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Jury begins deliberations in murder trial of actor Robert Blake

By Lisa Sweetingham
Court TV

Court TV:  Case coverageexternal link

VAN NUYS, California (Court TV) -- The fate of Robert Blake is now in the hands of five men and seven women who began deliberating late last week in the 71-year-old actor's murder trial.

As they filed into the deliberation room, the panel collected their spiral bound notebooks, with some jurists clutching as many as four or five books filled with almost two months worth of notes.

The panel deliberated behind closed doors for about an hour and a half before adjourning for the weekend. The jury is not being sequestered, and they will return on Monday morning.

Blake's defense attorney concluded more than six hours of closing arguments Friday by asking jurors to "do justice" and acquit the actor of charges that he murdered his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.

"Maybe you think 'He might have done it,' maybe 'He probably did it?'" defense attorney Gerald Schwartzbach told jurors in a final misty-eyed plea. "But it hasn't been proven to you beyond a reasonable doubt."

"All I ask you to do is to do justice. And I respectfully submit: If you do justice you will end this nightmare for Mr. Blake and you will give him his life back," Schwartzbach said.

Blake sat stone-faced, his mouth quivering at times during the final stretch of his defense before jurors are given what Schwartzbach deemed the "awesome responsibility" of deciding the 71-year-old actor's fate.

As the attorney concluded and sat down at the defense table, he and Blake looked at each other for some time, neither saying a word, until Blake let out a deep sigh and a smile and the two men embraced.

Robert Blake is charged with one count of murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait, and two counts of soliciting two former stuntmen to kill his wife.

He faces life in prison without parole if convicted of murder. The two solicitation counts carry a maximum sentence of nine years each.

Bad police work?

Blake's defense attorney wrapped up his third day of closing arguments by pointing out inconsistencies in the testimony of key prosecution witnesses, including stuntmen Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton and Gary "Whiz Kid" McLarty.

He also attempted to portray the detectives investigating Bakley's May 4, 2001, murder as sloppy in their police work, and implied that they were so blinded by their bias against the defendant that they let the real killer slip away.

"Detective Coffey expressed the opinion on the night of the murder, 'Blake's full of shit,'" Schwartzbach said, referring to a line straight from "Homicide Special," a book about the LAPD's elite Robbery Homicide unit, which included passages about the Bakley murder investigation.

Schwartzbach also suggested throughout the 10-week trial that "Homicide Special" author Miles Corwin was allowed to tag along with detectives during interviews and a search of Blake's home because police hoped to garner fame and recognition with the high-profile case.

He pointed to testimony of a detective who confirmed that the book sat in a glass case at the entrance of the Robbery Homicide department, and projected a Playboy cover article on the screen touting an excerpt from the book that focused on Blake's alleged involvement in Bakley's killing.

Schwartzbach also drew jurors' attention to small procedural mishaps such as detectives' improper handling of the murder weapon and Blake's clothing, as well as one detective's testimony that he thought a search warrant had been secured when he collected Blake's clothes, when in fact, it was not signed until later that day.

He then played a portion of a 2003 jailhouse interview Blake gave to Barbara Walters, in which the actor asserts he never killed his wife, and that he was looking forward to having Rosie in his life, even if it meant having Bakley -- whom he met at a jazz club years earlier -- in the picture as well.

"What's the downside?" Blake yells at Walters. "I'm an old man. I ain't got no life. I'm hanging around jazz clubs, sleeping with women I don't even know?"

"From the second I touched Rosie," Blake said in the interview, "it's all about her."

'Red herrings'

During her rebuttal, Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels told jurors not to be distracted by the "red herrings" the defense put in their path, including the appearance of bias.

"Sure they were suspicious that night. No question! They're cops. That's their job," Samuels said.

Schwartzbach kept his back to the prosecutor, and by default, to the jury, during Samuels' 75-minute rebuttal.

Samuels asked jurors not to be swayed by defense witnesses, including actor Scott Wilson and a priest, Father George Horan, who testified about Blake's depression and difficult living conditions during the year he spent in a one-man jail cell before being granted bail.

"Big deal," Samuels said. "What were they supposed to do? Take him out dancing every Saturday night?"

The prosecutor, who got the last word, told jurors that Blake's celebrity was not a pass for special treatment when the charge is murder.

"And if you pity the defendant, your pity is misplaced anyway," she told jurors.

Court TV Extra will broadcast the verdict live.

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