The 'Motive' Phase
"I've been thinking about this. We're going to hire a doctor and abort her and if that doesn't work we're going to whack her." These words were allegedly said by Robert Blake to William Welch, a private investigator and former Los Angeles homicide copy who took the witness stand on Thursday, January 20th.
Welch (at right), was with the LAPD from 1964 to 1985, the last 13 years of that time working for the department's homicide division. After his retirement he set up his own private investigation firm, and worked on and off for Blake since about 1988.
He testified said that he receoved a call from the actor in late 1999 and asked if they could meet and discuss a matter of concern. "He told me that he'd met a girl in a jazz club, that they had a one-night stand and she turned up pregnant," Welch explained. "He wanted to do something about it."
The incriminating words were as explosive on the stand Thursday as they were at a three-week-long preliminary hearing that began in late February of 2003.
"I said, 'Robert, are you out of your fuckin' ing mind?'" Welch continued, adding that Blake told him, "I thought about it and that's what we're gonna do." Blake also suggested a plot involving the planting of drugs on Bakley, and having Welch bring in his LAPD nacrotics office friends to put her under arrest.
But Welch also admitted that he believed Blake wasn't seriously intending to do anything illegal to Bonny. "I'm not going to do this," Welch testified that he told the actor, "and I hope to God you're not going to do this," Welch said.
"I was hoping when I left that he took what I said to heart, and I think he did." The whole conversation that day, said Welch, lasted only about 15 minutes.
Welch also described a phone conversation with Blake that took place early the next morning. "He decided it was not a good idea at all [to do anything that could result in legal charges]" the investigator recalled, "and he wasn't going to do it."
Instead, at Welch's suggestion, a background check was done on Ms. Bakley, which uncovered a lot of unsavory activities from her past, including her many marriages to vulnerable old men, her swindling activities, and the fact that she was at that time using at least seventeen aliases in her porno magazine sex schemes.
Blake said that an attempt at buying Bakley off hadn't worked, the investigator told the court. The actor also expressed skepticism about a plan to simply inform Bakley's Arkansas federal probation officer about a number of violations that Welch had found, saying, according to Welch, that Bakley felt the officer wouldn't do anything about the violations because she (Bakley) was giving him oral sex.
Welch also testified that he contacted another private investigator in Little Rock, where Bakley lived at the time, by the name of Jim King. From that investigator, Welch received an inch-thick binder on Bakley's pornography activities and credit card fraud. "[The] deal was she'd mail photos of herself to mostly older gentlemen and she'd get their credit card numbers and run up charges," Welch said.
Welch told the court also that Blake called him in February of 2001 and asked him to get him the number of Robert Shapiro, one of the attorneys on the O.J. Simpson case. He got the number for Blake, but then, he said, he never heard from Blake again.
As credible as Welch seemed at first, he crumbled under cross-examination by Blake's attorney, M. Gerald Schwartzbach. He admitted that he continued working for Blake for a year after the discussion about "whacking" Bakley. He stated that he never thought Blake was a potential killer or that he seriously considered anything of the sort.
Indeed, in 1999, when the he said his initial conversation with Blake about "Leebonny," as Blake knew her, Welch acknowledged that he made no move to bring the "threat" to the attention of police. And when the murder was reported in the news, he still did not come forward. Rather, according to his own testimony, Welch head the reports, thought about calling police, but then chose instead to go off on a week-long fly fishing trip.
He explained that he simply assumed detectives would eventually get in touch when they found his phone number at Blake's house. They didn't. So finally, more than a month after the shooting, Welch decided to go and speak to detectives. He was referred to Brian Tyndall, one of four homicide detectives assigned full-time to the Bakley murder.
Welch also conceded that during his first interview with police, he left out the entire story about Blake talking about "whacking" Bonny Bakley. He only mentioned that Blake had suggested the cocaine-planting idea. The reason for the serious omisssion, as Welch explained it to the court, was that he didn't completely trust Detective Tyndall.
Indeed, Welch continued to withhold the story about "whacking" Bonny for some months, until some other detectives assigned to the case came out and interviewed him.
Asked by Schwartzbach if Tyndall was aware that Welch was a former LAPD homicide investigator, the witness said he knew. The lawyer then asked Welch if Blake was aware of the fact that Welch had worked for LAPD for twenty-some years. And again, Welch confirmed that the actor was aware of his background.
Continuing to grill the witness, Schwartzbach asked him if it would have been a crime had Blake solicited him to commit kidnapping, a forced abortion, and ultimately murder. Welch said it was. And, the lawyer continued, wouldn't anyone having credible evidence of such a solicitation or threat have to report it? Welch again answered, yes. And did he report it, Schwartzbach demanded. No, not that day, Welch replied.
Schwartzbach pounded the detective about that fact. If he didn't come forward that day, how about the next? The day after? The day after that? And the next day? Always, the testimony of Welch was that he continued not to go to police about Blake's alleged desire to "whack" Bonny Bakley.
The investigator also admitted that he kept no notes whatever about the conversation in which Blake is alleged to have talked about "whacking" Bakley, and that he was speaking from memory at the time he finally did tell his story to detectives a year and a half after the conversation with Blake and some months after he initially told Detective Tyndall that he'd worked for Blake and that Blake mentioned planting drugs to get Bakley arrested. Welch also admitted that, at the time of his late 1999 conversation with Blake, he did not consider the word "whack" to necessarily mean to kill the victim in this case - a retraction of a statement made earlier under direct examination by the prosecution. He advised that he never took the conversation seriously.
