Acquitted, Blake Is A Free Man

Mortuary workers wearing protective suits and Mexican marines outside a funeral home where the bodies of 72 men and women allegedly killed by the Zetas drug gang are kept in San Fernando, Mexico, Aug. 26, 2010. AP Photo/Guillermo Arias

Jurors say they acquitted Robert Blake of the 2001 murder of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, because prosecutors failed to prove their case.

The panelists said they found the evidence flimsy and the prosecution's star witnesses unbelievable.

The verdict was handed up Wednesday afternoon after more than eight days of deliberations, following a four-month-long trial.

Jurors found Blake not guilty of one count of murder and one charge of trying to get someone to kill Bakley. They deadlocked 11-1 on a second solicitation charge, which then was dismissed by the judge.

"I never felt comfortable at any time about the evidence in its total, it kind of had a lot of holes in it," jury foreman Tom Nicholson said in an appearance on The Early Show. "There were lots of links missing out of the chain."

In court, Blake trembled and sobbed when he heard the verdicts that gave him back his freedom.

"It's a complete victory for Blake," says , noting that since the judge dismissed the other solicitation charge against him, prosecutors cannot revive it.

Later, after jurors spoke with reporters, Blake stepped up, praising his defense team and talking about how the case left him broke.

He then went on to attack some friends and associates who had given interviews about him.

"They're liars and I'm easy to find and I'm not a bit bashful and if any of them have any agenda we can certainly sort it out," he said.

Blake staged his final act by asking a cameraman for a pair of pliers to cut off his electronic ankle monitor and set himself free, reports .

While avoiding conviction and a possible life sentence is certainly cause for the 71-year-old actor to breathe a sigh a relief, his troubles are not yet over.

He is being sued by Bonny Lee Bakley's family, a civil suit alleging wrongful death, set to go to trial on July 7th.

Eric Dubin, attorney for the Bakley family, says they are devastated by the verdict but hope the outcome of the civil suit will be different.

In an interview with KABC-TV, Dubin said the "overwhelming question I get every day is, 'Obviously he did it, but do you think they proved the case?' It becomes more of a game of reasonable doubt. And we just heard the jury say they think he did it, but they just didn't prove it. So that's my job to prove it in the civil case, and he's going down."

"Holly's devastated," Dubin continued, referring to Bakley's 24-year-old daughter, Holly Gawron. "I mean her mom was murdered twice: once in that car and once in the media... Justice will follow; I'll get it for them."

Gawron sobbed after the verdicts were read and later said she looked forward to proceeding with the lawsuit.

"I hope somehow that I will be able to find some justice, some form of punishment for him, because he's off celebrating his freedom for murdering my mother," she said. "It's very hard to deal with."

Blake was charged with shooting Bakley, 44, in their car outside the actor's favorite Italian restaurant on May 4, 2001, less than six months after their marriage. He did not testify during the trial.

The defense called it a weak case based largely on the testimony of two Hollywood stuntmen who said Blake tried to get them to kill Bakley.

"As I said to the jury, the prosecution built its case on the backs of two men with serious drug problems, who had made many, many inconsistent statements," Blake lawyer M. Gerald Schwartzbach told The Early Show.

The defense portrayed the stuntmen as drug users prone to hallucinations and delusions.

Blake was acquitted of asking stuntmen Gary McLarty to kill Bakley.

McLarty's "testimony in my view was so disjointed and so irregular in what he was trying to say. It had no bearing in my judgment," said Nicholson, the jury foreman.

The judge dismissed a second charge that Blake asked Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton to kill his wife. Nicholson called Hambleton a "prolific liar."

No eyewitnesses, blood or DNA evidence linked Blake to the crime. The murder weapon, a 60-year-old gun found in a trash bin, could not be traced to Blake.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said prosecutors had done their best.

Bakley had been married several times, had a record for mail fraud and allegedly made a living scamming men out of money with nude pictures of herself and promises of sex.

Blake has been in front of the camera from childhood, back when he was sad-eyed little Mickey in the "Our Gang" movie shorts, and appeared in the 1967 movie "In Cold Blood," in which he portrayed a killer who dies on the gallows.

In "Baretta," Blake played a tough-talking, street-smart detective whose catchphrase was "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."

Those acting successes seemed well in the past by the time a divorced and lonely Blake met Bakley at a jazz club five years ago. They had sex in his truck that night, and she was soon carrying Blake's child.

Prosecutors said Blake believed his wife trapped him into marriage by getting pregnant. They said Blake soon became smitten with the baby, Rosie, and desperately wanted to keep the child away from Bakley, whom he considered an unfit mother.

The child, now 4, is being raised by Blake's adult daughter.
  • Christine Lagorio

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