- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BURBANK, Calif. — Eight months after Robert Blake was acquitted at a criminal trial of murdering his wife, a civil jury decided yesterday the actor was behind the slaying, and ordered him to pay her children $30 million in damages.

After eight days of deliberations, the jury determined by a vote of 10-2 that the former “Baretta” star “intentionally caused the death” of Bonny Lee Bakley, who was gunned down in 2001 outside a restaurant where the couple had just dined.

The jury decided that Blake’s handyman, Earle Caldwell, did not collaborate with Mr. Blake to kill the 44-year-old Mrs. Bakley.

Mr. Blake said that on the night of the killing, he left his wife in the car while he went back inside the restaurant to retrieve a gun he carried for protection but had accidentally left in their booth. Mr. Blake said he found Mrs. Bakley wounded when he went back out to the car.

The plaintiffs had argued that Mr. Blake either killed Mrs. Bakley himself or hired someone to do so. The jury was not asked to decide which theory it believed.

Mr. Blake was acquitted at his murder trial last March. But Mrs. Bakley’s four children sued the 72-year-old actor, claiming he should be held responsible for their mother’s death and forced to pay damages.

Similarly, O.J. Simpson was acquitted at a criminal trial in 1995 of murdering his ex-wife and a friend of hers, but later was found responsible for the slayings in a civil case and ordered to pay $33.5 million.

Mr. Blake did not testify in the criminal trial but took the stand in the civil case and denied the accusations.

Unlike Mr. Blake’s criminal trial, in which 12 jurors had to decide guilt unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt, the civil wrongful-death case required only that nine of 12 jurors believe by a “preponderance” of the evidence that Mr. Blake was responsible.

The civil trial was by turns comical and combative. During Mr. Blake’s eight days on the stand, the tough-talking actor lashed out at the Bakleys’ attorney and elicited laughter from the jurors, lodging his own objections and calling the lawyer “chief,” “junior” or “sonny.”

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