- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A jury acquitted actor Robert Blake of murder yesterday in the 2001 shooting death of his wife, bringing a stunning end to the case.

The jury of seven men and five women also acquitted Mr. Blake of one charge of trying to get someone to kill his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, but deadlocked on a second solicitation charge. The jury voted 11-1 in favor of acquittal, and the judge dismissed the count.

The 71-year-old star of the 1970s detective drama “Baretta” dropped his head, trembled and sobbed heavily as the verdict was read. He hugged his lawyer and later almost fell while reaching for a water bottle.

Outside the courthouse, Mr. Blake thanked his lawyers and private investigators, saying, “This small band of dedicated warriors saved my life.” He also described the financial toll that the case had taken on him.

“If you want to know how to go through $10 million in five years, ask me,” he said. “I’m broke. I need a job.”

Mr. Blake asked whether anyone in the crowd had something to remove his electronic-monitoring bracelet. He then bent down and cut off the ankle device.

When the verdicts were announced, Holly Gawron, the 24-year-old daughter of Mrs. Bakley, sobbed quietly in the back of the courtroom. She said later that she was shocked by the verdicts and looked forward to a wrongful-death suit against Mr. Blake, scheduled to begin July 7.

“I hope somehow that I will be able to find some justice, some form of punishment for him, because he’s off celebrating his freedom for murdering my mother,” she said.

Mr. Blake had faced life in prison; prosecutors did not seek the death penalty. The actor was charged with shooting Mrs. Bakley in their car outside his favorite Italian restaurant.

The defense called it a weak case built largely on the testimony of the two stuntmen — both of whom were once heavy drug users — who said Mr. Blake had solicited them to kill his wife.

“The prosecution built their case on the backs of those two men, and neither one of them was worthy of belief,” defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach said outside court.

No eyewitnesses, blood or DNA evidence linked Mr. Blake to the crime. The gun, found in a trash bin, could not be traced to Mr. Blake, and witnesses said the minuscule amounts of gunshot residue found on his hands could have come from a different gun that he said he carried for protection.

“They couldn’t put the gun in his hand,” jury foreman Thomas Nicholson told reporters.

Prosecutors said Mr. Blake thought his wife had trapped him into a loveless marriage by getting pregnant. They said Mr. Blake became smitten with the baby, Rosie, and desperately wanted to keep the child away from his wife, whom he considered an unfit mother.

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