Swinging from reticence to agitation, frustration and anger, actor Robert Blake took the witness stand Thursday to give his first public testimony about the circumstances surrounding the murder of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.
Attorney Eric Dubin, who is representing Bakley’s four children, accused Blake of offering varying accounts of his wife’s final hours to police, television interviewers and lawyers.
Blake admitted to giving “different versions” of his story, but said, “I’m a human being; I’m not a machine. I’m 72. I’m dyslexic.” Blake also said he felt as if he were “in my own ‘Rashomon,’ ” referring to the Japanese movie depicting varying versions of the same incident through the eyes of different witnesses.
Blake earlier this year was acquitted of murder in Bakley’s May 4, 2001, death. He did not testify during the criminal trial.
Bakley, 44, was shot outside a Studio City restaurant where the couple had just dined. Blake said he went back to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he had left behind, and returned to find Bakley dying in the car. Prosecutors accused a handyman, Earle S. Caldwell, of conspiring with Blake to kill Bakley, but that charge was dismissed.
Bakley’s four children are suing Blake, hoping for the same result as in the O.J. Simpson case a decade ago: A celebrity accused of murder is cleared of criminal charges, but is held liable in civil court for a victim’s death. Without a criminal conviction, the lawyer must persuade jurors that Blake and Caldwell were more likely than not to have caused Bakley’s death.
Dubin, who turned down a $250,000 pre-trial settlement offer, hopes to persuade jurors with a connect-the-dots strategy -- pointing out small contradictions in the actor’s statements, some of which never surfaced in the four-month criminal trial.
Blake is being represented by attorney Peter Q. Ezzell, who has said he will portray Bakley, who sold nude photos of herself to men through a lonely hearts club, as practicing a lifestyle of “pornography, prostitution and fraud.”
During questioning, Blake said that if the well-being of his young daughter Rosie depended on putting Bakley in jail for six months, “so be it.”
He acknowledged that he hired a private detective whose work included trying to force Bakley out of California so he could take sole custody of the girl, now 5 years old.
Blake’s examination, which could last a week, also included a tense exchange with Dubin.
At one point, the actor told Dubin: “You have an elaborate imagination, sir.” He also barked: “Counselor, get yourself together.”
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Schachter repeatedly intervened as the exchanges became pointed.
"[Are] you having fun?” Dubin asked Blake.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” the actor responded sharply.
“Stop!” Schachter ordered.
But Blake, echoing courtroom parlance he has learned over the last two years, persisted: “I want him admonished.”
At another time, Dubin asked what Blake would say if someone told him that Caldwell had “a hobby or interest in killing.”
“I would tell them to their face they were rotten, foul liars,” Blake replied.