"We the jury in the above entitled action find the defendant, Robert Blake, not guilty of the crime of first degree murder of Bonny Lee Bakley." So said the jurors in announcing the verdict that had taken them about 35 hours to reach.
A unanymous finding of not guilty was also handed down in the solicitation case involving Gary McLarty, and jurors voted 11-1 for an acquittal on the charge of solicitating Hambleton. With only one hold-out for guilt, the judge promptly dismissed that charge, as well. Yes, it was over.
It had been exactly one thousand, four hundred, and sixty-one days since the fateful dinner at Vitello's on a warm May night in 2001. Now, finally, at last - Blake was a free man.
In the days leading to the verdict, even long before the start of the trial, a fair number of legal commentators had said that an acquittal was more likely than a guilty verdict. Most felt it was the right decision, given the complete and mystifying lack of evidence that should have linked Robert Blake to the shooting if he had, in fact, taken the life of Bonny Bakley on May 4th, 2001.
Even Cary Goldstein, the unofficial spokesman for the Bakley family and leading "Blake-blamer" in the months after the shooting, backed off his assertion that Blake was the shooter once the DA's evidence was made public in the televised preliminary hearing that ended in March of 2003.
Not everyone was sympathetic, of course. There is always that small but vocal cadre of crusaders for "victims' rights" with their incendiary lynch-mob rhetoric - people like Nancy Grace of Court TV and CNN-Headline, like Wendy Murphy, who predictably shows up whenever and wherever she can - all of them desperate to out-shriek anyone who even suggests that a defendant might be wrongly accused. Those who cry foul are always victims in the minds of these new McCarthyites of Law 'n' Order. And invariably, somebody must pay. Concepts such as "innocent until proven guilty," reasonable doubt, the right to confront one's accusers, exclusion of irrelevant "evidence" or evidence illegally seized - all these basic building blocks of the American judicial system are, to these intransigents, mere impediments to their lofty goal of advancing the rights of The Victim. It is frightening when educated, "respectable" people conclude that justice is something that can be sacrificed on the altar of avenging alleged "victims." Indeed, criminal defense attorneys may as well be the anti-Christ where these headhunters are concerned.
But even the crime writer Dominic Dunne, often a satellite in the axis of vengeance orbit, wrote that he was "delighted" with Robert Blake's acquittal.
Still, there was one expression of bitterness that came from a surprising source - at least to those of us who don't live in California. One week after the acquittal, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley (in photo at right) called Robert Blake "a miserable human being" and "guilty as sin." In the same pronouncement, apparently made in his official capacity as chief prosecutor for the nation's second-largest city, Cooley called the jurors "incredibly stupid."
But the jurors were not phased. Said jury foreman Thomas Nicholson, the prosecution simply "couldn't put the gun in his [Blake's] hand." He said the case just didn't add up. "There was nothing. Supposition more than evidence."
"Each and every person had a full discussion about every issue that was in the testimony, the evidence," Nicholson added.
"We had to go through all the facts," said Cecilia Moldonado. another juror (shown at left with Nicholsom). "We dissected the evidence, we dissected the testimony, went through everything and came back with a fair decision."
Juror Chuck Safco said he simply felt Robert Blake was innocent. "I think the prosecution did the best job they could do with what they had," he said. "They really didn't have a lot to go on." His remarks echoed other jurors who said that the prosecution witnesses were simply not believable. "We just didn't have enough evidence to say whether he did or if he didn't," said Lori Moore.
If there was one thing about the trial outcome that could never in a million years have been guessed, it was the production of the Robert Blake trial CD. It seems that juror Roberto Emerich has a rock band, and at night he put together lyrics about the case as a way to relieve the stress of jury service. His group recorded the music after the trial, and it was offered for sale on the internet. Since there is a law that prohibits jurors from making money on their courtroom experience within 90 days of a trial, the CDs could only be pre-ordered for June distribution. All six tracks are taken from parts of the Blake trial, from "Opening Statement" to "Blakeview" and "Celebrity." Also included is a song for "Nurse Nancy," the name former Blake hireling Cody Blackwell used when she posed as a nurse to the infant Rosie in the fall of 2000. In fact, the next selection is titled "Rosie," and the last is "Judgment Day." Musically, the sounds is an almost indescribable mix of old Kinks and ZZ Top, with something else thrown in. The lyrics, while a bit dense (at least to this writer) were clearly taken from the trial.
Of course, no one was happier with the verdict than was Robert Blake himself and his lawyer, M. Gerald Schwartzbach. "I never lost hope," Blake said leaving the court after his acquittal. "If you live to be a million, you will never ever in your life meet anyone more blessed than me."
The actor also thanked his "small band of dedicated lawyers," saying that they "saved my life."
And attorney Schwartzbach praised his client for undergoing the ordeal with "tremendous grace."
"He handled the deliberations with more composure than I was able to muster," he added.
But Blake didn't hold back a few harsh words for some in the media who had been less than fair, calling them "liars" and "commode scum." He said he bore no animosity toward Bonny Bakley's family, but resented those who continually fed stories to the press that weren't true. "There's a whole litter of lunatics out there,"he said, "pig-face bags of rat guts that are telling all kinds of lies, and the media's soaking it up."
At one point, when a local reporter asked him "the O.J. question" - who he thought the "real killers" were - Blake retorted simply, "Shut up." Under the circumstances, it seemed the perfect answer.
And at the end of the day, most of the "experts" who followed the trial was satisfied with the results. "Ultimately, there was a reasonable doubt in this case," said Chris Pixley, a defense attorney, on CNN the night of the verdict. "You have got witnesses that don`t hold up.... there was no blood. There was no GSR, no blowback on Robert Blake`s hand. And when you put that against the expert testimony... it just didn`t add up."
Even Court TV's Beth Karas, who reported on the trial both during the preliminary hearing phase and later, when closing arguments began, said she'd always had her doubts. "[F]or two years I have said this guy didn`t fire that gun."