The Defense Closing Begins
M. Gerald Schwartzbach rose to address the jurors at 2:45 p.m. He began by reminding them that they were soon to make the most important decision they'd ever be asked to make. Speaking softly to the extent that he was sometimes not heard by the press, he leaned toward the jurors and reminded them of facts he put before them at the start of the trial. The two stuntmen, for instance, had changed their stories over and over again. They had motives to lie. And witnesses who had nothing to gain by testifying contradicted them.
He then turned to undisputed testimony of expert witness Ron Siegal, who had explained during the trial the effects of long-term drug abuse on people such as the two witnesses, Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton and Gary McLarty. And further, just before the alleged solicitation and murder plot was hatched, McLarty had been hospitalized after a heart attack brought on by ingesting "a huge amount of cocaine."
William Welch, the private investigator and former homicide detective once thought to be Blake's most credible accuser, likewise fumbled at the trial, as Schwartzbach reminded jurors. Admittedly, he had lied to Det. Brian Tyndall who was investigating the Bakley shooting, and, said the lawyer to the jurors, "he lied to you."
To Prove Guilt
Bit by bit, in a quiet, reasonable, and systematic fashion, the testimony of Blake's accusers was taken apart. Under law, if a witness lied about one thing, the rest of their testimony may be disregarded, the attorney reminded the panel.
Still speaking softly to the jurors, Schwartzbach instructed the jury that a conviction is only possible if the evidence completely shows that only one interpretation of the evidence is possible - that all the evidence can lead only to a deterimination of guilt. And every fact leading to a guilty verdict - every fact - must prove built beyond reasonable doubt. And in this case, he continued, there was no direct evidence of any kind - no DNA, no hairs or fibers, and no connection between the defendant and the murder weapon.
Schwartzbach's statement to the jurors about the meaning of reasonable doubt is worth repeating:
"The burden of proof isn't at that table [gesturing toward the defense table], it's at this table [prosecutor's]. And one of the jury instructions you're going to get is about the presumption of innocence, reasonable doubt, and the burden of proof. And this is what it says. A defendant in a criminal action is presumed to be innocent until the contrary is proven. In a case of a reasonable doubt whether his guilt is satisfactorily shown he is entitled to a verdict of not guilty. This places on the people the burden of proving him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt is defined as follows: It is not a mere possible doubt because everything related to human affairs is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of the jurors in that condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction of the truth of the charge.
"You know, I'm sure you recall a while ago - in what lawyers call voir dire, the jury selection process - the questions that were asked of you. And I asked every one of you, if you are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of Mr. Blake's guilt, would you have any hesitancy in returning a verdict of not guilty. And you all said you had no hesitancy. You all said, you all said, you would not not place a burden on Mr. Blake to prove his innocence. You all said you beieved in the presumption of innocence. You all said you agreed that the prosecution should have and does have, and you will require the prosecution to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And what I also asked you about is whether or not you would return a verdict of not guilty if you weren't convinced behond a reasonable doubt of Mr. Blake's guilt, but you just didn't know at the end the evidence who killed Ms. Bakley, and you all said you would still return a verdict of not guilty."
Schwartzbach's presentation was mesmerizing. His soft, confident manner had the jurors leaning forward, attentive to every word. But there were dramatic moments, too. When it came time to compare Blake's own gun with the murder weapon. Blake's gun, a tiny .38 that could literally be concealed within a man's fist, was brought before the jurors to see.
Then the lawyer turned and walked to the opposite side of the courtroom and returned with the murder weapon - a huge, antique, German-made handgun.
Waving it before the jurors, he continued: "You take this gun into the jury deliberation room. You see how large it is. You feel how heavy it is. How'd he get it? Where does the burden lie? What proof have you received? No testimony he ever owned it. No testimony he even borrowed it...."
Still standing with the large German gun, Schwartzbach went on. "And if he was the killer, where did he hide this 60-year-old gun? Where was the gun? Where did he have it? He certainly didn't have it on him. He couldn't have hidden it in his clothes. We know he couldn't have hidden it in the engine compartment. Or, well, maybe it was hidden in the trunk. Or maybe it was hidden... What evidence do you have have? What proof do you have? And where does the burden lie? Not at that table - this table!"
Suddenly, with a startling thud, Schwartzbach dropped the murder weapon on the table, breaking the silence of the courtroom. It was a dramatic moment and one that was lost on neither jurors nor press. It brought home the fact that the weapon that killed Bonny Lee Bakley was probably ten times the size and weight of Blake's tiny handgun. The demonstration was extraordinary. In that moment, it became impossible to imagine Blake smuggling a weapon of that size to the crime scene.
Witnesses for Blake
The remainder of the afternoon was spent dispelling the prosecution's sinister scenario of a car hidden in a dark passageway and a defendant who acted like, well, like a murderer. Images were projected showing the murder car parked in a well-lit section of a residential street, and testimony was cited to the effect that, not only Blake but many diners at Vitello's, often walked to and from the restaurant rather than parking in the small lot at the side of the building. Jurors were also reminded of the testimony of witnesses who recalled seeing a relaxed, carefree Robert Blake during dinner, a man who acted "perfectly normal" in the words of one Vitello's employee, and the badly shaken and scared Robert Blake they saw after the crime was discovered.
A Trial Strategy
By the end of the first day of Schwartzbach's closing arguments, it was clear that he was pursuing a brilliant strategy to win the acquittal of actor Robert Blake. Using jury instructions that had been hammered out in the days since testimony ended, he was taking each of the instructions and applying them to the evidence and testimony presented at trial. Day two of closing would prove even more compelling.