Robert Blake and His Defense

ByABC News via logo

April 23, 2002 -- Robert Blake's attorney today admitted his client had a motive, but did not kill his wife and was "very resigned to staying the course" after pleading not guilty to the killing of Bonny Lee Bakley.

Blake, 68, faces a four-count complaint specifying 18 "overt acts." In addition to murder, Blake was charged with conspiracy, solicitation of murder, and lying in wait in the shooting death of Bakley, 44.

Defense attorney Harland Braun has suggested that Bakley, the mother of Blake's two-year-old daughter, Rosie, could have given the former Baretta star a motive to kill her. But Braun insists on his client's innocence.

‘Good Motive’

"He married someone he didn't love, he was willing to endure that — he did enormous things to maintain control over that child [Rosie] and not let her fall into a life of depravity," Braun said.

"The prosecution said he went farther than that, that he killed Bonny to protect his daughter, I mean that's the only possible motive that makes any sense in this context. The question is not whether he had a good motive or not, the question is whether he went too far with that good motive," Braun said.

Blake's chauffeur and bodyguard Earle Caldwell, who was arraigned with Blake Monday in the shooting death of Bakley, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Under California law, "lying in wait" is a special circumstance that can allow for the death penalty.

Braun told ABCNEWS' Robin Roberts that his client wasn't worried about the possibility of the death penalty.

‘Not Worried’

"Robert has said — he is going on 70 with high blood pressure — he says 'I have a life expectancy of about 12 years, you know Mr. [Patrick] Dixon may be a clever prosecutor, but he can't take any more years from me than God gives me.' So he is not worried about that," Braun said. "He wants to fight the case on the merits and he is willing to endure whatever he has to endure."

During the five-minute arraignment Monday, Blake sat quietly next to Caldwell, his alleged co-conspirator, who also pleaded innocent to the charges.

In their criminal complaint, prosecutors said Blake "personally and intentionally" fired the gun that killed his wife almost a year ago.

Braun said he will attempt to prove that Blake didn't kill his wife, adding that the defense had examined several different theories.

Five Theories

"At the beginning we kept an open mind and we developed five theories — one that Robert killed her, one that Robert hired someone to kill her, one that she was killed in a random killing, one that someone in her past killed her," he said. "The final, sort of way out there, was that she hired someone to kill Robert and that the guy decided to kill her instead because he found her unstable. There is evidence pointing to the last three and it is very perplexing," Braun said.

The scope of Blake's alleged plot to kill Bakley was laid out in a six-page complaint that presented several schemes before the murder.

Prosecutors believe Blake approached at least two other people besides Caldwell about killing Bakley, planning her slaying as far back as January 2001.

In January and March 2001, the complaint said, Blake showed someone a gun in a zippered case that was to be used to kill Bakley. On different occasions, prosecutors said, Blake suggested various places where Bakley could be killed, such as Bullhead City, Ariz., and outside Vitello's Restaurant in Studio City, where she was ultimately shot to death.

Shooting Death

According to the complaint, when these plans didn't pan out, Blake finally did the job himself on May 4, after they ate dinner at Vitello's Italian restaurant. Prosecutors believe Blake threw the murder weapon in a trash bin nearby, which was recovered by authorities.

Blake has denied any involvement in the killing. He told police they walked to the car together but he had returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he had left behind. When he returned, Bakley was dead, he said.

Barry Felsen, Blake's civil attorney, has known the actor for for 25 years. Felsen spoke with Blake in jail following the release of the allegations. He told ABCNEWS that he believes the actor will beat the charges.

"He has looked me in the eye on more than one occasion and said to me, 'Barry, I swear to you, I didn't do it,' " Felsen said."I believe him," the attorney said.

Braun has painted an unsympathetic picture of Bakley since the beginning of the investigation. She has been portrayed as lifelong grifter who was obsessed with being a celebrity's wife.

Blake was arrested last Thursday along with Caldwell. Felsen said the actor was getting a lot of support in his new surroundings. "The other prisoners come by and knock and say, 'Hey, Baretta, we watched you when we were kids. Keep going. We love you,'" Felsen said.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys decided they were not prepared to address whether both men should receive bail and decided to reconvene May 1 to set a date for a preliminary hearing. Prosecutors have said they would oppose bail for Blake.