When the news broke in May 2001 that the wife of a Hollywood actor had been shot to death in a car parked on a Los Angeles side street, it felt like O.J. all over again. It was the ultimate true Hollywood crime, this time starring actor Robert Blake as the prime suspect.
Blake's wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, was the victim. Their baby daughter, Rose, was the innocent child left motherless. From the beginning, the media devoured the Blake case — dissecting his wife's shadowy past and her quest to marry a celebrity, and stirring up comparisons between the tough guys Blake portrayed on screen and the killer police say he became.
Since Blake's arrest in April 2002, he has been denied bail and kept in the same jail cell that O.J. Simpson once occupied at the Los Angeles County Jail. In an exclusive interview airing on a special edition of 20/20 tonight at 10 p.m. ET on ABC, Blake talks with Barbara Walters about the case, his life in jail, and his concern for his 2 ½-year-old daughter Rosie.
Blake described the day when police came to his home to arrest him. "Oh, they had machine guns, they had stuff all over. It was like the worst Baretta we ever shot in my life," he said, referring to his 1970s crime drama.
This week the prosecution has been displaying its case against Blake at a preliminary hearing — putting on the stand an ex-detective and a former stuntman, who testified that Blake used words like "whack" and "pop" when they say he talked to them about killing Bonny.
He told Walters he wasn't surprised that the police arrested him, but he feels confident he will be exonerated. "I'm not gonna be found guilty," Blake said. "Why? It's real simple: 'Cause God has never, ever deserted me. Can't say I haven't deserted him from time to time."
The 69-year-old Blake, who would face life in prison if he is found guilty of the crime, said he is not concerned about the possibility of conviction. He said, "What do I care?," adding, "How do you kill a dead man? They [the police] took away my entire past. They took away my entire future. What's left for them to take?"
Speculates on Possible Killer
Blake has maintained his innocence, and told Walters, "of course I'm innocent." He also speculated about who he believes is responsible for Bakley's murder.
"In my heart I believe that some man, 10, 15, maybe 20 years ago, because she used to get married to them … I think she destroyed a lot of lives. And I think one life that she destroyed saw her on television," he said.
Blake said he believes Bakley's killer followed him and his wife to Vitello's, the Los Angeles restaurant where the couple had eaten just before Bakley was killed.
"Bonny never went any place by herself … I drove her to the post office, I drove her to the back doctor, I took her out to dinner … I think it was the first time in her life that she was scared that her past was sneaking around."
Blake said he met Bakley at a jazz club. "She told me, I'm either going to be a movie star, or I'm going to marry a movie star,' " he said. "And what is the down side? I'm an old man. I ain't got no life. What am I doing … I'm hanging around jazz clubs, sleeping with women I don't even know their name … Everybody thought I was crazy. I don't care … We had plans … we were going to kind of get to know each other and go from there. What did I have to lose? You tell me."
Speaking Out Despite Lawyers’ Objections
Twice before, Blake tried to schedule television interviews and both times his lawyers quit because they objected. His third and current lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, did not want this interview to take place either, and was not present while it was conducted. Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca permitted the cameras in the jail.
Blake looked thin and gaunt when he met with Walters on Feb. 17. Blake told Walters that most days he sits in an 8-by-10-foot cell in solitary confinement, for his own protection. After he shook Walters' hand, he said that no one touches him but the guards.
Blake describes his imprisonment as bleak. "In this place it's real simple. It's not, 'How are you doing?' You're alive or you're dead … You wake up in the morning, you win. You don't wake up, you win … deputies say, 'Well, he's depressed, he's going to kill himself because he doesn't want to see his visitors.' But that's not true."
‘Clearing It Up’ for Rosie
While Blake said his imprisonment was difficult, he seemed to think being out on bail would be a burden as well.
"What do I do? Work on my case? Sit in the lawyer's office and read documents?" Blake said. "Do I walk down the street and watch the same people cross the street when they see me coming? Or I put a bag over my head like the Elephant Man? Or maybe I put a collar around me and walk down the street and they can throw money at me? Sure, people will hire me as a clown: 'Oh yeah, we'll give him a job because he's the murderer. He can stand on the corner and sign pictures.' "
Blake would like to see his daughter, but says he is concerned about making her life difficult. "I'm not sure it would be good for her," he said, "and I'm not being cold or crazy, I'm thinking about it. Here's a little girl that's got a good life now, and am I gonna come in and confuse her … and change things all upside down again? I'm gonna take Rosie in the park and let all them people say, 'There's the murderer, what's he doin' with that baby?' "
Blake said he is worried about what his daughter will think when she gets older. "Rosie, I'm your daddy, I'm your daddy from way, way back when you were 2 weeks old, and I held you in my hands, and I said, 'God, please take care of Rosie.' That's all I ever want for the rest of my life, is take care of Rosie. And so far you are doing pretty good, sweetheart. And this might be 10 years from now. And if I'm sitting next to you, that's great. But if you're sitting at my grave, I don't want you saying, 'Daddy, why were you a bad man?' See, I don't want that. And that's what I want to clear up here."
People Are Laughing
In a video deposition, Blake had said he feared that he was going to die in jail. Blake explained how he felt to Walters, saying, "I'm not going to live for another year in jail. I'm 70 years old. Things happen to old people. They get aneurysms, they get strokes, they get heart attacks."
Blake has no TV or radio in his cell, yet he said he still knows that there are jokes being made about him nightly by comedians around the country: "Jay Leno has got my blood running down his chin on television two or three nights a week and the people are laughing and enjoying it," he said.
"The people here tell me. They tell me. He makes great fun and sport and I don't care about him. I care about the people that are laughing, the people that are laughing. And when I go out there, what're they gonna say, 'Whoops, we didn't really mean it?' "