The Night of the Crime
On December 21st, prosecutor Shellie Samuels presented her first witness, film director Sean Stanek, who lived behind Vitello's restaurant - across the corner from where Blake's car was parked the night of the crime - and answered his door just before 9:40 on the night of the murder to find Robert Blake urgently begging him to call 911.
Stanek testified that he immediately recognized the actor and that his first impression, when Blake to him to call 911 for his wife was that Blake had beaten the woman. He said that he looked at Blake's hands trying to determine if there was evidence of a fight.
Stanek's testimony was at times so dramatic that some courtroom observers openly laughed. He eagerly lurched into lengthy, dramatic answers that went well beyond the scope of the questions he was asked. And in these monologues, he often excitedly mimicked Blake. At one point, attempting to show how he found the wounded Bonny Bakley, he leaned sharply to his right to demonstrate her position, flinging himself onto the edge of the bench of an astonished Judge Darlene Schempp. At that point, Schwartzbach interrupted the proceedings and demanded that the record indicate the witnesses's actions. Samuels, seemingly oblivious to the laughter in the courtroom, agreed to enter into the transcript the fact that the witness was slumped over the judge's table.
Also during Stanek's testimony, a tape of the 911 call was played in court. Blake can be heard shouting in the background for the emergency response team to hurry. "Get an ambulance," he shouted repeatedly on the tape. The recording continues as Blake headed over to Vitello's in search of a doctor, and Stanek went out to the car to assist Bakley. With the 911 operator giving instructions, he headed out the door with a towel to try to stem Bakley's bleeding. Although the car had been parked under a streetlight, the inside was dark and he had trouble seeing until a woman reached into the car and turns on the dome light. At that point, he testified, he became aware that the woman had been shot because he saw the bullet wound just in front of her right ear. "There was tons of blood," Stanek told the court.
Stanek also testified that at one point, after police and paramedics had arrived on the scene, Blake asked someone to check Bakley's purse for her wallet - apparently thinking that she might have been robbed.
Addressing what was to become a theme of the prosecution's case, Stanek told the court that Blake's distress that night seemed contrived, faked - like a bad acting job. He recalled that even as Blake cried, he saw no tears on the actors face. At one point, according to Stanek, Blake remarked, "Those sons of bitches, they're out to get everybody."
At one point, he testified, he grew so suspicous that he asked detectives to search his home just in case Blake had hidden the murder weapon there. A search of the property revealed nothing.
But under cross-examination, Stanek's story became considerably less hostile to the defendant. The B-film director acknowledge, for instance, that Blake had hovered close by as paramedics treated Bakley. At one point, Stanek recalled, paramedics tried to get him to stand back, and Blake responded saying, "No, I want to be close by." He also admitted that Blake had said he "knew
The courtroom got a break from the tension and theatrics of the day when a cell phone belonging to someone seated near the jury rang loudly. As heads turned in the direction of the jury box, one juror protested that the phone wasn't hers. Schwartzbach said she shouldn't worry because there is always a presumption of innocence in this country.
Teri Lorenzo-Castaneda, Carol Caputo
Stanek was followed on the stand by the a school nurse who was eating at Vitello's when Bakley was shot and who left the restaurant with Blake when he came back to the restaurant in search of a doctor. Teri Lorenzo-Castaneda testified that Blake could not tell her what was wrong with Bakley, even when she repeatedly asked what had happened. She also said that Blake kept his distance and did nothing to help his dying wife. She told the court that she saw Blake shaking, hyperventilating, and crying, but that she found it peculiar that the actor walked from the restaurant to the car rather than running.
Carol Caputo, a friend who was with Lorenzo-Castaneda at Vitello's restaurant that night, alleged that Blake seemed to turn his emotions on and off at the crime scene. He acted distraught when with police and paramedics, the witness told Samuels, but seemed to calm down when not being watched. His anguish "didn't seem fake," said Caputo, but she added that she thought he was "turning it on and off." Like the nurse, Caputo said she was struck by the fact that Blake seemed to avoid getting involved with the rescue effort.
All three witnesses recalled in their testimony that Blake had sat on a curb near a dumpster while rescue efforts were underway, and didn't try to get close to the wounded Bakley.
However, the two women directly contradicted the testimony of Sean Stanek when they admitted that they saw tears on the face of Robert Blake when he took them to his parked car on Woodbridge Street, to the rear of the Italian restaurant.
Jeffrey Gutstadt, Deputy Medical Examiner
On Wednesday, December 22nd, prosecutor Shellie Samuels called to the stand Dr. Jeffrey Gutstadt, a medical examiner at Los Angeles County coroner's office. The doctor carefully went over the findings of an autopsy conducted Sunday, 6 May 2001, two days after Bakley's death.
Bakley bled to death from two bullet wounds, Gutstadt (in photo, below left) told the court on the second day of testimony in actor Robert Blake's murder trial. One of the bullets entered the brain through the right cheek at an upward angle, lodging in her left temporal lobe; the other traveled through a shoulder and severed a main artery. Either wound could have been fatal, the doctor said. It is "unlikely in this case, they would have been able to save her life because of the wounds," Gutstadt further told the court.
