- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In the 3 years since Robert Blake’s wife was slain, the case has faded from the public spotlight so much that prospective jurors had trouble remembering what it was all about.

“I think there was something about a glove being found,” said one prospect, confusing it with the O.J. Simpson murder case.

It’s quite a change from April 2002, when the actor’s arrest put his picture on national magazine covers and gave CNN its biggest ratings jump of the year, with 1.9 million viewers tuning in as news helicopters hovered over Mr. Blake’s home.

Now the Hollywood mystery is set to take center stage again, with opening statements in Blake’s trial on murder charges to start today.

Mr. Blake is a different man in appearance now. Gone is the shock of dyed black hair. During nearly a year in jail, he became gaunt and let his hair go white. He now lives under house arrest on $1.5 million bail.

The long delay in getting to trial appears to favor Mr. Blake.

“Time is on his side,” said Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson. “There was time for any public outrage to die down. Jurors are likely to feel less pressure to convict when the case is downplayed over time.”

Why did it take so long to get to trial?

Mr. Blake was not even arrested or charged until 11 months after the killing. There were postponements when Mr. Blake changed lawyers three times, and a five-week preliminary hearing was held to determine whether there was enough evidence for a trial.

The prosecution team also changed, with the case now in the hands of Shellie Samuels, a longtime deputy district attorney who has tried 50 murder cases.

Jurors will hear a melodramatic case that could be a made-for-TV movie. It features Mr. Blake, 71, a lonely, fading celebrity trawling Hollywood nightclubs for companionship when he met up with celebrity-obsessed divorcee Bonny Lee Bakley, 44.

She remembered him from his starring roles in the “Baretta” TV series and the movie “In Cold Blood.” She became pregnant, and Mr. Blake was suddenly confronted with the prospect of marriage and fatherhood. The baby, Rosie, stole Mr. Blake’s heart, and he married Miss Bakley.

On the evening of May 4, 2001, the couple dined at a restaurant in his Studio City neighborhood. After they left, Mr. Blake said, he walked his wife to the car and returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he forgot.

When he returned to the car, he said, he found his wife bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head. He raced to a nearby house for help, but she died a short time later.

Two former stuntmen who had worked with Mr. Blake said he tried to hire them to kill his wife.

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