TV detective cleared of killing wife after jurors deliberate for nine days

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The Independent US

The wheels of celebrity justice took a spin in an unexpected direction yesterday as Robert Blake, a hard-living television actor best known for playing the 1970s detective Baretta, was acquitted of murdering his wife in a case with all the ingredients of a sleazy dime-store mystery.

The jury in Los Angeles deliberated for a nail-biting nine days before concluding that Mr Blake was not guilty of shooting the wife he was said to loathe. The victim, 44-year-old Bonny Lee Bakley, was found dead in the couple's car shortly after the pair left their favourite Italian restaurant in the San Fernando Valley.

Celebrity-trial watchers had not fancied Mr Blake's chances because his alibi on the night of the crime raised more questions than answers. Mr Blake said he left his wife in the car after their meal and returned to Vitello's restaurant where he said he had accidentally left the handgun he carried to protect her from multiple death threats. When he got back to the car, he found that she had been shot by someone else.

On the other hand, the prosecution never found evidence tying Mr Blake to the crime. There were no witnesses and no traces of Mr Blake's DNA at the murder scene. The murder weapon, later found in a rubbish bin, could not be traced to Mr Blake, and the minuscule amounts of gunshot residue found on him could have plausibly come from a different gun.

As the jury of seven men and five women delivered their verdict, the 71-year-old actor dropped his head, trembled with emotion and let out several deep breaths. They also exonerated him on one charge of contracting the murder out to someone else.

The acquittal was a slap in the face for Los Angeles police and prosecutors, who spent almost a year gathering evidence. They found two Hollywood stuntmen who testified that Mr Blake talked regularly about having his wife "snuffed" and even talked about places to do it, including the Grand Canyon.

A former detective who worked as an investigator for Mr Blaketold the court the actor had talked about arranging to have Ms Bakley kidnapped and forcing her to have an abortion after she became pregnant. The detective said that, as an alternative, Mr Blake instructed him to "whack her".

The child, a daughter called Rosie, ended up being born. The prosecution said Mr Blake's motive to kill his wife, who he saw as an unfit mother, was to give himself unfettered access to his daughter.

Mr Blake's lawyer Gerald Schwartzbach told the court the police "convicted Mr Blake on the night of the murder, and then they conducted an incompetent investigation".