Robert Blake Arrested In Wife's Murder

Actor Robert Blake, the tough cop on the hit TV show "Baretta," was arrested Thursday and accused of shooting his wife to death almost a year ago, with police saying they wanted to seek the death penalty.

Los Angeles TV stations broke into regular programming as if to herald a new celebrity murder case in the land of O.J. Simpson.

"Robert Blake shot Bonny Bakley to death," police Capt. Jim Tatreau told a news conference. "We believe that Robert Blake had contempt for Bonny Bakley and he felt he was trapped in a marriage he wanted no part of. ... It's a hit by a husband."

Tatreau confirmed earlier reports that police recovered the murder weapon, a World War II-era German-made handgun, from a trash bin about a day after the killing.

Police Chief Bernard Parks said the investigation was one of the most intensive in the department's history, adding that officers traveled to more than 20 states, interviewed more than 150 witnesses, checked out more than 150 tips and sifted through more than 900 pieces of evidence.

"All other suspects have been eliminated," he said. "The LAPD case has developed both physical and substantial circumstantial evidence that Robert Blake killed Bonny Lee Bakley."

Blake, a cute former child star of the "Our Gang" comedies who gained fame as the gritty Tony Baretta in the 1970s detective series, was arrested at his sister's home in suburban Hidden Hills. He was taken to an unmarked police car in a white T-shirt, green cap and handcuffs for the long ride to downtown police headquarters.

Television helicopters followed the police car as it carried Blake along busy Los Angeles freeways, a scene that eerily recaptured the chase and arrest of former football star Simpson June 17, 1994, five days after his ex-wife and her friend were stabbed to death.

Blake was taken to the downtown Los Angeles County jail, where he was held in the hospital section to segregate him from the general inmate population, said Deputy Roberta Granek, a Sheriff's Department spokeswoman. He was not ill, she said.

Officers also arrested the actor's bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, and charged him with conspiracy to commit murder even though he was out of town the night of the slaying. Police would not comment on whether he was expected to testify against Blake. A police spokesman had earlier identified the bodyguard as Earl Caulfield.

Bonny Lee Bakley, 44, was shot to death May 4, 2001 as she sat in the 68-year-old actor's sports car on a dark street near his favorite restaurant where they both had eaten.

Blake has always denied he was the killer and has portrayed Bakley as a celebrity hound who often conned men out of money in lonely heart schemes.

Police will ask the district attorney's office to charge Blake with one count of murder with special circumstance -- meaning that he could face the death penalty if convicted because he allegedly lay in wait for his victim.

Police will also ask for two counts of solicitation of murder against Blake but did not go into details. There have been tabloid reports that he had approached two different people about killing his wife -- reports the actor denied.

Harland Braun, Blake's attorney, said "Robert is calm and collected. His main concern now is his children, especially Rosie (his three-year-old daughter with Bakley). ... All he was interested in talking about is how this is going to affect his children. We didn't discuss anything else. We haven't seen their case."

And in an echo of the Simpson case. he added, "I believe that the real killer is still out there."

Braun said he called the actor to say he would be arrested and Blake said, "'I am only wearing shorts. Do I have time to change?' I said no just go to the front door and surrender."

Blake, who in recent years has kept out of the limelight, dined with Bakley at his favorite restaurant, Vitello's, on the night of her death. He has told police he left her sitting in his car while he went back to the Italian eatery to retrieve something he had left at their table: his gun.

He said he returned to the car to find her dead in the passenger seat, apparently shot at close range by a gunman who fled into the night.

Police, who were criticized for slow progress in the case and were presumably still smarting from Simpson's acquittal, did not immediately reveal what evidence they had uncovered that led them, after almost a year, to arrest Blake.

Blake's home and the separate house on his property that his wife lived in have been extensively searched and he had been interviewed at length by detectives. He has also submitted to tests for gunshot residue on his hands and clothing.

Blake, who appeared in 127 films, was acclaimed for his portrayal of killer Perry Smith in 1967's "In Cold Blood," based on Truman Capote's book of the same name.

That film documented the murder of the Clutter family of Kansas. His most recent films include "Money Train" in 1995 and David Lynch's "Lost Highway" in 1997.