Actor Robert Blake repeatedly asked a second stuntman to kill Bonny Lee Bakley, the man said Friday, testifying that Blake "was unable to even think about or do anything until his wife was taken care of."
" 'Snuff ' was the word he used," said Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton on the third day of Blake's preliminary hearing on charges that he shot the 44-year-old Bakley to death in Studio City on May 4, 2001.
Hambleton said that days before Bakley was killed, he met with the actor a third and final time. Hambleton said Blake, 69, told him that "if I wouldn't do it, he would."
Hambleton, 66, was the third witness to testify that Blake had discussed killing Bakley with him. Gary McLarty, also a stuntman, said Thursday that Blake asked him to "pop" his wife. Private investigator and retired Los Angeles homicide detective William Welch said Wednesday that Blake said he planned to "whack" Bakley, at the time single and pregnant with their daughter, if she could not be forced to have an abortion.
Similar to McLarty's earlier testimony that Blake had offered several scenarios for killing his wife, Hambleton on Friday outlined at least half a dozen plans proposed by Blake for Bakley's slaying.
Most pointedly, Hambleton said Blake took him to parking lots near Vitello's, the Studio City restaurant where the actor ate dinner with Bakley minutes before she was shot to death in his car. Once there, Hambleton said Blake discussed how someone could wait nearby to kill Bakley.
Blake also suggested that Bakley could be shot in her bedroom, in his camper, while walking with Blake down a street, at a motel or in a number of secluded areas -- outside of Laughlin, Nev., near the Grand Canyon or anywhere between Memphis and Los Angeles -- according to Hambleton's testimony. Blake said he could ask the Mafia to kill Bakley, but did not want to be beholden to organized crime, Hambleton testified.
Hambleton, a reluctant witness who took months to tell police his story, testified that he didn't turn Blake down at their first meeting because he was scared. "I had already heard too much information to feel safe and secure," he said. "I felt very locked in, very concerned primarily because of the way it was presented to me. It was not a question of will you.... It was a question of you will," Hambleton testified.
He said Blake often mentioned Hambleton's grandchildren and children, remarks he interpreted as threats against them.
In testimony about one of the only pieces of physical evidence in a largely circumstantial case, Hambleton said he instructed Blake to purchase a prepaid phone card, which he told the actor would make his calls untraceable. Based on Hambleton's statements, police were able to track down records from a phone card purchased at a convenience store near Blake's home. The day Bakley was killed, Hambleton testified that Blake called him and asked: "Are you sure there is no way they can trace calls made from a calling card?"
Detectives never found the phone card, but they obtained records of its use. According to court records, Blake made 56 calls to Hambleton and three to McLarty between March 2001 and the slaying, two months later.
Hambleton's testimony followed an extensive cross-examination by Blake's attorney of the murder investigation's lead detective. Taking a page from the O.J. Simpson trial playbook, Thomas Mesereau Jr. tried repeatedly Friday to suggest that police were biased when they investigated his client for his wife's murder.
Mesereau questioned Los Angeles Police Department Det. Ronald Ito for more than two hours, focusing on the frequent presence of author Miles Corwin during the investigation. Corwin was given broad access to the case by top LAPD officials in the course of writing a book about the department's elite Robbery-Homicide Division.
Corwin was on leave from his job as a Los Angeles Times reporter from August 2000 to June 2001. He resigned from the paper in January 2002 to write books full time. Corwin did not cover the Bakley case for The Times.
Ito said he showed Corwin confidential reports from the investigation and allowed him to handle hundreds of letters and photographs seized from Blake's home before turning them over to the defense.
The detective said Corwin also was present during a search of Blake's Studio City property and during the questioning of witnesses.
At one point, in an interview with Roy "Snuffy" Harrison, a key prosecution witness, Ito said he introduced Corwin as his partner. Harrison has told police he helped arrange Blake's meetings with McLarty and Hambleton, both of whom Blake has been charged with soliciting to murder Bakley.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lloyd M. Nash, who is presiding over the hearing and will decide if Blake and his co-defendant, Earle S. Caldwell, 46, should stand trial, weighed in on the potential force of the detective's testimony.
Nash said Corwin's presence may be "significant in terms of potential of possible contamination of the evidence, bias of the witness. It's fraught with all kinds of problems."
Ito testified that Corwin's permission to follow detectives came directly from then-LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks.
Ito told the court: "[Corwin] did not touch blood evidence. He didn't touch trace evidence. He did not touch fibers. He didn't touch clothing."
Diane Corwin, an attorney who is Miles Corwin's wife, said Friday: "The comment that we have is that it is Miles' practice not to comment on an unpublished work."
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said Friday's testimony "made it very clear that nothing was tampered with."
She dismissed the defense theory, introduced Friday, that Ito may have been seeking attention by allowing Corwin access. "It was not Det. Ito's idea," Gibbons said, noting Corwin was pursuing a "year in the life" story about the division.
Mesereau, after testimony closed, said he believed the defense had begun "exposing the truth about this case."
"You have police officers who want to be in books, want to be on television, want to be in films, want to make money. They compromised the entire investigation by having a book author travel with them," Mesereau said. "They described him as their partner and lied to a witness."
Courtroom observers said Corwin's role may well pose problems for the prosecution.
"At minimum, they inserted a witness into every stage of their investigation," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor. "At worst, they created the appearance that their investigation was slanted to enhance their press."
Hambleton, who has not been cross-examined, is scheduled to take the stand again Monday.
Times staff writers Jean Guccione and Errin Haines contributed to this report.