- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

From combined dispatches
LOS ANGELES In a potential case of life imitating art, California prosecutors yesterday filed murder charges that could bring the death penalty against actor Robert Blake, whose most-famous role was as gallows-bound murderer Perry Smith in the 1967 film "In Cold Blood."
Besides murder, Mr. Blake was charged in last year's shooting death of his wife with solicitation of murder, conspiracy and the special circumstance of lying in wait.
Under California law, a special circumstance gives prosecutors the option of seeking a death sentence a decision they said has not been made in the Blake case.
Mr. Blake's bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, 46, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in what prosecutors said was a plot that began at least three months before the slaying. Among other things, Mr. Caldwell was accused of keeping a list of items needed for the hit, including duct tape, lye and shovels.
Both men pleaded not guilty, saying nothing in court except when asked for their pleas.
Bonny Lee Bakley, 44, was fatally shot last May as she sat in Mr. Blake's car outside a Los Angeles restaurant where the couple had just dined.
Mr. Blake, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of a detective in the 1970s TV show "Baretta," has said his wife was shot after he returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he accidentally left behind.
He was carrying a weapon, he said, to protect Mrs. Bakley from threats she received. Prosecutors, however, said the 68-year-old actor fired the handgun that killed his wife.
They also said he planned the crime, asked two other persons to kill Mrs. Bakley and considered having her body buried in the desert.
Police said he checked out two remote places to kill Mrs. Bakley a tiny town outside Sequoia National Park and an Arizona community in the weeks before the slaying beside a construction site.
In a criminal complaint, prosecutors said Mr. Blake drove Mrs. Bakley to dinner at Vitello's, where he parked his car behind a trash bin a block away from the restaurant.
When the couple returned to the car, Mrs. Bakley sat in the passenger seat. Prosecutors said Mr. Blake "lowered the windows, got out of the car" with keys in hand and shot his wife twice with a 9 mm handgun that he later tossed in a trash bin.
According to the complaint, before the slaying Mr. Blake asked two persons to kill his wife and showed them a gun. In one case, the actor said Mr. Caldwell "would have already dug holes for burial."
Prosecutors said that at Mr. Blake's request, the bodyguard kept a list of items for use in the murder. It read: "2 shovels, small sledge, crowbar, 25 auto, 'get blank gun ready,' old rugs, duct tape, Draino, pool acid, lye, plant."
Mr. Blake and Mr. Caldwell were arrested Thursday after a nearly yearlong investigation covering more than 900 items of evidence, more than 150 witnesses and police travel throughout the country.


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