- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lloyd Nash yesterday banned all cameras from Robert Blake's preliminary hearing on the premeditated murder charge that could send the 1970s television star to death row.
A court official said the order sparked a frenzy among television outlets anxious to broadcast a spectacle that some sense could rival O.J. Simpson's trial in riveting cable-TV audiences.
Judge Nash's order applies only to his May 1 hearing. Whoever is assigned as trial judge will decide whether to allow courtroom TV coverage, to limit coverage to still cameras or to ban all cameras.
"Each judge that would hear every matter would have the sole discretion over that proceeding. It doesn't matter what the prior judge decided," Superior Court spokesman Kyle Christopherson said.
State court regulations permit Superior Court judges in Los Angeles County to allow pooled camera coverage under any rules a judge deems necessary to maintain "the fairness and dignity of the proceedings."
For 80 TV episodes, Mr. Blake played Tony Baretta, an undercover cop with a parrot. He is charged with assembling a murder kit and trying to hire killers in an elaborate scheme prior to May 4 of last year, when he is accused of personally murdering his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, 44. Bodyguard Earle Caldwell is charged with conspiracy in the case.
The mother of their 22-month-old daughter, Rose, was killed after a last supper with her husband at Vitello's, Mr. Blake's favorite restaurant.
Police say he shot her twice, once in the head, with the unregistered Walther P-38 found in a nearby Dumpster. Mr. Blake said he left her alive while he went back to Vitello's to retrieve a gun he left behind not the P-38 and found her dead when he returned.
Except for media attention, the Blake and Simpson cases are vastly different. Simpson was not far from the top of his celebrity game when he was accused of murdering two persons with rare brutality, Mr. Blake, now 68, is a faded star known for eccentric behavior, and he is accused of shooting a woman the press has called a smalltime con artist and grifter.
In addition to his signature role in "Baretta," Mr. Blake played the starring role of a priest in the 1985 "Hell Town" series that was canceled after 13 episodes. He also played a killer in the Truman Capote docu-drama "In Cold Blood."
At Monday's arraignment, when Mr. Blake pleaded not guilty, defense attorney Harland Braun sought to close the court to cameras to avoid a "circus atmosphere." The office of District Attorney Steve Cooley objected, and Commissioner Michael Duffey left it to the discretion of the judges who will handle each phase of the case.
"Mr. Cooley believes the courts belong to the people, that they should be as open as possible, and he has a policy that we do not oppose cameras in the courtroom," spokeswoman Jane Robison said yesterday.
Over defense protests, L.A. Superior Court trial judges allowed cameras for the cases of 1960s radical Sarah Jane Olson and serial murderer Efrin Saldivar, known as the "Angel of Death."
Mr. Christopherson said yesterday's order is unlikely to be affected by press objections.
"Everything is left up to the discretion of the judges hearing the matter. They can make any decisions they want, and they don't even have to say why," he said of the process governed by California Rule of Court 980.
"Judges can deny cameras flat out. Some judges do that. Others respond to motions and hold hearings," Mr. Christopherson said in an interview.
"There have been a lot of instances where California state courts have blocked electronic coverage that might have been let in before O.J. Simpson," said Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio Television News Directors Association. But she disputes those who blame TV for the furor stirred by the O.J. case.
"The complaints that are made about a trial like the O.J. trial have nothing to do with cameras in the courtroom. That camera in the courtroom is the most objective observer," Mrs. Cochran said.


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