesereau and detective Ito about author Miles Corwin's arrival at the crime scene prior to the time the detectives arrived:

Ito: Well sure, he was there subsequent to the murder but he wasn't there when she was shot.

Mesereau: He was there the evening she was shot, correct?

Robert Blake Defense Attorney Thomas Mesereau, Jr.

Ito: Counselor, he arrived when I did. It was subsequent to the murder. It was in the morning hours. It wasn't in the evening hours. If he was there when the murder happened he would be my eyewitness.

Mesereau: Mr. Ito, you're not trying to be truthful today, are you?

Ito: I am being very truthful. I'm answering your questions. You said the evening of the murder. We arrived in the morning.

Mesereau: Yes. But Mr. Corwin was there that evening, true?

Ito: Oh, I see. Later on that evening, yes.

Mesereau: You don't know what he touched.

Ito: I physically did not watch him the entire time I was there. You're correct.

Mesereau: He was allowed into the crime scene before the search team arrived, true?

Ito: No.

Mesereau: Isn't that what the notes reflect.

Kevin Schultz

Ito: No. No.

On March 5, after hearing brief testimony from the representative of a credit card company (Kevin Schultz, right) to the effect that Blake spent a large sum of money on baby items, the hearing, which started Wednesday, February 26th, went into a four day recess until the 10th of March, 2003.

Det. Thomas Mathew

The next witness was Det. Thomas Mathew (at left) of the LAPD who headed an April 2002 search of the home of Blake bodyguard and handyman, Earle Caldwell, a co-defendant in this case. Matthew testified that he found evidence on a computer and in literature taken from Caldwell's house to indicate that Caldwell was interested in obtaining or building a silencer for a gun. Of particular interested, Detective Mathew said, was a catalog from a specialty publishing house called Paladin Press that deals in military and "survivalist" literature (a page about silencers was folded over). Also marked in the catalog, among other things, was a book called Killing Zone, which deals with ambush techniques. (7)

Danielle Gardner of Pacific Bell

Two additional witnesses briefly took the stand on Monday, March 10. Danielle Garnder (right), a representative of Southern Pacific Bell, presented some telephone records concerning Earle Caldwell, showing calls to both Robert Blake, his employer, and witness Ronald Hambleton. Helga Shattuck (below, at left) of City National Bank, who testified that Blake had withdrawn more than $100,000 from his bank account in the months prior to Bakley's murder. On cross-examination, Shattuck, of the bank's fraud division, admitted that the records she brought to court reflected only a select period of time in which the prosecution was interested and, further, that withdrawals of this amount are not uncommon among persons of Blake's means.

Helga Shattuck of City National Bank

Following Ms. Shattuck was Detective Robert Bub. He, along with Ito, Tyndall and a fourth detective, Steve Eguchi, made up the team that conducted the investigation into the Bakley murder. Bub was the first witness to discuss the night of the crime and the scene of the shooting. Bub began his testimiony by recalling a phone call he received from Miami FBI agent Judy Orihuela, the one who had been contacted by Blake and Luis Mendoza with regard to Bakley's illegal activities. The agent had learned of Bakley's death in the news, said Bub, and contacted the detective in Los Angeles. She reported that Mendoza had visited her in her office on the 8th of Noevmeber, 2000, and that she had spoken by phone to Blake a month or two afterward. Bub also stated that he was present during a search of Blake's home in which he found approximately $10,000 in cash.

Detective Bub also was present at Vitello's Restaurant on May 5, the day after the shooting, and interviewed the restaurant's two owners, Steve and Joe Restivo, as well as a waitress by the name of Robin Robichaux who served the couple that night. Steve Restivo said he saw Blake and Bakley when the arrived around 8 p.m. and again when they left at about 9:30. Both acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary, Restive told the detective, who added that he had seen Bakley with Blake before but didn't know who she was.

Homicide Detective Robert Bub

Robichaux, then an employee of Vitello's for about 14 years, told the detective that she waited Blake's table that night as she had done "hundreds of occasions" before, Bub testified. She confirmed that Blake left with Bakley at 9:30, shortly before she went home. But about ten minutes later, Bub testified, Robichaux saw Blake returning to the restaurant pale and shaken, asking for a doctor and a glass of water. She brought him some water, and he left with a woman had identified herself as a nurse. According to the detectives notes, the waitress also said that Blake appeared so upset that she believed he was having a heart attack. After that incident, Robichaux left the restaurant by the rear door to go home, and recalled seeing the police and emergency vehicles at the corner of Woodbridge and Kraft, at the site of Blake's parked car.

Homicide Detective Robert Bub

Bub also interviewed Sean Stanek, whom Blake alerted to call 911 when he found Bakley slumped over and bleeding in his car. Stanek, according to Bub's testimony, called medics, then changed clothing and went outside to Blake's car where he tried to help Bakley. Stanek was there when medics arrived. Records indicate that Stanek's call for emergency assistance was received at 9:40 p.m.

