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Robert Blake leaves jail after posting bond

Family of actor's slain wife opposes ruling

Actor Robert Blake makes his way through the crowd after leaving the Los Angeles County jail.

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A criminalist testified that he could not say that the material found on actor Robert Blake was from gunshot residue from the weapon used to kill his wife. CNN's Charles Feldman reports (March 13)
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Actor Robert Blake left jail for the first time in nearly a year after posting a $1.5 million bail bond Friday.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said bond was posted for Blake at 9:26 a.m. [12:26 p.m. EST], but he wasn't released until 4:35 p.m. [7:35 p.m. EST].

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lloyd Nash set bail for Blake on Thursday, after ruling the actor must stand trial in the shooting death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. While on bail, Blake must surrender his passport, stay in one residence and be monitored with an electronic device, Nash said.

Blake, 69, the star of the 1970s TV series "Baretta," is charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Bakley, 44, who was shot in the head May 4, 2001 as she sat in their car outside a restaurant in Studio City where they had just eaten.

He left jail Friday dressed in a long-sleeve white T-shirt.

"I never thought I'd make 11 months in a cement box, but I'm here," Blake said while smoking a cigarette.

Standing inside a throng of reporters, he told the crowd that he was OK and said, "I'm going to go sleep for three or four days."

After two weeks of testimony at a preliminary hearing, Nash ruled that Blake "had the motive and the opportunity" to carry out the crime. Witnesses testified that Blake had approached them to "pop," "snuff out," or "dispose" of his pregnant wife.

The decision to release Blake on bail shocked members of Bakley's family. They'd hoped he would remain jailed throughout the trial.

start quoteI never thought I’d make 11 months in a cement box, but I’m here. end quote
-- Robert Blake

"I can tell you that nobody in the Bakley family wanted Mr. Blake to walk out of court today," Bakley family attorney Eric Dubin said after the hearing Thursday. "I've never seen a judge switch opinions so abruptly."

Dubin said he is concerned that Blake could harm "anybody involved in the case or the Bakley family."

The judge also ruled that an alleged co-conspirator, Blake bodyguard Earle Caldwell, must face trial, though the judge added that he did not believe there was proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" for a jury to convict him.

Caldwell is charged with conspiracy to commit murder. He has been out on $1 million bail, money that was put up by Blake.

Preliminary hearing arguments

Before the judge issued his rulings, attorneys and prosecutors gave their closing arguments, with Blake attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. saying no witness to the shooting or evidence existed to support the prosecution's contention.

"There is no evidence about what happened when Bonny Lee Bakley was shot," he said.

Of the three key prosecution witnesses, Mesereau said, "All those witnesses lack credibility."

Prosecutor Pat Dixon said Blake "repeatedly told people exactly what he was going to do, and he carried it out, and he did it."

"This was an execution, not a robbery," Dixon said. "In every scenario Blake suggested, it was an ambush, and that's exactly what happened."

Among those who testified at the preliminary hearing was Ronald Hambleton, a retired Hollywood stuntman who worked with Blake on "Baretta."

Hambleton told the court that Blake approached him to "snuff out" Bakley.

The hearing also featured a phone conversation in which Blake accused a sobbing Bakley of intentionally getting pregnant, though she promised him that would never happen.

"That's the kind of lie that God looks down and says, 'Hey, wait a minute. Wait a minute.' That's a big, awful, mean, vicious lie," Blake said. "For the rest of your life, you will have to live with that, and for the rest of my life, I'll never forgot it."

After Thursday's hearing, Deputy District Attorney Greg Dohi said the testimony from the witnesses was key.

"At the end of the day, the judge, relying largely on what they had to say, found sufficient evidence to hold the defendants to answer," Dohi said.

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