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Bonny Lee Bakley Murder Investigation

Aired May 9, 2001 - 12:30   ET



PETER CARLYON, BONNY LEE BAKLEY'S BROTHER: We're 99.9 percent that he -- I am not saying he pulled the trigger, he does have financial means to have someone else pull a trigger. And that is what it looked like. It was very convenient that he had to go back into the restaurant, leave her in the car alone, and then come back out and mysteriously she is dead.


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. On Friday night, 44-year-old Bonny Lee Bakley, the wife of actor Robert Blake, was shot to death as she sat in Blake's car outside an Italian restaurant in Studio City. Blake, best known for his starring role in the 1970s hit TV show "Baretta," told police the couple was leaving the restaurant, and he went back inside to retrieve a gun.

When he returned to the car, according to Blake's attorney, Bonny had been shot. Blake says he was carrying the weapon at the request of his wife as protection. Police questioned the actor for five hours after the shooting. And investigators also searched his home. Joining us today from Los Angeles is former L.A. Police detective Tom Lange. Also in Los Angeles, former California prosecutor Allan Stokke. Here in Washington: Lesley Adam (ph), criminal defense attorney Bernie Grimm, and Justin Burke (ph). And our back row Jennifer Barbour (ph) and Katherine Dunagan (ph). And also joining us from Los Angeles is CNN correspondent Charles Feldman, who has been following this case.

Charles, where does the investigation stand?

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Greta, the investigation stands right here at the moment. The Los Angeles Police Department, of course, is trying to find out whether or not Mr. Blake's story adds up. It's an unusual story. There are some elements that I know the police are questioning.

They are also trying to keep an open mind, whether or not somebody else might have done it. But I know they have not yet publicly named anyone as a suspect, although as you pointed out they certainly did obtain a court order to search Mr. Blake's house. They removed several items from that house Friday and Saturday.

And they're exploring all possibilities. As you have heard, Mr. Blake's story and the lawyer he has who represents him, their story is basically this is something from his wife's past that has come back to haunt her, so they are tracking all those things.

Now, in fact, I talked yesterday with Harland Braun, who is the lawyer representing Mr. Blake. And one of the things we talked about was the unusual relationship between Robert Blake and his wife.


FELDMAN: Is he distraught in the sense that most husbands would when a life was killed? They didn't live together, after all.

HARLAND BRAUN, ATTORNEY FOR ROBERT BLAKE: Well, this was an unusual relationship. He married her because she gave birth to his daughter. And he felt an obligation to his child, to marry the mother, very old-fashioned. It wasn't an easy relationship. They didn't live in the same house. She wasn't in Los Angeles a good part of the time. But they were getting along better, so I'd call it more like a friend being killed.

FELDMAN: There are people who would take having you just said, her history, the relationship that she had with him, a rocky one, their living or non-living arrangement, and say that's a pretty good motive, is it not, for him to kill her.

BRAUN: You know, a lot of people have motives. A lot of people dislike each other. Obviously, this wasn't a loving relationship. In fact, it could have been acrimonious at times. That doesn't mean you kill someone.

FELDMAN: How did you think the LAPD at this time view your client?

BRAUN: I would think that they have a chart. And the problem is they have -- when they look at possible suspects, so last person with them, a person married to them or boyfriend, a person who has had an acrimony with them. So they obviously looked at Robert as a potential suspect initially. Then when they come up with no evidence that he is the perpetrator, they have to look elsewhere.


FELDMAN: You heard, Greta, the lawyer saying he believes that while LAPD thought his client was a suspect, they didn't find any evidence, and they don't think that now. But I can tell you that my police sources tell me that they have not reached any such conclusion. They are keeping an open mind. And they are still very much trying to determine whether or not Mr. Blake had any role in this.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask you some quick questions, Charles. Was the murder weapon recovered? FELDMAN: As far as we know, no.

VAN SUSTEREN: Was Mr. Blake's hands swabbed that night by the police to see if there's any residue from a gun on his hands?

