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Robert Blake

Tough new role for 'Baretta' star

Former child actor arrested for wife's slaying

Paramedics took Bonny Lee Bakley to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival in May 2001.  

(CNN) -- Robert Blake, the former child actor and "Baretta" star, knows what it's like to be the center of attention. But the 2001 shooting death of his wife, and his arrest in her slaying after a yearlong investigation, has cast him in the spotlight of a real-life Hollywood criminal case.

The 68-year-old actor was charged on April 22 with one count of murder with special circumstances in the killing of Bonny Lee Bakley, his wife of six months. He also was charged two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of murder conspiracy. Blake plead not guilty to all charges. A judge on May 1 denied bail for Blake.

The murder charge is death-penalty eligible but the Los Angeles District Attorney's office announced on April 25 that it would not seek the death penalty against Blake if he is found guilty. Instead, prosecutors said they will seek a sentence of life in prison without parole.

A single count of murder conspiracy was filed against Blake's longtime bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, who was taken into custody a short time before Blake's arrest on April 18. Police have identified Blake as the triggerman in the case. Caldwell also plead not guilty and was released on April 27 after Blake posted his $1 million bail.

Bakley, whom Blake married in November 2000, was found shot in the head May 4, 2001, in Blake's car in a parking lot near a Studio City, California, restaurant where the couple had just dined.

Police arrived to find a hysterical Blake, who was frantically pacing the street and sometimes vomiting, a witness told People magazine.

"The cops were treating him with kid gloves," the witness said. "For most of the time, paramedics were working on [Bakley]; he was just sitting on the curb. An officer had his arm around him, just consoling him."

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Earlier that evening, Blake and Bakley, 44, had dinner at Vitello's restaurant, where Blake was a 20-year regular customer and even had a spinach and tomato pasta dish named after him.

Blake told police he asked his wife to wait in the car after dinner while he returned to the restaurant to retrieve his gun that he thought he had left inside. The actor said he carried a gun because he believed his wife was being stalked.

When he got back to his car, he found Bakley shot in the head, Blake told police. In the end, the paramedics could not save her.

Shortly after the shooting, an attorney for the actor told CNN's "Burden of Proof" that the police were focusing on his client.

"We have no problem with them investigating Robert Blake thoroughly and completely because he was obviously there and the husband and a logical person to be investigated by the police," said Blake attorney Harlan Braun. "But they seem to have closed their minds to any other possibilities and thrown the burden on the defense to preserve evidence."

Braun added, "We want LAPD to investigate Robert Blake because the more they investigate, they'll find out he didn't do it."

Blake's son from a previous marriage, Noah, told CNN's "Larry King Live" in May 2001 that his father was extremely upset about the shooting when he visited him afterward.

Robert Blake's son, Noah, told CNN's "Larry King Live" his dad is "innocent, period."  

"He was scared, scared for himself, he was scared for me, scared for my sister, he just had no idea what had happened. ... He still is pretty shaken up about this," Noah Blake said.

He told King he believes his father had no part in the shooting of his wife. He bristled when asked if his father should come forward to address the suspicions then surrounding him.

"My dad is innocent, period," Noah Blake said. "He doesn't need to prove that; he's not obligated, nor is he obliged to address a thousand trillion rumors."

Not a traditional marriage

Blake and Bakley met in 1999 at a Los Angeles club. The aspiring actress and former model had told friends she stopped seeing Marlon Brando's son Christian, 43, to start a relationship with Blake.

Bakley became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Rose Lenore Sophia, in June 2000. Blake wanted confirmation that the baby was his and demanded DNA tests, which proved he was the father.

The two married in November 2000. They lived separately, and Bakley stayed in a bungalow behind Blake's four-bedroom house in Studio City.

Since the slaying, questions have arisen about Bakley's past, with Blake's attorney, Braun, suggesting it might hold clues in her death. Braun released tape recordings of Bakley's phone conversations to the media and police showing her interest in celebrities and the Hollywood scene. The lawyer also turned over to police what he described as evidence about Bakley's "strange and sordid background."

Bakley met Blake in a Los Angeles club in 1999.  

Bakley's half brother, Peter Carlyon, didn't deny that his sister had experienced some legal problems. She had three convictions in Southern states on drug- and fraud-related charges in the 1980s and 1990s.

"She didn't murder and didn't molest. She didn't rape, and she wasn't a hardened criminal. She was really just a petty scam artist," he said.

By her own admission, Bakley had set up a mail-order business recruiting lonely men to send her money in return for nude photos.

Blake told the Los Angeles police he feared someone from his wife's criminal past had been stalking her.

However, members of the Bakley family said in the weeks following the shooting that they do not believe a stalker killed her.

"She called my mother and said that she is really afraid now, that [Blake's] carrying a gun everywhere and fearing for my life. And if anything happens, he did it," Carlyon said.

A tough childhood in the movies

Blake was born Michael Gubitosi in 1933 in Nutley, New Jersey. His parents, James and Elizabeth, were a song-and-dance team.

Blake has said his childhood was marred by severe psychological, physical and sexual abuse. He told People magazine in 1993 that his parents, who are now dead, "locked me in a closet and left me there all day long. They made me eat on the floor like a dog."

At age 5, soon after his family relocated to Los Angeles, Blake started acting in "Our Gang" comedy shorts. In 1942, the young actor took the screen name Bobby Blake.

Blake worked on and off in show business through his teens and 20s. In 1967, Blake won praise for a breakthrough role as mass murderer Perry Smith in the screen version of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood."

He married actress Sondra Kerry in 1964 and had two children, Noah and Delinah. The couple later divorced.

The actor won an Emmy for the 1970s TV series "Baretta."  

In 1975, Blake starred in the television series "Baretta" as a tough-talking detective with a pet cockatoo named Fred. He won an Emmy for outstanding actor in a drama series, but the show was canceled after 3 1/2 seasons.

After "Baretta," Blake suffered from depression and alcohol abuse, People magazine reported. He played a priest in a failed 1980s series called "Hell Town" and staged a minor comeback in the 1993 TV movie "Judgment Day: The John List Story," in which he portrayed a killer.

In one of his most recent roles, he was a mystery man who helps solve the murder of a couple being stalked in the 1997 David Lynch film, "Lost Highway."

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