To illustrate Gutstadt's testimony, the prosecutor put up on a large projection screen a diagram showing Bakley's wounds, as well as photos of her dead body which were taken at the coroner's office. The photos were not bloody, as the corpse had been washed in preparation for the autopsy. Blake avoided looking at the screen.
The medical examiner estimated that the shots were likely fired from a distance of at least a foot and a half away, which would be too far away to leave "stippling," or soot from the weapon, at the bullet entry points. Close-up shots showed each of the two bullet entry wounds, which resembled nothing more than black dots on the photos.
While there were no no defensive wounds evident on Bakley's hands or wrists, gunshot residue particles were found on both hands, most of it on the left hand. This could indicate that she may moved her left hand toward the right side of her face when confronted by the shooter.
During his cross-examination, Schwartzbach concentrated on the distance and angle of the shots, which suggest a shooter who was taller than defendant Blake and right-handed. Blake is left-handed. And while Gutstadt had send during Samuels's direct examination that he believed the gunshots would have been fatal within 15 minutes, he conceded on cross that she was not pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital and that her death certificate states that she died at 10:15, some 40 to 45 minutes following the shooting.
Gutstadt also said that the angle at which the bullets struck Bakley made the shots more deadly than they would have been had they hit Bakley straight on. He insisted that he could not make a guess as to the height or position of the shooter.
Dr. James McCoy, Joe Restivo
The next witness to take the stand in the trial was Dr. James Michael McCoy, who had been walking in the neighborhood when he saw Blake at Stanek's door. McCoy offered the opinion that Blake's screams for help were not genuine. "[His words to Stanek] didn't have distress as an element," the doctor contended. "It seemed more [like] cajoling."
McCoy, who did not recognize the actor-defendant, said that he and his female companion, Ms. Mary Beth Rennie, walked down the street after having dinner at another restaurant in the area, Aroma's. He stated that he was standing behind a tree across from Stanek's house and watched as Blake called out to Stanek for help. He noted that Blake repeatedly wailed, "my wife, my wife," but thought it odd that Blake never came to Bakley's side.
The doctor expressed the opinion that something was not right about Blake's conduct that night. "Intonation and context create the sense of urgency," McCoy said, explaining his reasons for stating that Blake seemed to be feigning anguish.
"Isn't it your view that people react in all kinds of ways to emergencies?" Schwartzbach asked on cross-examination.
"Yes, that's correct," McCoy admitted.
Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney asked why McCoy, a medical doctor who works in an administrative position at the UCLA Medical Center, did nothing himself to help the shooting victim. He gave several reasons. He feared that he might be in danger, couldn't find anyone in need of help, believed it was too late to be of any assistance, and finally there was an extra-marital affair he wanted to hide.
"I didn't help because my first instinct was I was in a dangerous situation and a crime was being committed," McCoy said when Samuels asked. And under cross-examination about his reason for failing to come forward and identify himself as a doctor to Stanek and nurse Lorenzo-Castaneda, he said he didn't see anybody in need of help. The doctor also cited an incident some time earlier when he got into trouble after intervening in a medican situation aboard an airline. Later, after the holiday break when his companion, Rennie, took the stand, she revealed that she had been having a sexual affair with the married doctor which the two of them wanted to keep secret.
Almost overlooked in the testimony of Dr. McCoy was a bombshell that came in the context of an explanation for the doctor's failure to render aid to the wounded Bakley. Blake had a gun, he insisted he had been told by one of the women - presumably Carol Caputo - who went to the car after Blake returned to Vitello's the second time. If Caputo actually saw Blake with a gun, this will further confirm that the actor did, indeed, return to the establishment because he'd forgotten the firearm.
McCoy was also asked by Schwartzbach about contradictions between his testimony and a statement he gave to the police right after the incidents in May of 2001. In his 2001 interview with detectives, McCoy said he himself "screamed" for somebody to call 911. McCoy denied it. Schwartzbach then asked McCoy to read a transcript of the interview to refresh his memory. "You told them that you screamed didn't you" he was asked.
"I'm not a screaming person. I don't scream," McCoy answered defensively. "You know, in looking at this I think it might be a transcription error. I scanned all around. I scanned. I was looking for other people. I did not scream. I don't think I said that."
McCoy also claimed he was able to see very clearly what Blake did and how he acted when he stood on the front porch of Sean Stanek because the porch light at Stanek's house had been very bright. Stanek, however, had mentioned in his testimony that at first he didn't see Blake that night because the porch light was burned out.
The court also heard from Vitello's owners Steve and Joe Restivo. Joe Restivo (pictured at left) testified on Wednesday, the 22nd that he did not see Blake come back to get a gun, but explained that he was busy with takeout orders and that he probably wouldn't have seen Blake return to the restaurant. He also said he had seen Blake laughing and cheerful as he dined with Bakley just before the shooting.
But after the shooting, when Blake returned to Vitello's seeking a doctor, Joe Restivo saw a very different man. "He was out of it. He was in hysterics. He was saying, 'We need help,' or 'Somebody hurt my lady,'" Restivo said.
The trial adjourned for a holiday recess on the 23rd. Testimony in the murder and solicitation trial will begin again Tuesday, the 4th of January, 2004.