Stuntmen: Blake Wanted Us to Kill Wife

Two stuntmen who worked on the Baretta TV series with Robert Blake claim the actor tried to hire them to kill his wife and are expected to testify against him in his murder trial, the actor's lawyer said today.

Defense attorney Harland Braun said one witness is Gary McLarty, the stunt coordinator who was involved in another high-profile Hollywood death when actor Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed during the 1982 filming of the movie The Twilight Zone. McLarty was in the helicopter that swooped over Morrow and the children during a simulated bombing scene, when an accident caused their deaths.

McClarty was called as a witness in the 1987 involuntary manslaughter trial of producer John Landis and four others, and Braun was one of the defense attorneys. Landis and his co-defendents were acquitted.

The other witness against Blake, Braun said, is stuntman Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton.

Both Hambleton and McLarty say Blake asked them to kill his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, Braun said. But the defense attorney said he and his investigators have been aware of the stuntmen's allegations for months and that they are skeptical of their stories at best.

"The problem with these witnesses is, if this is true, why didn't they call the police?" Braun told The Associated Press. "Often these kinds of witnesses have some problem in their history or they want to jump on a big case to be in the spotlight."

Questionable Defense Tactic

It is unclear why Braun volunteered what would appear to be damaging evidence against his client. In his defense of Blake since the killing, he has attacked Bakley, portraying her as a 44-year-old opportunistic grifter consumed with being a celebrity's wife.

He released tapes of Bakley's phone conversations made before her marriage to Blake, where she seemed torn between pursuing Blake or Christian Brando. Braun has also submitted boxes of tapes, letters, photos and other documents to police to suggest that Bakley defrauded several people, giving them a motive for killing her.

Braun has said Bakley could have given Blake a motive to kill her because she allegedly made life a living hell. However, he maintains that Blake did not kill her.

The Los Angeles district attorney's office refused to comment on Braun's suggestions and said prosecutors will not comment on any evidence or witnesses in the case.

Months of Alleged Hit Man Shopping

Blake and his bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, are charged in the death of Bakley, who was shot last May while sitting in the actor's car outside one of his favorite restaurants, Vitello's in Studio City, Calif. Blake, 68, has pleaded not guilty to murder, conspiracy, solicitation of murder, and lying in wait. Caldwell, 46, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder.

Prosecutors believe Blake wanted Bakley dead because he wanted out of their marriage and killed her himself after months of trying to hire a hit man. Braun has said that plenty of other people had a motive to kill Bakley, whom he described as a lifelong con artist obsessed with being a celebrity's wife.

Prosecutors say they will decide later whether to seek the death penalty. Both sides will reconvene May 1 to set a date for a preliminary hearing.