FELDMAN: Yes, we were told that that was the case. And sources that we've been talking to have indicated that so far there's no evidence that would suggest that Mr. Blake pulled any kind of trigger on a gun.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, the car was parked on side street near the restaurant, not in the restaurant parking lot. Does that in any way cast any suspicion in any direction?

FELDMAN: Well, I went to the crime scene and walked around. And it was a Friday night, after all. And the parking lot, while it is not exactly small, it's not exactly a football stadium. And we are told, were told, that it was fairly crowded.

The place where Mr. Blake parked with his wife is only about a block, block-and-a-half away from the restaurant. It is not an unreasonable distance to park and then walk back to the restaurant. So I think the proximity of the car to the restaurant in and of itself doesn't really lead you anywhere.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Let's talk about Bonny Bakley, who has been described as having a, quote, "complicated past." What's this complicated past?

FELDMAN: Well, it wasn't exactly by any means an ideal marriage to say the least. This is somebody who had a child, who had first tried to say that the child was that of Christian Brando, Marlon Brando's son. There were paternity tests done, and paternity was established to be Robert Blake. And it was at that point that Mr. Blake ended up getting married to her.

They did not live together. They live -- he has his home. There's an adjoining guest house on the property, which is where she lived. Mr. Blake's lawyer told us in the interview yesterday that she was rarely in Los Angeles. They were not together very often. He described the relationship as being action acrimonious. It was a rocky one.

She also has an interesting criminal background. She had trouble in the state of Tennessee, I believe it was. There was a conviction for trying to defraud a bank to the tune of some $600,000. She had many aliases, many different names. This was not somebody without a very tangled legal background.

COSSACK: Is there any indication that Robert Blake would have any motive? Did he ever threaten her before, anything at all like that?

FELDMAN: Well, not that I know of. I mean, certainly when you have a case such as this, people come out of the woodwork, some people who may have known them, some people who may not have, to tell all kinds of stories. But I will go with what Harland Braun, his lawyer says. The lawyer himself says it was not a good relationship. It was one that was full of tension. And it was full of tension, Greta, because he did not want to be married to this woman.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a break. Up next, investigating, prosecuting, and defending a murder in Tinsel Town. Stay with us.



JOHN SOLARI, ROBERT BLAKE'S FRIEND: All the things that are being said on the news, they're coming out of the woodwork, people that think they know Robert. They don't know Robert.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think happened?

SOLARI: I don't know. But I'll tell you one thing. Robert wouldn't do anything because he told me. I said to him one day, I said, "You know, Robert," he said he's got to make it work because of the baby.


VAN SUSTEREN: On Friday night, the wife of actor Robert Blake was shot and killed outside an Italian restaurant in Studio City. As part of their investigation, police have questioned Blake and searched his home. In addition, Blake has hired his own PI to investigate the shooting.

Before we go into the investigation, if you were the lawyer in this case, he's not a defendant. He hasn't been accused, presumed innocent, but nonetheless a husband is often the suspect. What do you tell the client?

BERNARD GRIMM, ATTORNEY: Keep your his mouth shut. He already violated, as Tom Lange knows, rule number one, which is if you are considered a suspect, even remotely, keep your mouth shut. Already this story, I had to go back to the restaurant to get my gun, has major obvious problems with it. So he needs to keep his mouth shut.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tom, former LAPD, where do you begin investigating a case like this?

TOM LANGE, FORMER LAPD OFFICER: Let me say firstly, I agree with what he just said. And while the police have said he's not a suspect, they haven't eliminated him. They haven't said Mr. Blake has been eliminated.

As far as where you would start obviously look for motive. The first thing that you are concerned with, though, is that crime scene and any evidence you may have gotten from that crime scene.

