Medical Examiner: Blake's Wife Bled to Death

Times Staff Writers

Robert Blake's wife bled to death after she was shot twice, the medical examiner testified this morning in the actor's murder trial.

Blake, 71, is charged with fatally shooting his 44-year-old wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, as she sat alone in his car near Vitello's, an Italian restaurant in Studio City, where they ate the night of May 4, 2001. He also is accused of soliciting two stuntmen to murder Bakley.

If convicted, the award-winning actor faces life in prison without parole.

The testimony was the first forensic evidence as Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Shellie L. Samuels presents her case. The prosecution contends that Blake, star of the 1970s television show "Baretta," killed his wife to gain custody of their daughter, Rosie, now 4 years old.

Defense lawyer M. Gerald Schwartzbach has stressed that there is no physical evidence linking Blake to the death. He also has attacked the professionalism of the police investigation.

Dr. Jeffrey Gutstadt, a medical examiner in the Los Angeles County coroner's office, testified that Bakley was shot twice, once through the right cheek with the bullet lodging in her brain. The other bullet traveled through a shoulder and cut a key artery. Either wound would have killed her, he said.

It is "unlikely in this case, they would have been able to save her life because of the wounds," Gutstadt said.

The shots were likely fired from at least a foot and a half away, too far to leave a residue, Gutstadt said.

During his cross-examination, Schwartzbach concentrated on the distance and angle of the shots. The defense maintains that the lack of physical evidence means Blake wasn't involved.

Gutstadt was followed by Dr. James McCoy, a hospital administrator, who amplified testimony by three witnesses on Tuesday who said that Blake acted strangely the night of his wife's death.

McCoy, who was eating at a nearby restaurant, saw Blake go to a neighbor's house and seek help. He said the actions "didn't seem to have an element of distress" and that he feared he was seeing "an home-invasion robbery."

"Something didn't seem right about the call for help,' McCoy said.

The prosecution hopes to use Blake's actions that night to convince jurors that the actor was "freaked out," because he shot his wife, prosecutor Samuels said in her opening statement on Monday.

Schwartzbach tried to discredit McCoy during cross-examination, by asking why he didn't help the bleeding woman or alert authorities. McCoy replied that his medical license was no longer active and that he was afraid there might be a gun.

On Tuesday, film director Sean Stanek told jurors in the Van Nuys courtroom that Blake, wide-eyed, pale and screaming for help, pounded on his door. Stanek was the first witness to get to the car where Bakley was dying. He said he tried to help, but oddly, Blake left him alone to tend to the dying woman.

School nurse Teri Lorenzo-Castaneda and her friend, Carole Caputo, were eating at Vitello's when a waiter called out for a doctor. Lorenzo-Castaneda testified on Tuesday that the pair then followed Blake to his car parked 1½ blocks away.

The nurse testified that Blake was evasive and would not tell her what was wrong with his wife, despite repeated requests for information. She said he did not tell her that Bakley was bleeding from the head.

All three witnesses testified that Blake sat on a curb near a commercial garbage bin and never went near the dying Bakley.

After testimony today, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Darlene E. Schempp has scheduled a break until Jan. 4.

Times staff writer Michael Muskal handled rewrite for this story.

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