Robert Blake, a former child star who later became known for his tough-guy roles, was found not guilty today of murder in the 2001 shooting death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.
In addition to murder, Blake, 71, was acquitted of one count of solicitation to commit murder but the Los Angeles Superior Court jury said it was deadlocked 11-1 on a second solicitation count, which the judge then dismissed. The jury deliberated eight days before reaching its decision.
In a rambling statement to reporters after he was released, Blake, 71, thanked his legal team, kissing one lawyer on the head and saying, "this small band of dedicated warriors saved my life."
He also chided the media for getting distant relatives and casual acquaintances to comment on the case and on Blake's character.
"Well guess what?" Blake said. "They're all liars, and about half of them are commode scum, who were out to hustle you to make a buck over my hopefully dead a--. Well, they missed their bet."
Blake covered his mouth with his hand as the verdict was reached. Almost shaking with relief, he let out several deep breaths. Later, he broke down in tears and sobbed with his head down on the defendant's table.
But speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, he was defiant and looked ahead to the future.
"I'm going to get a job, I'm broke. Right now I couldn't buy spats for a hummingbird," Blake said. "I was a rich man; I'm broke now. I gotta go to work. But before that, I'm going to go out and do a little cowboying."
Bakley, 44, was shot in the head on May 4, 2001, as she sat in their car after she and Blake had dined at Vitello's, one of the actor's favorite restaurants. Los Angeles County prosecutors had argued that Blake tried to hire others to kill his wife and did it himself when he couldn't find anyone to carry out the murder.
"That's what this case is all about, the defendant getting what he wants," Los Angeles County prosecutor Shellie Samuels told jurors during closing arguments. "And if he can't get someone else to do it, he'll do it himself."
Blake, best known for playing an unconventional cop on the 1970s TV drama "Baretta," married Bakley after DNA tests showed he was the father of her infant daughter. Prosecutors contend Blake killed Bakley to get her out of his life and prevent her from becoming a bad influence on the baby, Rosie.
Blake did not testify at trial. But in various interviews before the trial -- including one with ABC News' Barbara Walters in 2003 -- he denied any role in the killing. He said he left Bakley in the car that night and returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he had left at their table, and came back to the car to discover his wife had been shot. Jurors saw Blake's interview with Walters during the trial.
Blake's defense pointed out that Bakley made a lot of enemies during her life. She has been described as a con woman with a criminal record who bilked men out of money through lonely-hearts scams and used several aliases. Blake, his friends and relatives of Bakley have said she had always wanted to be the wife of a movie star and spent much of her life pursuing famous people.