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Blake jurors say 'a lot of discussion' led to acquittal decision

Jurors Thomas Nicholson and Cecelia Moldonado.
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Actor Robert Blake's real life crime drama ended with an acquittal Wednesday.

The actor acquitted of murdering his wife addresses reporters.
Robert Blake

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Members of the jury that acquitted "Baretta" star Robert Blake in the 2001 death of his wife said Thursday "a lot of discussion" and a thorough review of the evidence led to their decision.

Jury foreman Thomas Nicholson told CNN's "American Morning" that jurors did not argue during deliberations.

"Argument wasn't the right word," he said. "A lot of discussion. The jury panel consisted of an age group from mid-20s through late 70s, so the amount of discussion that was made was very, very full. Each and every person had a full discussion about every issue that was in the testimony, the evidence, you know, everything."

But jurors did not agree right away on a verdict, juror Cecelia Moldonado said. Their decision came after more than a week of deliberations.

"What we did was, we had to go through all the facts," Moldonado said. "And yes, we did have our discussions ... we dissected the evidence, we dissected the testimony, went through everything and came back with a fair decision."

Blake was charged with one count of murder with a special circumstance of lying in wait and two counts of solicitation of murder in the death of Bonny Lee Bakley, 44. Bakley was shot to death May 4, 2001, in Studio City, California, outside Blake's favorite Italian restaurant after the two had dinner.

Jurors acquitted him on the murder count and one count of solicitation of murder but deadlocked on a second solicitation count. Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp dismissed the deadlocked count, saying a retrial "would not result in anything different."

Blake said he left her in the car while he returned to the restaurant to retrieve a handgun he had left behind. He told detectives he was armed because his wife feared someone was stalking her.

After the verdict, Blake credited lead defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach with saving his life.

"Robert was very kind and very appreciative," Schwartzbach told CNN. "I became a lawyer many years ago in order to do something socially productive with my life, and this is my most recent experience with that."

Prosecutors argued Blake tried and failed to hire two Hollywood stuntmen, Gary McLarty and Ronald Hambleton, to kill Bakley. But his lawyers attacked the stuntmen as habitual liars and drug addicts and argued that Los Angeles police rushed to judgment against Blake.

Jurors did not believe the two stuntmen because of inconsistencies in their preliminary hearing testimony and their trial testimony, juror Lorie Moore said.

"I felt Robert Blake was an innocent guy," juror Chuck Safco said. "I think the prosecution did the best job they could do with what they had. They really didn't have a lot to go on. I mean, that's one reason why we had a circumstantial case."

Schwartzbach agreed. "I didn't think the prosecution could and did prove their case," he said.

Prosecutors said Blake felt Bakley had tricked him into marriage after she became pregnant with his child -- and that he hated her so much he would do anything to keep her away from the girl, Rosie, who was 3 months old at the time of the killing.

Moldonado said the holdout juror on the solicitation count had "a respected opinion. If that's the decision the juror made, we respected it."

Bakley's family is proceeding with a civil lawsuit against Blake. Their lawyer told CNN they were "devastated" by the acquittal.

"We feel that Bonny was murdered twice -- once in the car and once on the stand," attorney Eric Dubin said. "I plan on proving Robert Blake to be a murderer in July."

He blamed the acquittal on Blake's celebrity, saying the burden of proof gets elevated in celebrity trials.

Bakley's checkered past, jurors said, played no role in their decision. "She was a human being," Moldonado said.

"We were discussing a brutal murder," Nicholson said. "She didn't deserve that."

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