Blake Juror Prospects Warned

Actor Robert Blake walks out of a pretrial hearing at the Superior Court Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004. AP

Prospective jurors in the Robert Blake murder case were asked Monday if they could endure the public scrutiny that surrounded jurors in the O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson cases, and the answers were mixed.

"I would rather not be a juror," said one woman. "I would prefer not to be in the limelight. But whatever happens will happen. I could be unprejudiced."

A young woman confronted with the same question was unfazed.

"I am not easily influenced by the media," she said.

"How would you feel about somebody writing about you as a juror?" asked defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach.

"I'm OK with that," she said.

Blake, 71, star of the old "Baretta" TV series, is charged with murdering Bonny Lee Bakley, whom he married after DNA tests showed he was the father of her baby. Bakley was shot May 4, 2001, in a car parked near a restaurant where she and Blake had just dined.

Blake has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder, two counts of solicitation of murder and a special circumstance of lying in wait. He was released on $1.5 million bail, but confined to home.

More than 1,000 prospective jurors were initially summoned for the case and more than 700 were dismissed for hardship reasons before individual questioning by lawyers began Monday.

It was Schwartzbach who raised concerns about media attention in the case.

He said to each prospect: "This is a case with media coverage, much like O.J. Simpson's or Scott Peterson's cases. Many people were critical of the jury in O.J. Simpson's case and many cheered when the jury convicted Scott Peterson."

Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of charges that he murdered ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Peterson, of Modesto, was convicted last week of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and her fetus.

But Schwartzbach's efforts to get prospective jurors to say what they thought of reactions to those verdicts were met with shrugs.

"I guess people cheered the Scott Peterson verdict because they felt strongly he was guilty," said one woman. But she said she had no opinion because she hadn't followed that case closely.

On the other hand, she said she did follow the Simpson case and thought he was guilty.

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels, asked the prospects what they would do if they concluded that Blake had killed his wife but had done it to protect his infant daughter.

The prospects said they would still convict him.

"Do you feel there should be a law to protect people who kill their spouses to protect their children?" the prosecutor asked one woman.

"No," said the woman.

"We sure would have a lot of dead spouses, wouldn't we?" quipped Samuels.

Samuels also raised the prospect that some jurors may not like what they find out about the victim. Bakley has been depicted as a con-artist who solicited money from men with promises of sex.

"If you are convinced by the end of this case that he murdered Bonny Lee Bakley but she probably deserved it, could you convict him?" asked Samuels.

"Yes," the prospective juror responded.

Earlier, Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp gathered 217 prospects and dismissed 140 whose written questionnaires indicated strong biases against Blake or abortion and who gave other answers indicating they could not be fair.

Prosecutors have said they will present evidence that Blake wanted Bakley to abort the baby.

The jury selection process is expected to last a few more weeks.

The first few who were questioned included a hearing-impaired woman who required a sign-language interpreter to help her understand what was being said. She insisted she could do the job of a juror.

One man was dismissed immediately because of language difficulties, but three others were told to return on Dec. 1 for the final round of screening.

Defense attorneys for Blake are reportedly looking for jurors who may be open to conspiracy theories. Prosecutors, on the other hand, want people who use common sense and make quick decisions.

More than three years after Blake's wife was shot to death, the selection process for more than 100 potential jurors began today in the actor's murder trial.

Jury consultant Richard Gabriel, president of Decision Analysis, said the defense would be looking for people who are "sensational minded."

"You want people who are open to alternative theories, people who are conspiracy theorists, people who will nit pick the evidence and create their own reasonable doubt," he said.

Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson said the ideal defense jurors would be people who "love a good whodunit and want to find their own solutions."

On the prosecution side, Gabriel, who is not working on the case, said: "They are looking for quick decision makers, conservative people who will use common sense."

The trial is estimated to last about five months.
  • Lauren Johnston

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