Welch seemed to "disintegrate" on the stand under cross-examination by Schwartzbach, said one commentator on Court TV's Catherine Crier Live show, attorney Mercedes Colwin. "He hedged so much he looked extraordinarily nervous," the attorney commented. She said Welch had to be a key prosecution witness because of the serious problems prosecutor Shellie Samuels will have with the two stunt men who will testify about alleged solicitations by Blake. But, added Colwin, Welch, a former friend of Blake, "doesn't seem to have an axe to grind, and had this conversation with Blake, and suddenly he starts to disintegrate on the stand."
Welch also said he was unaware that another private investigator was also working for Blake to try to bring Bakley's illicit activities to the attention of law enforcement.
The defense continued to hammer home the point that Blake's actions in trying to ask various individuals to bring Bakley's crimes and salacious activities to the attention of authorities was not consistent with someone who was thinking about killing her or having her killed.
Luiz Mendoza is a boat dealer based both in Baltimore and Miami, and also an FBI informant. He followed Welch to the stand as the prosecution shifted toward the motive phase. As outlined in her opening, Shellie Samuels is basing much of her circumstantial case on Blake's attitude toward Bakley prior to the murder.
Mendoza was contacted in 2000 by Robert Renzi, the elderly man who testified the day before (19 January), and as a result, he spoke with Blake over the phone. He agreed to help the actor by using his connections with law enforcement to bring the illegal activities of Bonny Bakley and her family to their attention.
As was the case with William Welch, who testified about his investigation into Bakley's sordid life, this witness was used to introduce more evidence of the dead woman's background - presumably to show jurors a likely motive that could convince jurors not only that Blake hated Bakley, but that he hated her enough to kill her. Ironically, Blake's accusers in the media have long and loudly protested what they call the "dirtying" of the victim, saying it's trial strategy intended to turn jurors against the victim and win an actuittal for Blake on the grounds that Bakley deserved what she got. Yet, as the case has proceeded thus far, all the "Bonny-shaming" has come from the DA's side of the courtroom.
Mendoza testified that he flew to California at Blake's expense on the 27th of October, 2000, a little over two weeks before Blake and Bakley were married. During that visit, Blake showed to Mendoza a packet of information about Bakley that included some of her lurid porn photos. Prosecutor Samuels asked Mendoza if he recognized the photographs.
Carefully sorting them out into two different piles, he identified some pictures as part of the material Blake had given to him. "Yes," he said to the prosecutor's question, "the ones of her in the car stick out in my mind." He was referring to pictures of Bakley alone displaying her genitalia, often appearing to be masturbating.
But Mendoza added that several others - photographs which Mendoza set aside in a separate pile - were even more explicit, and he testified that those were not contained in the packet that he received from Blake.
Mendoza also recalled listening to a taped phone conversation of Bakley's brother - Joey Bakley, who is now himself doing prison time for identity theft and fraud - talking about what appeared to be a drug deal. Blake told Mendoza that Bonny and Joe were both involved in transporting drugs from Tijuana through Los Angeles to Little Rock.
Mendoza told the court that he did contact the FBI but that he couldn't get them interested in the charges. Blake, said Mendoza, "was very upset that I was unable to do anything."
"He never asked you to do anything illegal, did he?" Schwartzbach asked him during a brief cross-examination.
"No," Mendoza answered.
The graphic photos of Bakley were not shown to jurors.
The Grandfather Story
Court began late on Friday, the 21st, and ended early so that defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach could travel to northern California for the funeral of an aunt. But what little testimony was taken that day was interesting.
The prosecution began by recalling Luis Mendoza, who had been excused at the conclusion of his testmony the previous afternoon. After court, he had reminded Samuels that she'd forgotten to ask him about the "grandfather story," a tale he claims Blake told him during one of their visits.
In that conversation, the actor allegedly related a conversation he'd had as a youth with his grandfather. "He said his grandfather told him when he was a kid, 'If you delegate things to people and they don't do them, you might as well do them yourself."
The importance of the story to the prosecution is that their case rests on the theory that Blake tried to get other people to kill Bakley, that those plans failed, and that Blake then committed the act himself.
But it turned out under cross-examination that the grandfather story was not part of the information Mendoza gave to detectives at any time after the shooting occurred. Asked why this was the case, Mendoza said he had entirely forgotten the conversation until four days earlier.
And what caused him to remember this conversation more than four years after it took place?
The answer was devastating: It resurfaced in his memory during a discussion with the prosecutor about his testimony.
Daryl Bailey, Probation Officer
If the court got more than expected from Mendoza, it got less than might have from the next witness to appear in the trial - Daryl Bailey, Bonny Bakley's former probation officer in Arkansas.
As has been widely reported in the news, Bakley jeered Blake private investigator William Jordan when he advised Bakley that he'd turned her in for probation violation in September of 2000 when she traveled to California with the baby. According to Jordan, Bakley said she gave Bailey blow jobs and he would let her get away with a lot. That story did get mentioned in the testimony of William Welch, who said that Blake told him it would be useless to try to go for a violation of Bakley's probation because she was having sex with her supervisor.
Bonny Bakley was on federal probation in Arkansas for credit card fraud and identity theft.
During his brief appearance on the stand this morning, neither the prosecutor nor Blake's attorney asked Bailey about his alleged sexual relationship with Bakley. It didn't come up in the context of anything else.
Bailey basically told the court that after her September 2000 trip to California, she was put under house arrest and required to wear a ankle bracelet monitor. But he also said he gave Bakley permission to visit California a week later to try to get the baby back. She was again permitted to return for her November 19 wedding to Robert Blake.