I spent a while out at the scene last night with another network. We did a walk-through. And there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. It's a very interesting situation regarding what he did. There's a very, very tight timeline in what occurred from the time he arrived at the restaurant, they had dinner, and all of these other things happened. It's very important to try to nail this down as best the police can do.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tom, I understand leaving things in a restaurant. I've got to tell you, though, the concept of leaving a gun behind on the table or in the booth or whatever is rather bizarre. Is that something -- would you siege upon that if that were one of the things you would look at?

LANGE: No question. I have carried a concealed weapon over 30 years. And I'm still conscious of it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Has it ever fallen out on you? Has it ever fallen out of its holster?

LANGE: No, because I have a inside holster. This business about sticking the gun in the waistband is TV stuff. It's really not done. It's not a good idea. You could lose it. But I'm conscious of just having the weapon there at all times, in fact, checking for it from time to time.

So anybody that's carrying a weapon certainly is going to know it is there. And they are going to be conscious if they dropped it or of it's fallen out because you certainly know it is there. You can feel it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tom, gunshots are loud. What is the area like? Do you think they have any witnesses to the shooting or at least someone that heard something?

LANGE: Well, it is an extremely quiet neighborhood, where you would think one would hear a gunshot unless of course it was muzzled somehow or perhaps a silencer was used. And I am not totally convinced with the little bit I know that she was shot there. I mean, perhaps she was shot in another location. We don't know that.

The police are keeping lid on everything in this case. And I agree with that. I think that is the right thing to do to protect what evidence they may have from any kind of compromise.

VAN SUSTEREN: Allan, what's the role of the prosecuting office at this point, as it's an ongoing investigation?

ALLAN STOKKE, FORMER STATE PROSECUTOR: Well, I think they are going to maintain contact with the police, make suggestions to them at times, evaluate the evidence. They're going to look for all kinds of circumstantial evidence as well as motive, of course, is going to be very important as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about actually, though, going out to the scene and almost working in concert to make sure that the case is in no way impaired by the investigation? Is that something a prosecutor would do? STOKKE: Well, occasionally. It's not often a good idea to do that because some of the time you can become involved and become a witness. That's not a good idea for the prosecutor. But there are some situations where it may be appropriate, however.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bernie, what do you -- besides telling your client to keep quiet, we've heard from Charles in his interview with Harland that Mr. Blake has hired a private investigator. Why would he do that?

GRIMM: Ultimately, he's -- the theater of war is I think going to be narrowed to him. And this is a rare case, Greta, where you are actually in terms of timing on equal footing with the police. And you can start your investigation and run a parallel investigation of your own, which is your right.

He's going to have to defend questions, physical evidence, forensic evidence somewhere down the road. So he might as well convince that investigation right now.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Charles, the thing we're not all saying but I think we're all probably all dancing around, at least have thought about, you've got Hollywood. You've got a husband and wife with a bad history. You've got violent crime. We are all thinking O.J. Simpson. How much play is this murder getting out there?

FELDMAN: Oh, it's getting considerable amount of play and for all the reasons that you just articulated. This town has a long memory. And the O.J. trial was not that long ago. And while Mr. Blake was not exactly a household name in recent years, he is somebody with a rich Hollywood history.

In many ways, he's really a part of old Hollywood. He goes back as a child star in the old "Our Gang" series, and then of course into television and movies. So he has been a part of this community for all of his adult and even child life.

So it is very much a topic that's being actively discussed in the community, in the press here. And the parallels perhaps the nonparallels, if you will, between this and O.J. Simpson are being analyzed.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Charles, O.J. Simpson was a huge hero on the football field. But the truth was at the time in 1994 when his wife was killed, he had sort of faded as well. Now obviously, and I want to emphasize that Mr. Blake hasn't been charged. But it's just that there are an awful lot of interesting aspects to compare.

FELDMAN: Yes, that's right. O.J. Simpson, you are quite right, at the time -- now everybody -- that named O.J. is so emblazoned in everybody's mind because of the trials that people forget that at the time that that happened with his wife and Ron Goldman, O.J. Simpson's career had really faded.