On cross examination, Mesereau elicited from Bub some details that dispel reports that have appeared frequently in the media. Among other things, he acknowledged that Blake was said to have frequently called Vitello's before coming and that the owners would try to save his favorite booth for him on those occasions. Further, the table where Blake and Bakley had dined was not bused or cleared immediately after their departure - a claim that has often been made to discredit Blake's claim that he returned to Vitello's to retrieve a gun he had left in the booth. The detective also reported that Robichaux told him that, while she had not seen Blake between the time he left with Bakley and the time he came in asking for a doctor, that it was entirely possible he could have done so without her noticing him.

Robert Blake at hearing, March 11, 2003

Moreover, Sean Stanek, the neighbor who called police, told Detective Bub that the parking place Blake used that night was one commonly used by Blake and other Vitello's patrons. He, too, told the police that Blake appeared genuinely shocked and shaken. And in an odd twist, it was revealed that Stanek reported getting blood on his hands while he tried to give comfort and aid to Bakley before the medics arrived and told the detective that he couldn't say for sure that he didn't get blood on the back of Blake's shirt when he later touched him.

When Bub left the stand, homicide detective Charles Knolls, who had also testified on the first day of the hearing, made a brief appearance to explain where Blakes car had been parked the night of the shooting in relation to other landmarks. He also described how the dumpster that had been near Blake's parking space was moved to the landfill with police following. A gun later determined to have fired the shots that killed Bakley was found among it's contents.

Robert Blake at hearing, Marcy 11, 2003

The next witness was criminalist Michael Mastrocovo (right) of the LAPD's Scientific Investigations Division. Mastrocovo collected evidence at the crime scene, brought to court the shell casings found at the scene. He also identified a picture of the murder weapon which he recovered at the dump when the dumpster was emptied. The gun was found coated with dirt as well as what appeared to be oil.

Of special interest was the fact that one of the bullet casings was found by Mastrocovo inside the car itself. Normally, they are ejected to the side of the gun. The criminalist also confirmed previous testimony by Ron Ito that moving with a flatbed truck, as opposed to towing which was done in this case, is preferable when a vehicle contains evidence to be preserved.

Det. Martin Pinner at Blake murder hearing

Another prosecution witness, Detective Martin Pinner of the LAPD Homicide Unit (left), told the court that he saw Robert Blake at the North Hollywood station just before midnight on the 4th of May, 2001. At that time, Pinner (pictured at left) and his partner, Michael McGilvary performed a gunshot residue (GSR) test on Robert Blake's hands, finding two particles consistent with gunshot residue on one hand and three on the other. In a sizzling cross-examination, Mesereau asked Pinner how many years experience he had with such tests, and Pinner, crumbling under the questioning, responded that it was "maybe five."

Mesereau: Have you ever seen guidelines that L.A. County uses to determine whether or not you should give a gunshot residue test to anyone?

Pinner: I don't know that I have, sir.

.....

Presiding Judge Lloyd Nash

Mesereau: And you were instructed not to give a gunshot residue test to someone who has a firearm in his or her posession?

Pinner: Yes, sir.

Mesereau: And do you know why you were given that instruction?

Pinner: No, I do not.

Mesereau: For about how many years have you been giving gunshot residue tests?

Pinner: Maybe five.

Mesereau: And no one has ever told you why you shouldn't give a test to someone who has a firearm in their posession?

Robert Blake at Preliminary Hearing

Pinner: I believe recently someone told me why it's prepared, or, ah, why it's given, the instruction, yes sir.

Mesereau: And the reason is that someone who has a firearm in his or her posession may have gunshot residue on their hands from that firearm, true?

Pinner: I don't know what the exact specifications are, sir.

Mesereau: Well, what about the general specifications? What do you consider those to be?

Detective Martin Pinner on witness stand

Pinner: The way I was informed sir, is that the person in possession of a firearm, is generally considered to be, I think the word is atmosphere or, ah, in the general, ah, area of a firearm. How about that? That, ah, is a decent word.

Mesereau: What you are saying is, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that someone who has a firearm may have gunshot residue on their hands from that particular firearm, true?

Prosecutor: Objection. Calls for testimony beyond this witness's expertise. And hearsay.

Judge: Overruled.

Mesereau: True?

Pinner: Could you restate the question, please?

Mesereau: The reason you were told not to give gunshot residue tests to someone who posesses a firearm is because that firearm could result in their having gunshot residue on their hands, true?

Pinner: I don't know the answer to that question.

Robert Blake hears testimony at hearing

Mesereau: No one ever told you anything about that?

Pinner: It was possibly similar to what you're saying, sir.

Mesereau: Were you trained before you gave your first gunshot residue test to anybody?

Pinner: Yes, sir.

Mesereau: And where were you trained?

Pinner: I do not recall.

Mesereau: Did somebody give you instruction on when to give a test and when not to give a test?

Pinner: I don't believe that was part of the instruction.

But the greatest damage to the prosecution's forensic case came with the next witness, Steven Dowell of the LAPD Scientific Unit (below left), who stated that the particles found on Blake's hands might not have come from a gun at all. The test for gunshot residue merely found lead particles that might come from other sources, even batteries. (8)

LAPD scientist Steven Dowell

In short, the microscopic lead particles found on Blake's hands may or may not have come from a gun. In order for the particles to be conclusively identified as gunshot residue, there would have to be two other elements present - barium and antimony. Gunshot residue can consist only of lead, but lead particles similar to those found on the defendant's hands cannot be determined with certainty as having come from a gun.

