The Lead Detective
Detective Ron Ito
Normally the lead detective, the one supervising an investigation, is the backbone of a prosecutor's case. But the Blake trial has been everything that regular trials aren't. And in this case, the testimony of a star prosecution witness looked more like damage control in the hands of the prosecutor and "gotcha" for the defense.
Detective Ron Ito was first called to the crime scene just after midnight on the 5th of May, 2001. During the preliminary hearing which took place in February and March of 2003, he admitted to having crime writer Miles Corwin follow along with the investigation from the beginning; in one instance, when an interview was conducted, Ito introduced the writer to a witness as one of his "partners." He also acknowledged that the car in which victim Bonny Bakley was shot, a virtual crime scene on wheels, had been improperly towed, causing the evidence inside to be jostled around and rendered worthless for purposes of investigation. A construction dumpster located near the car was hauled away on the detective's orders, it's contents spilled out en masse on the ground before it was searched and finally yielded the murder weapon, coated in an oily residue and caked with dust and dirt. Finally, the detective mistakenly altered the text of a police report to reflect that a list of items found in a search read ".25 auto" rather than "25 auto," suggesting it referred to a gun when it didn't.
Under direct examination, Ito was given a chance to rehabilitate himself and to explain that nothing improper happened because of Corwin's presence. He also described his investigation of the Bakley shooting as thorough and professional.
But during a riveting day of cross-examination by Blake attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach, the detective was forced to make some major concessions.
Among other things, he admitted to leaving behind stacks of letters from Bakley clients which might have led to suspects other than Blake.
In a particularly tense moment, Schwartzbach had a large packing box brought into the courtroom and he took from it one large binder, about four inches thick, and placed it on the witness tand in front of the detective. Then came another equally large - and another and another, until there were a total of nine binders, one on top of the other, each containing about a ream of paper.
"I seized what I thought would be evidence," Ito testified. "I had 1,251 items of evidence in this case. I had to decide what was pertinent and what was not." Of the correspondence that ultimately was read, Ito said most of the mail was from clients who were merely "unhappy."
"Most of them were just unhappy men," said the detective. "I don't remember any of them threatening to kill her."
Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels objected to having the binders brought into court, arguing that she didn't believe all of them were letter, or that some were simply form letters that Bakley sent out to men in her mail-order sex business. Bakley's porn business involved sending letters from different "sets" to men who responded to her "adult personal" ads. She had different letters from each of several "girls" she pretended to be in her ads, and each false name would be linked to specific promises and hardship stories. As such, letters that were virtually identical would be sent to numerous potential scam victims.
The defense attorney also showed the court a video of the search conducted at Blake's home, during which Ito identified two large lockers that contained letters from "customers" of the Bakley sex business.
The papers presented in court were left behind during a search of Blake's property the day after the murder, and were subsequently turned over to police by Harland Braun, Mr. Blake's first criminal attorney in the case.
"Did you conduct an investigation of every person Ms. Bakley married as potential suspects in the murder of Ms. Bakley?" Schwartzbach asked the attorney.
Schwartzbach also asked if there had been investigations into families of deceased clients, including relatives of one such Bakley husband, whose life insurance policy had paid a total of $82,000.
Ito acknowledge investigating only two ex-husbands of Bakley, "one in Florida and one in Utah." But he said they had both died before the murder. Press reports have suggested that Bakley had anywhere between nine and one hundred "husbands" that she married as part of her mail order "lonely hearts" venture.
The court also learned that police failed to conduct gunshot residue tests on the booth where Blake and Bakley sat prior to the murder. Such tests could possibly have confirmed that Blake had placed his gun in the seat and that it fell to the floor. Blake has said from the beginning that Bakley was shot while he briefly returned by foot to Vitello's to retrive the small 38-calibre pistol he legally carried which, he said, had slipped off the booth and fallen on the floor during their meal. Ito said the test would prove only that Blake had the gun, not that he forgot it.
The admission was followed by an interesting exchange:
Schwartzbach: You didn't make the test in spite of information you had about where Blake said he had left the gun?
Ito: No, I did not.
Schwartzbach: But it would be another piece of the puzzle, wouldn't it?
Ito: Yes, it would have been a piece of the puzzle but I didn't think of that.
Schwartzbach: And how long have you been a homicide investigator?
Ito: Eighteen years.
Ito was also asked about whether or not he investigated a possible connection between Bonny Bakley and Christian Brando, and whether the KAPD had bothered looking into the backgrounds of two key prosecution witnesses - stunt men Gary McLarty and Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton, both of whom have said that Blake tried to hire them to kill Bakley.
With regard to the latter, Ito acknoweldged getting telephone tips about McLarty that alleged the witness was a heavy drug users and that he manufactured and sold drugs. At last part of his comments were stricken from the record, however.
Another matter of concern to the defense was the fingerprinting of the defendant's car. Ito testified that he'd found the fingerprints of those persons who would be expected to have touched the vehicle - including Bakley, Blake, and Blake's former co-defendant Earle Caldwell.
But there were also some other fingerprints that the police could never identify. The detective said that investigators cross-reference the unknown fingerprints with those of detectives and crime scene specialists who may have handled the car, but that the fingerprints remained unknown.
Finally, Detective Ito revealed that the police had spent several months trying to find a prostitute who calls herself "Busti Cherry" who, they initially believed, might have witnessed the shooting. Although police were able to verify the identity of the hooker, they never found her or questioned her.
A Right-Handed Shooter?
February 4th was devoted to testimony concerning phone cards and bullet trajectories and a witness that didn't show.
Malcolm Ross, an AT&T employee, told the court how pre-paid phone cards work. He noted that both the phone from which a call is initiated and the number called are recorded, even if the call is not complete (not answered).
The prosecution crime scene "expert," Rod Englert, again took the stand on Friday the 4th to explain the position in which Bakley was sitting at the time she was struck by the two fatal bullets. Using prosecutor Shellie Samuels as a model to demonstrate his theory, he attempted to explain to jurors what position Bakley was likely in at the time she was ambushed. He had Samuels sit on a chair in front of the jury, with her body turned toward the left, but her head looking right. Then he used pointers to demonstrate how the bullets had to enter the automobile, based on the fact that they struck Bakley from a particular angle.
The theory was largely undercut during cross-examination, however, when Englert admitted that no measurements were ever taken at the crime scene on which to base such a theory, nor was there any documentation to show the angles at which the bullets entered Bakley's body.
The witness also told the court that blood spray from gunshots is the result of three separate factors: the velocity of the bullet at the time it strikes the body, the amount of blood at the site of the bullet's entry into a body, and the weight of the bullet. Again, however, his thesis crumbled when he conceded on cross-examination that he didn't know either the velocity or the weight of the bullets. In fact, he said he had never even test-fired the gun.
Finally, the defense scored a major point when Englert produced a theory of how the gunman had fired the weapon and caused a shell casing to enter the car. He explained that the gunman would have held the gun in his right hand, and the shell, ejected to the left by the World War II-era gun, would have struck the killer and then ricocheted off his chest or shoulder into the car.
But there was one problem - and it was an important one: Blake is left-handed.
An additional witness who was scheduled to appear was a no-show due to illness. Frank Minucci, who came from out of town, has said Blake asked him to come to Los Angeles and help him out of a jam. Presumably, the prosecution will argue that Blake wanted Minucci - described by the Assistant District Attorney in opening statements as a reformed thug - to kill Bakley.