He was no longer in sports. He was doing some commercials, some bit parts in movies. He was not exactly a household name either. VAN SUSTEREN: And, of course, the very fact that there are so many comparisons may be very unfair to him in that people would jump to conclusions. But we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


VAN SUSTEREN: The wife of actor Robert Blake was slain in Los Angeles Friday night. The former "Baretta" star has hired a private investigator and is represented by criminal defense attorney Harland Braun.

Tom, let me go back to you. This shooting occurred California time about 9:30, 9:40. When you out there, did you observe what the lighting was like?

LANGE: Yes. They have these old-fashioned street lamps. They're not the overhanging lights. They're the old-fashioned pillar lamps that rise perhaps 18 to 20 feet off the ground. It is fairly well lit.

And this particular area where the shooting occurred, as one of these lamps within 20 feet of the car, so it's fairly well lit. However, at the time this occurred there was a huge dumpster, a huge container, that the car was parked behind. So you couldn't see all the way down the street. And certainly you couldn't see, you didn't have direct sight to the restaurant because behind they were behind this particular container. But it's fairly well lit.

VAN SUSTEREN: Allan, at some point the police will have a sit- down with him and talk to him, find out what he saw, observed, that night. Maybe they talked to him a little bit now. Assuming that he wants to talk to them, what would you advise detectives? When should they talk to him? And how should they approach him?

STOKKE: Well, I would think they would want to talk to him as soon as they could. My guess is that Mr. Braun probably will not allow them to speak with him now. But I'm sure they would want to do it quickly. I would think one of the things they would want to ask is why he didn't drive back to the restaurant, a block-and-a-half, rather than walking back a block-and-a-half, drive by, stop for a moment, go in and get it, and come back out. There would be a lot of questions I'm sure they would want to ask.

VAN SUSTEREN: And, Bernie, innocent explanations oftentimes for what may seem like something sinister, right?

GRIMM: Absolutely. Presuming he's innocent for the moment...

VAN SUSTEREN: Which we should.

GRIMM: ... which we should, which was the law last time I checked. The Supreme Court is still intact. At any rate, putting that aside, if you are ever close to a traumatic incident like this, sometimes your actions thereafter -- and I think Tom Lange will support me on this -- make no rhyme or reason. That don't mean you are guilty. It just means in response to a traumatic event, sometimes you do things that just don't make a whole lot of sense, like drive back.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about talking to the police? Is there ever an advantage to doing that? You are not a named suspect. You haven't been eliminated, and everybody is looking at you.

GRIMM: You know, in the search for justice you would think it would make sense to talk to the police. But sometimes things get twisted. If you are paranoid, you are immediately considered a suspect. There is no advantage to it whatsoever.

VAN SUSTEREN: Charles, do we know where he is now, what his condition is, and whether or not he intends to speak at length to the police?

FELDMAN: Well, we know that he's been to and from his home. He spent a brief amount of time in the hospital after this happened. His lawyer says it's because he's got high blood pressure and was being treated for that. He's had some conversations with the police.

I did ask his lawyer whether or not there was polygraph test administered. He said there was not. And he also didn't think that there would be because he questioned the validity of polygraph tests.

VAN SUSTEREN: There's no reason -- there's no blueprint for how to react. But I understand after the shooting that he was violently sick and throwing up, is that right?

FELDMAN: That's what we understand, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: A fascinating story. And, of course, as always, we can't emphasize enough when we talk about these that he has not been arrested, a presumption of innocence and the investigation goes on. But that's all the time we have for today.

Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching. Today on "Talkback Live," why did a New York City school ban Mother's Day? Send your e-mail to Bobbie Battista and tune in at 3:00 p.m. for the answer.

And tonight on "The Point," at 14 years old, Nathaniel Brazill takes the stand in a trial for shooting his teacher. Plus, across the country, two lawyers face charges in a dog mauling case. That's at 8:30 Eastern time.

And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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