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Witness Tells of Blake Offer

Times Staff Writers

A key witness in the murder trial of Robert Blake testified Monday that the actor offered him $10,000 to “pop” his wife, but under cross-examination conceded that Blake never specifically asked him to kill Bonny Lee Bakley.

Gary McLarty, a Hollywood stuntman and self-described tough guy, also admitted a cocaine habit spanning two decades, acknowledging that it caused him to be delusional when he had a mental breakdown last year.

Under the drug’s influence, he conceded, he once believed that police were tunneling under his home, that he could detect what others were thinking and that he was being observed by satellites in space.

After many delays, McLarty took the stand Monday and came under attack by Blake’s lawyer, M. Gerald Schwartzbach, about what was actually said at a meeting between the stuntman and the actor shortly before Bakley was killed.

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McLarty’s testimony is viewed as critical to the prosecution because it provides a direct link to Blake in what is otherwise a largely circumstantial case.

“Mr. Blake never actually said he wanted you to do something to Bonny Bakley at that time?” Schwartzbach asked.

“Yes, that’s true,” McLarty replied.

“You thought he was insinuating he wanted you to do something to Ms. Bakley?” Schwartzbach asked.

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“Correct.”

“Although he didn’t say he wanted you to do anything to Ms. Bakley, you assumed it?” Schwartzbach asked.

“Correct,” McLarty replied.

McLarty also said he lied in earlier testimony about the extent of his cocaine and marijuana use during the last two decades, including the periods before and after he met with Blake in 2001. He conceded that even after suffering a heart attack that year, he continued to use cocaine heavily.

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In 2004, he was admitted to Glendale Adventist Medical Center for 17 days after a mental breakdown.

“I just got kind of crazy and did some very crazy things,” he said.

McLarty is one of two former stuntmen testifying that Blake wanted them to kill Bakley. The other is Ronald “Duffy” Hambleton, who is expected to testify later.

Blake, 71, faces life in prison if he is convicted of the May 4, 2001, shooting death of Bakley, 44, in his car near a Studio City restaurant where they had dined. He has been free on $1.5-million bail for almost two years.

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Peter Korn, an attorney following the case, said that even though Blake didn’t specifically name Bakley as the target of solicitation for murder, it doesn’t negate McLarty’s testimony.

“It establishes the motive to have her killed and the intent to have her killed,” said Korn, a defense attorney who once worked as a prosecutor in the Van Nuys courthouse where Blake is on trial. “In the end, the jury is going to make a decision on the totality of the case and defense victories today may get lost in the overall impression the jury has of the case.”

In the days leading up to Monday’s testimony, the prosecution and defense battled over how much of McLarty’s drug history would be admitted. They held numerous conferences on the subject in Judge Darlene Schempp’s chambers, and transcripts show there were sharp exchanges between prosecutor Shellie Samuels and defense lawyer Schwartzbach.

In what appeared to be a preemptive strike shortly after McLarty took the stand, Samuels asked him why he lied at the preliminary hearing about the extent of his drug use.

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“I just thought it sounded better at the time,” McLarty said. “I am sorry.”

The gravel-voiced McLarty, 64, occasionally seemed confused during his testimony and often said he could not remember when events surrounding the case had occurred. With Samuels guiding him through a morning of testimony, McLarty described how he and Blake had worked together in the 1970s “Baretta” TV detective series and the 1980 movie “Coast to Coast.”

McLarty testified that after a 2001 meeting arranged by an intermediary, Roy “Snuffy” Harrison, he talked to Blake at Du-Par’s restaurant in Studio City, then went to the actor’s nearby home.

There, McLarty said, Blake showed the semiretired stuntman a pistol in a zippered case and asked if he could get a silencer for it. McLarty said Blake spelled out four scenarios for killing Bakley. The first was to open the sliding doors of Bakley’s two-story apartment behind Blake’s house and “pop her.”

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“Is that the word he used -- ‘pop’ her?” Samuels asked.

“Yes,” McLarty said. “Pop, pop.”

Another scenario, McLarty said, was killing Bakley while she and Blake walked along a river in Laughlin, Nev.

A third was killing her when Blake stopped his car on the side of the road while returning home from the desert.

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McLarty also described a final scenario, similar to the way Bakley was killed. But it was not until the prosecution jogged his memory that he described it.

Blake told investigators that on the night of Bakley’s slaying, he left her in his car while he returned to Vitello’s restaurant to retrieve a gun he left there. He said he returned to find Bakley mortally wounded.

In his cross-examination, Schwartzbach homed in on McLarty’s drug habit and his 2004 breakdown. Schwartzbach repeatedly noted that the breakdown and accompanying delusions occurred while the case against Blake was pending.

“You thought the police were trying to get to you?” Schwartzbach asked.

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“Correct,” McLarty replied.

“You thought police were trying to tunnel under your house?”

“Correct.”

“You thought your family was conspiring against you?”

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“Correct.”

“You believed that satellites were flying over your ranch, watching what you were doing?”

“Correct.”

McLarty also conceded that to avoid detection of his tormenters, he once began crawling from his house to that of his estranged wife and son a mile away.

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“Yes,” he replied. “But I only crawled a short distance.”

Besides citing McLarty’s drug use, Schwartzbach also implied that McLarty’s years as a stuntman -- with crashes and injuries that are part of the business -- may have affected his memory.

McLarty said he spent 40 years as a stuntman and has several recent credits despite his advancing age.

In the 1970s, he was severely injured while performing a stunt for the television series “Cade’s County.”

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He developed swelling around the brain and was not expected to live. But he showed up several days later, ready to work.

In 1996, he was riding a motorcycle on the Rim of the World Highway in Angeles National Forest when a car crossed into his lane.

McLarty veered off the highway, falling 60 feet to the rocks below. He broke two legs and an arm, but survived.

McLarty is expected to continue his testimony later this week.

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