Stuntman: Actor Robert Blake offered me $10,000 to 'pop' his wife
By Lisa Sweetingham
VAN NUYS, California (Court TV) -- A few weeks before his wife was murdered, actor Robert Blake offered a stuntman $10,000 and suggested four ways she could be killed, a witness told jurors Monday.
"He started talking about his wife and how she was taking advantage of him, spending his money," stuntman Gary McLarty testified, adding that Blake appeared angry as he spoke. "He said he met her at a bar ... that he'd had sex with her one time, and consequently a baby came out of it."
McLarty told jurors Blake showed him nude photos of his wife, letters related to her mail-order porn business, and a small handgun sealed in a zipper-style carrying case.
Then the "Baretta" star began suggesting several murderous plots, McLarty testified, although never mentioning his wife by name.
In one scenario, Blake would take her to dinner and then leave her alone in the car afterward, giving someone else time to shoot her -- a scene that mirrors the circumstances surrounding Bonny Lee Bakley's shooting death on May 4, 2001.
"After they had dinner and he'd go back, what would happen when he went back to the restaurant?" prosecutor Shellie Samuels asked.
"That's when she would be disposed of," McLarty said.
"Did he specifically say 'Vitello's restaurant,'?" she asked.
"Just 'a restaurant,'" he said.
Bakley was shot twice as she sat in Blake's black Dodge Stealth parked about a block and a half from Vitello's Italian restaurant in Studio City, where the couple had just finished dinner.
Blake claims he had nothing to do with her murder and that someone else shot his wife when he briefly returned to the restaurant.
During an intense cross-examination, Blake's defense attorney suggested that the stuntman's chronic abuse of cocaine and marijuana pointed to a history of delusional behavior and a 17-day stint at the psychiatric ward of a Glendale Hospital.
"I'm actually ashamed of what I've done," McLarty told jurors, adding that although he had been using drugs since the 1980s, he recently quit.
In fact, the witness testified that he lied under oath during the 2003 preliminary hearing when he testified that he experimented with drugs, but rarely used them.
"I just thought it sounded better," McLarty admitted.
McLarty, 64, said he met Blake in the 1970s when he was a "Baretta" stuntman. The witness, now semi-retired, has a slight limp from hip problems and used amplifying headphones as a listening device.
McLarty said stuntman Roy "Snuffy" Harrison contacted him in March 2001 to say that Blake wanted to hire him for possible bodyguard work, because someone was "bothering" the actor and his wife.
McLarty met Blake at a diner, but after only 10 minutes of small talk, the actor suggested they go back to his "Mata Hari Ranch" residence in Studio City. That's where Blake asked him to murder his wife, McLarty testified.
McLarty told jurors Blake showed him a guesthouse in the back, where Bakley slept, and suggested that the killer could sneak in at night through the unlocked sliding glass doors and "pop her" while she slept.
"Is that the word he used? 'Pop'?" Samuels asked.
"Yes, 'pop, pop,' McLarty said, mimicking a gun sound.
Two other potential murder plots, McLarty testified, involved the couple taking a road trip and someone killing the 44-year-old mother of four while she walked along the river, or when Blake stopped at the side of the road to relieve himself.
McLarty said that before the two parted, he asked Blake, "What are you talking about?" and the actor gave him a number: "$10,000."
"I said, 'Well, you call me," McLarty said.
"Were you certain he was serious?" Samuels asked.
"Well, a lot of people want to strangle their wives at times," the witness testified, eliciting laughter among the jurors. "I thought he was just venting his anger."
When Blake followed up three days later, however, McLarty said he refused, telling the actor his notoriety alone would be a problem.
"He hung up," McLarty testified. "That's the last time I spoke to him."
Blake, who generally remains stone-faced and silent during testimony, stared at the stuntman from the defense table, his brow furrowed and his right hand resting against his forehead.
Jurors listened intently, some taking notes and whispering to each other during several lengthy sidebars.
Prosecutors contend Blake hated Bakley, and when he couldn't persuade McLarty and another stuntman to murder his wife, he pulled the trigger himself in a desperate attempt to retain custody of their infant daughter.
Stuntman Ronald Hambleton is expected to testify this week that Blake engaged him in similar murder scenarios.
But the defense wants jurors to believe that McLarty who admitted to suffering from delusions last year while taking drugs learned the details of Bakley's murder from tabloid articles before he told police about the alleged solicitation.
McLarty conceded that he followed the tabloid stories, but denied fabricating details for detectives when he approached police 10 days after Bakley's death.
Defense attorney Gerald Schwartzbach procured medical records indicating McLarty had been a heavy user of cocaine and marijuana in the weeks before he met with Blake, and that in September 2004 he voluntarily committed himself to Glendale Adventist Hospital.
"While this case was pending, and while you were under the influence of drugs, you thought the police were trying to get you?" Schwartzbach asked.
"Yes," McLarty said.
"While this case was pending and while you were under the influence of drugs, you actually thought people were tunneling under your house?" the lawyer continued.
McLarty confirmed, "Yes," to a series of questions like this, revealing that before his hospitalization, he believed his house, car and cell phone were bugged; satellite dishes were tracking his movements; his family was conspiring against him; that lead detective Ronald Ito was after him; that he saw alien spaceships as a child and that he could read other people's minds.
Schwartzbach also attempted to point out small inconsistencies in McLarty's police interviews and testimony, such as telling police that the gun Blake showed him appeared to be a revolver, but later he said it was a pistol.
"I know that he showed me a weapon," McLarty said.
Though the stuntman's memory and hearing were spotty, he appeared credible and sympathetic on the stand.
His testimony, which will continue Tuesday, has been the most compelling evidence jurors have heard yet as prosecutors begin the seventh and possibly final week of their case against the veteran TV and film actor.
Robert Blake, 71, is charged with one count of murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait and two counts of solicitation of murder.
He faces life in prison if convicted.