Public Opinion At Stake In Blake Case

Actor Robert Blake, left, along with his attorney Thomas Messereau listen, Friday, Jan. 17, 2003 during a court hearing in Los Angeles
In theory, the preliminary hearing now going on in the Robert Blake murder case is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to try Blake for the death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, who was slain outside a Los Angeles-area restaurant.

In reality, both prosecution and defense are using the usually routine proceedings to sway public opinion, says Rikki Klieman, an anchor for Court TV's Blake coverage.

In an interview Wednesday on The Early Show, Klieman says there is no doubt Judge Lloyd Nash will find reasonable suspicion. "That standard is about as big as a feather being put on a weight," she explains.

"What really is going on here," she says, "are both sides are trying to influence the public. Prosecution has their story. They want the public to think that this is a cold-blooded merciless murder. And the defense has their story, which is to say this may be an innocent man who is really being talked up here by people that you would never believe."

As national correspondent Hattie Kauffman reported, retired stuntman Ronald Hambleton, who claims Blake tried to have his wife killed, testified Tuesday that Blake wanted to be there when the slaying took place and wasn't worried about police questions because "I'm an actor."

Hambleton is one of three witnesses at the hearing who have testified that the former "Baretta" star solicited the killing of Bakley, whom he had recently married after she had a daughter by him.

The question the defense keeps raising, Kleiman says, is, would you buy a used car from this witness?

Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr., whom Klieman called "one of the best cross-examiners, in the country," repeatedly brought up the name of well-known author Miles Corwin. Klieman says this may prove to be very significant.

A recognized author who previously wrote about the Los Angeles Police Department, Corwin was asked in the year 2000 by then Police Chief Bernard Parks to follow LAPD's Robbery/Homicide Division around, and Bakley's murder was one of the cases being handled at the time.

"He (Corwin) is with these detectives every step of the way," Klieman says. "He goes to interrogations. He goes to searches. He is introduced by one of the detectives, Ron Ito, as his partner.

"Now, these are things that go just a wee bit too far," she adds. "And people are going to say, 'Did they screw it up by having a civilian that close to the police?'"