The Defense Closing - Day Two
A Circumstantial Case
The case against Robert Blake was a circumstantial case. A circumstantial case consists of evidence of facts that do not directly prove a defendant's guilt - but facts that can be used to infer other facts. And these implied facts may or may not constitute proof of a defendant's guilt. In a circumstantial case, Blake attorney Schwartzbach told jurors, those circumstances must first be proved and proved beyond reasonable doubt. And in order to merit a convicttion, these circumstances and the inferences they support must be consistent with one theory only - that of the guilt of the defendant. If these facts can be reconciled with any theory other than guilt, the defendant must be found not guilty.
"Consider all of the evidence," Schwartzbach said to the jury. "And then follow the law."
Timeline and Demeanor
The morning session on March 3 lasted from 9:30 to 11:30, and Schwartzbach concentrated mainly on the timeline and inconsistencies in the testimony of prosecution witnesses at the crime scene, as well as others who were there and testified for the defense. Sean Stanek, who called 911 when Blake rushed to his door (see photo, below right), had told police one thing in May of 2001 and something quite different at the trial. An undocumented worker who was outside Vitello's waiting for a ride when Blake returned to retrieve his tiny revolver, had testified he didn't see Blake - but then he admitted he wasn't looking and wouldn't have seen him enter or leave the establishment. Both William Jordan, a highly respected private investigator, and Lydia Benavides, Blake's housekeeper, had recalled incidents in which Blake had been forgetful, all consistent with his leaving the restaurant and not checking at the time to see if he had the firearm. And if Blake had, in fact, left the small weapon at Vitello's as his alibi, wouldn't he have made certain that both he and the gun were seen by somebody?
And there were others who saw Blake walking alone to his car, something that wouldn't have happened if Blake had not, in fact, returned alone to the restaurant after first leaving with Bakley around 9:30 that night. Other witnesses testified that when Blake returned again to Vitello's - this time after finding Bakley shot - that his demeanor was consistent with someone in shock. He was "having trouble breathing," it looked as if he'd had "a heart attack" - so testified prosecution witnesses Richard Noel and Michael Dufficy. And then there were similar accounts from the restaurant owner and waitress, both of whom saw Blake after he'd discovered Bakley bleeding in the front seat of his car and described him as extremely distraught.
Perhaps most interesting was the testimony of fire department Captain Kevin Bailey, who arrived with the emergency team that responded to Stanek's 911 call. Bailey had been to hundreds of similar crime scenes and had testifed at trial that Blake's conduct was perfectly consistent with someone who had discovered a companion brutally shot. "How would any of us react in such a situation?" Schwartzbach asked. "[And] who would be in a better position to judge than Captain Kevin Bailey?" And indeed, one of the police officers who arrived to secure the crime scene, Officer Samar Issa, had tried to calm Blake down in the aftermath of the shooting, according to his testimony. And there were more.
Virtually all of the testimony given to support the circumstantial facts was either unreliable or not conclusive of Blake's guilt. As such, there wasn't even a circumstantial case against Blake, the lawyer argued.
Schwartzbach also made reference to testimony from Karen and Cole McLarty about Blake having stalkers lurking around the premises of his home, as well as that of a neighbor to whom Blake mentioned being watched by someone in a truck, Schwartzbach asked the jury to use their common sense and see that Blake was acting rationally in carrying a gun the night of the murder. Indeed, the lawyer even showed a projection video of Blake's last gun licence permit application, granted in January of 2001, and pointed out to jurors that Blake had listed on that form "stalker issues" as his reason for renewing the permit.
At times the defense closing was almost amusing. He cited some of his "favorite" witnesses - among them a married doctor by the name of James McCoy, who failed to render assistance to the mortally wounded Bakley immediately after she was shot because he didn't want to be discovered in the company of his mistress. Another of Schwartzbach's "favorites" was Frank Minucci, the thug-turned-preacher who described several phone calls that supposedly suggested Blake wanted him to kill Bakley. Those calls were discredited by phone records. And Minucci himself, who looked and acted on the stand like a Saturday Night Live "Godfather" caricature, was thoroughly neutralized by Schwartzbach's clever sarcasm. "Minucci never in his life met Mister Blake," he jeered.
Holly Gawron, Bonny Bakley's 24-year-old daughter (right), testified about an alleged plot to plant cocaine on her mother, admitting that she and her older brother, Glenn, sampled some white powder they discovered in a tackle box in Bakley's car and then decided to sell it, making $700 off the deal. Here, he advised jurors, was a girl who "knew the difference between good cocaine and really good cocaine."
Circumstantial or Contaminated Evidence?
Piece by piece, Blake's counsel was taking each of the prosecution's supposedly damning circumstances and rendering them either unproven or irrelevant to the murder and solicitation charges against his client.
There was the phone card bought by Blake that supposedly proved that the actor pursued the two stuntmen, McLarty and Hambleton, presumably in an attempt to get one or both to assassinate Bakley. But a closer look - aided by a video presentation - showed that most of the calls made on the card were not to either of the prosecution witnesses, but rather to William Jordan who had been hired by Blake to legally assist him in gaining custody of the infant daughter he had with Bakley. And remember the prosecutor's talk about the long series of numbers required to make just one call with the card? That entire theory was knocked out of the ball park with three little words: "the redial button."
And then there were the gunshot residue ("GSR") tests that showed not a single "specific" particle on Blake's hands, arms, face, hair, or clothing - only five microscopic particles of lead that might have come from the gun Blake legally carried or from a number of other things. And further, the police had taken all the clothing Blake wore that night and put everything together in an unsealed box which remained in the trunk of a police car over the weekend. The same car trunk had admittedly been used to carry firearms, so the possibility of GSR transfer was undeniable. Still worse, the old Dodge Stealth automobile that was the crime scene's literal "ground zero" had been so disturbed during the towing that police lab technicians refused to test it because it could yield no reliable evidence.
As Schwartzbach drew toward the end of his summation, he reminded jurors that the prosecutor had not even proven the circumstances upon which her case rested, and that even if she had, there was no way any of this constituted proof, as per the jury instructions, that Blake was guilty as charged.
Finally, he told jurors, Assistant District Attorney Shellie Samuels would get one more shot at making her case before the jury, but he wouldn't have a second chance to argue the case. "If Samuels raises something I didn't address," he continued, "try to look at it and think what would I have said to clear it up."
Schwartzbach ended his presentation by reminding jurors that "probably guilt" is not enough. Nor is "strong suspicion" sufficient for a guilty verdict. "Maybe you think he might have done it, maybe he probably did it,'" Schwartzbach said, walking the length of the jury box and looking each juror in the eye. "But it hasn't been proven to you beyond a reasonable doubt."
"All I ask you to do is to do justice," he said, taking long pauses between words. "And I respectfully submit, if you do justice, you will end this nightmare for Mr. Blake - and you will give him back his life."
The defense concluded at 10:30 on the morning of March 4th, 2005.