Closing Arguments - Day One
Prosecutor Shellie Samuels
Assistant District Attorney Shellie Samuels started her summation shortly after 9:30 a.m. in the Van Nuys courthouse where the trial of Robert Blake had begun more than two months before. She began by explaining to jurors that because the prosecution has the burden of proving the facts alleged, she would get two chances to argue before jurors - her intial closing statement and a rebuttal to follow the remarks of the defense.
She also explained that the case against the actor was a circumstantial one, but told jurors that circumstantial evidence can be as conclusive as direct evidence. She then went over each of the charges against the actor, explaining what is legally required for a conviction on each count. To find a defendant guilty of murder while "lying in wait," she explained, the jury need only conclude that the victim was taken by surprise, that the defendant ambushed the victim and that there was "watchful waiting" for an opportunity to commit the crime. Solicitation of murder can be present even if no action is taken to further the murder plan. Solicitation, said Samuels, "is complete with the asking."
Flashing on the projection screen a drawing of a red, cartoon-like fish, Samuels characterized the defense case as a "red herring." The expression, she added, comes from an old custom of placing a smelly fish, the herring, over a trail, thus concealing the scent trail that would lead in a particular direction. She then remarked that because Blake was a celebrity, he was used to getting things he wanted.
The trial, Samuels said to jurors, was not about Bonny Bakley's fitness as a mother, nor was it about Rosie's health, though she herself then challenged the testimony of defense witnesses by asserting that the baby "was not in bad condition" and that the child hadn't been treated for "any illness."
Samuels then turned to the theme she used in her opening -- the supposed hatred Blake had toward Bonny Bakley. The defendant "despised" the victim, said Samuels, and he believed that she had used an eight-year-old daughter in child pornography. Samuels referred to testimony from private investigator William Welch, whom Blake had retained to investigate Bakley, and called his allegations that Blake wanted her "whacked" unrefuted. But she admitted that the Welch claim did not reach the level of solicitation for murder. "It was just talk."
From there, the prosecutor turned to a number of alleged plots to have Bakley arrested and to gain custody of the baby, Rosie. She argued that William Jordan, a prominent private investigator who aided Blake by getting Bakley's probation revoked for travelling to California, was willing to "fall on his sword" and take the blame for the plot. Subsequent custody and prenuptial agreements, according ot the prosecutor, also indicated how Blake felt about Bakley; they required her to surrender virtually every right she had as a wife in exchange for a marriage to Blake, according to the prosecutor. And then came a litany of conversatons and actions on Blake's part which were supposedly intended to get Bakley arrested.
Next Samuels turned to the Bakley-Blake marriage. "The wedding was a farce," she said, "a pathetic farce," and reminded jurors that Blake's former wife, Sondra Kerr-Blake, had testified he told her the marriage was all "smoke and mirrors."
Turning to the matter of solicitation, Samuels tried to bolster the failed testimony of Frank Minucci by claiming there was no way to know what phone Blake used when he spoke to the ex-mobster and sometime actor - suggesting that the conversations Minucci described might actually have taken place, anyway.
Considerably greater emphasis, however, was placed on the prepaid phone card as evidence of solicitation. Making a phone call using the card was no simple matter, Samuels advised jurors. First the user has to dial an 800 number consisting of ten digits. Then the caller enters the an identification number that validates the card -- another ten digits. Finally, he must dail the number he's trying to reach, including area code, for another ten digits -- or thirty digits altogether. There were numerous calls made this way to the two stunt men who claimed Blake asked them to kill Bakley, Samuels said, some made within a minute or so of another in cases when the phone call wasn't answered. This was one of several points that would resurface over and over in the closing days of the trial.
It was shortly after the phone card argument concluded that a problem with the prosecution's graphic presentation prompted the judge to call a break, at which time a reporter could be heard joking that the real "red herring" was Samuels's "powerpoint" display.
When court was again in session at 11:00 a.m., Samuels argued to jurors that both McLarty and Hambleton had pretty much the same experience with the solicitations they claimed they got from Blake in that both said they were given multiple options for doing the "hit." This means, the prosecutor argued, that the two accusers corroborate each other.
Painting a verbal picture of Blake furtively meeting with Hambleton in the desert town of Pearblossom, Samuels tried to make jurors see the actor as a desperate man racing against time to be rid of Bakley before her family followed her to California. Again, Samuels reminded the jury that Blake considered them unworthy to be around the baby.
With regard to the solicitation counts, the prosecutor argued that Hambleton was not the sort of person to report things to police. That, she insisted, only made him a more attractive mark for someone wanting to hire a hitman. And, she continued, he knew some things that hadn't appeared in the tabloids -- the witndrawals of money from the bank, for instance.
Still painting a picture of a deadly murder plot, Samuels reminded jurors about travel agent Sandy Orton, who had been asked by Blake about "a secluded place" to vacation in Mexico and who was called again, around the time of the Blake-Bakley "honeymoon" trip, and asked again about Mexico.
Samuels's closing continued until 2:45 p.m., at which time the defense prepared to begin it's final arguments to the jury. As Samuels wound down her arguments, she turned finally to one last piece of evidence. It was a videotape of Blake in a phone conversation from jail. Nothing really matters, he said sadly, because "Rosie's safe" and "those monsters" (a reference to the Bakley family) "won't get her."
It was hardly a stunning climax to a prosecution argument that had been emotionally heavy, even fiery at times. And the actor's heartsick voice sounded less like that of a murderer than someone who had been through sheer hell and had ceased to care about anything but his young daughter.