Actor enters innocent plea

Former 'Baretta' star pleads not guilty to murdering his wife

Friday, March 28, 2003

— Actor Robert Blake pleaded innocent to murdering his wife Thursday in his first appearance since he was released on bail.

During an arraignment, Blake and co-defendant Earle Caldwell waived their rights to a speedy trial until October, when proceedings are likely to begin.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Pat Dixon read off the charges against Blake: murder, solicitation to murder, conspiracy and the special circumstance of lying in wait.

"Mr. Blake, to those charges how do you plead?" Dixon asked.

"Not guilty, sir," said Blake, star of the old "Baretta" TV detective series.

Caldwell, Blake's former handyman-bodyguard, pleaded innocent to a murder conspiracy charge.

Prosecutors filed a new nine-page set of allegations compiled from testimony during the defendants' preliminary hearing, in which they were ordered to stand trial.

The document showed that the case against Blake depends almost entirely on the testimony of two aging stuntmen who said Blake solicited them to murder his wife. They said they refused and suggest he took the matter into his own hands.

The 69-year-old actor is accused of killing 44-year-old Bonny Lee Bakley on May 4, 2001, after they dined at Vitello's restaurant, Blake's longtime hangout in his Studio City neighborhood.

Blake claimed he found his wife shot in the head and upper body in their car after he went back to the restaurant to retrieve a handgun he carried for protection.

Prosecutors said Blake despised Bakley, a con artist with a criminal record, and wanted to find a way to get rid of her but keep their baby. Blake has suggested Bakley was killed by a victim of one of her schemes.

The prosecution's key piece of evidence is a prepaid telephone card on which Blake allegedly made 56 calls to one of the stuntmen allegedly solicited as a killer. Prosecutors also say Blake withdrew $126,000 from one of his bank accounts in the months before the killing.

The new allegations list 38 overt acts, only four of which mention Caldwell, who is free on $1 million bail posted by Blake last year.

Prosecutors have characterized a list found in Caldwell's car as a shopping list for murder. It includes such items as shovels, a sledge, duct tape, lye, pool acid and the notation: "Get blank gun ready." His lawyer has said the list includes typical handyman items.

Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp initially proposed a May trial date, but Blake's lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr. said the defense needed more time to test evidence.