Sunday, February 16, 2003
Los Angeles Actor Robert Blake will get his wish: a chance to defend himself on national television.
Celebrity interviewer Barbara Walters will talk to Blake in jail Monday -- just the sort of exposure that led to the resignation of two of Blake's lawyers, who said it would compromise his criminal defense to the charge of murdering his wife.
Blake's current attorneys said they had "an understanding" with Walters that the criminal case would not be discussed. The former "Baretta" star wants to talk about his life in an attempt to repair the damage done to his public image in the two years since his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, was shot to death in Studio City.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca had blocked previous jail interviews, but he said Friday that he was swayed by Walters' argument that she had conducted jail interviews in the past. Baca said he didn't realize that camera crews had access to the jail and its celebrity inmates before he took office, so he reversed himself.
"It had been done before and did not cause a great headache to the system," Baca said. "I thought I should allow it."
Blake has tried to set up interviews with Walters and her colleague, Diane Sawyer, for months despite the objections of his criminal defense attorneys. First Harland W. Braun and then Jennifer L. Keller quit because he refused to follow their advice to stay silent.
His current lawyer, Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., said Friday he would stand by Blake even though he strongly disagrees with his client's decision.
"I am opposed to Mr. Blake making any statement and I refuse to authorize any interview," he said. "However, Mr. Blake is an innocent man who needs my help, and I will never abandon him."
Mesereau said he spoke to Baca last week but refused to sign off on the Walters interview. It later was authorized by Chuck Meyer, Blake's business lawyer.
Meyer said he shared Mesereau's reservations and discussed the matter with Blake. But Blake decided to do the interview anyway. "He wants to get his story out," Meyer said. "He wants to counter the image of him as the villain."
"We are not going to stop it," Meyer added. "It's his life."
An ABC spokesman declined to comment, except to say the interview was being taped for a future edition of the newsmagazine "20/20."
Since his April 18 arrest, Blake has been held without bail at Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles.