The Crime Writer
(Testimony from 18-19 January 2005)

Gunshot Residue

Tuesday, January 18th was largely a day to catch up on uncompleted testimony from witnesses already under oath.

Criminalist Steven Dowell of the LAPD coroner's office acknowledged on cross-examination that the small amount of gunshot residue found on Robert Blake's hands and clothing didn't necessarily prove that he had fired a gun the night his wife was killed. It could have transferred, said Dowell, from Blake's own gun or its holster, or from guns that Blake had at home.

Dowell also confirmed that Blake's clothing had been transported to the lab in a box taken from a police station squad room or from the trunk of a police car in which the clothes were left for two days after being collected.

"The squad room is a place you would expect to find gunshot residue?" Schwartzbach asked.

"That's fair, yes," the criminalist answered.

He also said that Blake could have picked up particles of gunshot residue by leaning into the car in which Bonny Lee Bakley was shot.

Also during cross-examination, Schartzbach pointed out that even Blake's socks had residue particles on them, and asked Dowell if the socks would normally be exposed to particles during the discharge of a gun. Since Blake's socks were worn under his boots and jeans, they would not.

Asked by Schwartzbach if it was accurate to assume that he couldn't explain why there were traces of gunshot residue on Blake's hands and clothes, Dowell replied, "That's right."

Miles Corwin, Crime Writer

The real excitement began on the following day, Wednesday the 19th, when Miles Corwin, author of a book on the LAPD's homicide division, took the stand. The book, "Homicide Special: A Year with the LAPD's Elite Detective Unit," details several murder investigations, including the shooting of Bonny Bakley. Defense lawyers have claimed that Corwin's presence slanted the investigation and that the author may have contaminated or compromised evidence in the case.

Corwin had signed a five-page agreement with the LAPD prior to beginning the book, explicitly stating that his notes and "other memorializations" might be subject to "subpoena and production in criminal and/or civil litigation." But Corwin - who appeared apprehensive in the courtroom and who earlier fought being compelled to testify - told the court that he destroyed his notes in 2002 and basically couldn't remember what was in them.

The writer insisted that he was no more than "a fly on the wall" during the investigation, and that he didn't touch or contaminate evidence. He did, however, have access to virtually all of the police actions during that investigation, including seeing all crime-related reports, being present at when detectives interviewed witnesses, and was privy to lab test results and the like.

Prosecutor Shellie Samuels attempted to steer Corwin over some of the more obvious minefields he faced by going through the contents of his book, almost chapter-by-chapter, showing that the majority of it was about routine homicide cases and that he had almost completed the field work for the book when the Bakley shooting happened. Blake's case, Corwin testified, was never meant to be his main subject.

"Did you perceive the Blake case to be any more important than any of the other cases?" Samuels asked him.

"No," answered Corwin.

But the matter of the destroyed notes was never far from the surface. Corwin, a thin man with a sharp, angular face, seemed intensely uncomfortable on the stand. He shifted constantly in his seat, his eyes moving quickly, his answers often halting and nervous. He repeatedly tried to explain that he wouldn't normally keep his notes and insisted he no longer recalled what they had contained. Each attempt to address the matter of the notes seemed to be more difficult.

The author also agrued that he isn't a lawyer and didn't fully comprehend the meaning of the five-page agreement he signed with the LAPD.

Defense attorney Schwartzbach skipped the niceties that usually begin a cross examination, flashing on a projection screen a picture of the cover of a Playboy magazine from February of 2004. The cover blared: Exclusive - Busting Robert Blake: Inside the Case that Jailed a Star." It contained an exerpt from Corwin's book - only the part about Blake.

The implication was clear. Corwin benefited because a celebrity was charged in the crime, and the police, in turn, stood to gain prestige from Corwin's flattering portrayal of their work on the case.

Under cross-examination, Corwin again offered to explain the situation with the destroyed notes, but Schwartzbach turned him back, asking whether this explanation would be any different the previous ones.

Schwartzbach also focused on what Corwin's book even suggests was a rush to judgment by detectives. "Within hours of the murder, the detectives expressed the opinion in your presence that Mr. Blake had killed Miss Bakley?" he asked the writer.

Answered Corwin, "he was a key suspect. But to me, that just seems to be standard detective reaction that when a woman is murdered, her husband is usually a suspect."

"Was it standard detective reaction to say that a suspect is 'full of shit?'" Schwartzbach countered, referring to a quote in the book attributed to one of the detectives.

At another point, Corwin was asked about a passage in the book about the murder night which said, "Ito is immediately suspicious. Why does Blake need an attorney?" This conclusion, Corwin said, was based on his observations and conversations wiht the detective.

Corwin admitted under defense cross-examination that there was an occasion when lead homicide detective Ron Ito introduced Corwin as one of his partners to a witness. When the witness asked for business cards, it was revealed that he was a writer. But, Corwin added, "Whenever I was asked who I was, I identified myself as a writer." He also testified that he paid little attention to introductions.

He told the court that he was free to write as he pleased about the several investigations covered in the book. Corwin has two prior crime books that dealt favorably with the LAPD, and it is generally felt that police considered him a trusted friend.

Robert Renzi

Also briefly testifying on the 19th was Robert David Renzi, an acquaintance of Blake's personal assistant and former co-defendant, Earle Caldwell. Renzi had been eager to meet Blake, and Caldwell brought him over to the house to meet the actor sometime in 2000.

Blake, said the elderly Renzi, began talking to him about baby Rose and Bonny Bakley, saying that Bakley was a horrible person who stole money using her sex business as a front.

He also testified that Blake told him Bakley had refused an offer of $250,000 to go away and leave the child with him. Blake, Renzi said, was "totally paranoid" about Bakley having anything to do with the baby. "He was totally obsessed with love for that child."

During the visit, the witness continued, Blake offered $10,000 to help him bring Bakley to the attention of authorities and get her arrested. Though he refused the money, he did offer to introduce Blake to a friend of his, Luis Mendoza, who had connections with law enforcement.

Renzi also told the court that Blake had called him up unexpectedly in November of that year and asked him to be present for his marriage to Bakley. He recalled the actor telling him it would be a quickie thing, and would take only a few minutes. And, he added in response to prosecutor Samuels, it was over like "one, two, three."

On cross-examination, Renzi affirmed that Blake had never asked him to do anything illegal or mentioned anyone else doing anything against the law.

He also said that Blake's attitude appeared to change after the marriage. "You asked him how he liked married life?" Schwartzbach asked. And Renzi resonded that Blake had told him, "It's OK, she's in the back house." That was a reference to a separate dwelling on the Blake property that Bakley occupied.


Click this link to download audio files on the case for January 18th and 19th (from KFI Radio, Los Angeles):

Jan. 18 (13 minutes).

Jan. 19 (16 minutes).