The distinction is important. Particles consistent with gunshot residue, such as those found on Blake's hands, cannot be ruled out as having come from a gun, but cannot conclusively be said to have come from a gun, either. Particles specific to gunshot residue, on the other hand, contain all three elements of gunshot residue - barium, antimony, and lead -- that positively identify them as having been dispersed during discharge of a firearm. (9)

Dowell also revealed that Blake's own gun, which was not the murder weapon, had been test fired after the murder. subsequent residue tests of that gun and its holster contained "gunshot specific residue," as opposed to the particles on Blake'shands, which contained only lead. Dowell also explained that the trace evidence of gunshot residue and gunshot "consistent" residue on clothing taken from Blake's home could because several articles of clothing had been placed together in a bag, making it impossible to determine where the particles came from. "You have no way of knowing where any of either the specific particles of gunshot residue or the consistent particles of gunshot residue originated, correct?" asked Mesereau. "I do not," Dowell replied.

Kurt Spies of the LAPD Firearms Analysis Unit

Every bit as interesting was the testimony of Kurt Spies of the LAPD's Firearms Analysis Unit. Spies (at right) did the analysis that revealed that the bullets that killed Bakley came from from the 9-milimeter Walther P-38 found in the contents of the dumpster. Every gun has its own "fingerprints," so to speak, that make a particular mark on bullets it fires. And in this case, bullets fired by Spies from the Walther were a match for the bullets taken from Bakley's body. Spies also testified that it would have been impossible to use a silencer on the 60-year-old German-made handgun - something that did little to help the prosecution's theory of a conspiracy involving Blake co-defendant Earle Caldwell.

But what was especially interesting was the revelation that the World War II-era murder weapon was faulty and frequently misfired when Spies tested it. The unstated implication was that the shooter may have tried to fire a third shot that failed. The gun that killed Bakley was loaded with three bullets, and still contained one unfired bullet when it was discarded. Equally intriguing was the idea that that the ancient firearm should have left a considerable amount of "specific" residue on the shooter rather than than the tiny amount of non-specific particles found on Blake.

LAPD computer data recovery specialist, Detective Terry Willis

Indeed, both Dowell and Spies came across as impartial professionals, providing the court with considerable exculpatory evidence that would ordinarily be supplied by expert witnesses hired by the defense. While Dowell's testimony made it clear that none of the "residue" traces found either on Blake's person or clothing tied him to the shooting, firearms expert Spies was equally frank about admitting that nothing connected Blake to the murder weapon.

Attorney Arna Zlotnick represents co-defendant Earle Caldwell

The last new witness called to the stand was Detective Terry Willis (above left), head of the LAPD's computer crimes section. Willis, a computer evidence recovery specialist, examined a MacIntosh Quadra computer taken under a search warrant from the home of Earle Caldwell. Using special software designed to recover erased data from the computer hard drive, a Detective Ray Valez, under Willis's direction, did a search of the computer and found between 18 and 20 instances in which the word "silencer" appeared in the data. After explaining how bookmarks leave traces indicating when they were created and when a bookmarked site was last visited, Willis testified that Caldwell had several bookmarks linked to information that included the term "silencer." On cross-examination by Caldwell's attorney, Arna Zlotnick (at right), Willis admitted that most of the hits were redundant, involving repeat visits to the same web addresses rather than to different sites. Moreover, all the data including "silencer" found on the computer resulted from searches and web sites visited over a period of no more than five to six minutes on one single day - January 30th of 2001. There was no evidence, Willis agreed, that Caldwell had returned to any of those sites at a later date, and that he had no idea what the web pages actually looked like at the time Caldwell created the bookmarks.

Finally, after hearing some brief testimony from Detective Tyndall, recalled to the stand at the very end of the last day, the hearing drew to a close. The following day, the 13th of March, prosecutors and defense attorneys summed up their cases. As expected, both Blake and Caldwell were ordered to stand trial. Blake was at last granted $1.5 milion bail, and was released the following day.









NOTES

(1) See State of Mississippi Department of Public Safety, State Crime Lab.

(2) See Transcript.

(3) See The Smoking Gun.

(4) For the record, it should be explained that the term voir dire refers to the process by which potential jurors are screened for jury duty. It has nothing to do with vetting expert witnesses.

(5) See Court TV "Schemes" chart.

(6) See Gary C. King, Murder in Hollywood: The Secret Life and Mysterious Death of Bonny Lee Bakley, St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2001, at page 163.

(7) See Paladin Press, literature on gun silencers, publication, Killing Zone: A Professional's Guide to Preparing or Preventing Ambushes.

(8) See Matt Bean, Court TV (online), "Forensic evidence crumbles as prosecution nears end of hearing" (11 March 2003).

(9) There are rare exceptions. Trace evidence containing lead, antimony, and barium can come from a particular class of fireworks which have been outlawed in California since the 1960s, as well as from the brake lining of certain cars made in Europe but never distributed in North America.