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Who Killed Bonny Bakley?

Aired May 15, 2001 - 12:30   ET



GARRETT ZIMMON, LOS ANGELES POLICE: At this point, we have not identified a single person as the suspect responsible for the murder. We are continuing to follow all leads and to examine all evidence in a thorough, thoughtful and methodical manner.


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Eleven days after the wife of actor Robert Blake was found dead in her car outside a Hollywood restaurant, the Los Angeles police continue to search for clues. Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, who killed Bonny Bakley?

Joining us to discuss the investigation is Harland Braun, the criminal defense attorney for Robert Blake.

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

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

In Los Angeles, the killing of Bonny Bakley remains an unsolved crime. The wife of actor Robert Blake was found shot and killed while sitting in her husband's car May 4th outside a Studio City restaurant, a Studio City, California restaurant. Now, in a news conference last night, the Los Angeles police encouraged anyone with information about Bakley's death to notify homicide detectives.

So joining us for an exclusive live interview on the program is Harland Braun, attorney for Robert Blake. Harland, thank you for joining us.

Question number one, you have been criticized for releasing tapes of Bonny Bakley over the weekend. Why, I understand that if you have evidence that you must turn them over, turn it over to the police for their investigation, but why release it to the media?

HARLAND BRAUN, ROBERT BLAKE'S ATTORNEY: One of the reasons we've been releasing limited evidence to the media is because we're trying to push the LAPD into doing a complete investigation. They say they're investigating all possibilities, but they're really focusing on Robert Blake. We have no problem with them investigating Robert Blake thoroughly and completely because he's obviously there, the husband and a logical person to be investigated by the police.

But they seemed to have closed their mind to any other possibilities and thrown the burden on the defense, really, to preserve evidence. Actually, my investigators have seized more evidence in this case than the Los Angeles Police Department and we actually turned it over to them last week at their request.

COSSACK: Harland, why do you believe that the Los Angeles Police Department has focused in on Robert Blake? We just saw a clip of the commander from the police department last night saying that there are no, that Robert Blake isn't a suspect and that there are no suspects in this case? Aren't you in some ways fanning the flames of Robert Blake by releasing all of this evidence to the media?

BRAUN: No, actually what they, they're working on a statistical model that if a woman is not raped or robbed it's most likely her husband/boyfriend or some type of a personal involvement would be resulted in her death. This is not that type of case and the Los Angeles Police Department, at least initially and last night seems to dismiss Lee Bonny's background, a very strange and sordid background, as a potential area of investigation.

In fact, they said last night that she's not a, she's a victim, not a suspect, therefore they're not investigating her. We're trying to push them in that direction. In fact, I've just brought on co- counsel Barry Levin, who is a former LAPD detective, because I think he may have the credibility to go to them and say look, guys, let's do a thorough investigation in this case.

COSSACK: Harland, from the tapes that have been released and from what has appeared in the media, it appears that this was not a traditional kind of marriage. In fact, perhaps, it seems like this was not -- if I may, perhaps not a very happy marriage, at least in the notion that they did -- while Ms. Bakley was on the property with Mr. Blake, they did not stay in the same house. She apparently chose to stay in a separate home. There was a child that was born out of wedlock and these tapes seem to indicate that at least she apparently thought about what she was doing when she chose to be with Mr. Blake. Doesn't that -- that sort of unhappiness make Blake a greater suspect in this case?

BRAUN: Well, yeah, I mean what it -- of course it does. This is not a traditional marriage at all. He only married her because she was the mother of his daughter and he felt an overwhelming obligation as a parent to take care of his daughter and the only way he could ensure his daughter's presence here was marrying Lee Bonny. However, the bodyguard and assistant traveled with them for several weeks and it appears that they were getting along pretty well and he was at least making an effort to put together a home for Rosie (ph) and at least reform the mother.

Lee Bonny, though, apparently wanted to move most of her business out to Los Angeles, and that's one of the reasons she stayed in the back house, because she worked through the night with these type of activities where she would induce men to send her money and so forth. COSSACK: But your client knew all of this before he married her and yet chose to marry her and yet this marriage, I've described as perhaps not a particularly traditional one, to say the least. Doesn't that all add up to make him somewhat of an unhappy but, an unhappy man and a suspect?

BRAUN: Well, he didn't do a background check before he had sex with her, therefore he didn't choose the mother of his daughter. And he was stuck with it. He did do a background check and realized that she was doing this type of scam, a long-term scam. And he has hoped by bringing her out here, giving her money, relieving her of the necessity of earning a living, bringing her to live with him and giving her what she always dreamed of, which was being married to a star and being part of Hollywood, that she would reform and give up these activities.

She did not give them up. She continued them, unfortunately, and that's the source of a potential area for the police to investigate, someone out there who she led to believe that she was in love with who looked forward to being with her and then reads in the paper that she marries Robert Blake.

COSSACK: But what I'm suggesting is is that if Robert Blake wanted her to reform and she didn't reform, Harland, isn't that the kind of thing that the police are therefore going to be interested in your client because of the fact that obviously he was unhappy with what she was doing?

BRAUN: Absolutely and we have no problem fully cooperating with the investigation. He spent four hours talking to them already. We've turned over more evidence to them than they have seized. My investigators have stood ready to work with the police investigators if they have any questions of them.

So, absolutely. And the fact that someone might have a marginal motive to get rid of someone doesn't mean that they killed them. And it was not a happy situation, but it seemed to be getting better and it certainly wouldn't have resulted in Robert Blake killing her. Despite his roles in the movies and on television, which are usually some evil person, he's a very gentle man. He's never been arrested. He's never been in a fight. I think some of his public image may be hurting him a little in the media.

COSSACK: Harland, there's been reports at least that a weapon was found in a dumpster about a block and a half from where the killing occurred. Do you know whether or not the police have found that weapon?

BRAUN: Well, it was reported in the paper this morning and it was good news and bad news. The good news is they found the weapon and I believe they reported it in the "Times." The bad news is unfortunately the police talked about it to a dumpster -- someone who worked with the dumpster, gave him details of the location and the condition of the weapon, made them public, which was not good police work because the location, condition of the murder weapon is something that is known only to the killer and maybe some confidante. So that if someone comes forward with information it's better if the police keep that information secret so they can verify the credibility of any future witness.

COSSACK: Are you surprised that a weapon was allegedly found so close to the murder scene or does that fit in with your theory of what might have happened in this case?

BRAUN: It's typical for an assassin or a professional hit to acquire a weapon that's non-traceable to them, to commit the killing and then to leave the actual weapon right at the scene like this. So we anticipated the weapon. We were somewhat disappointed that it took the police, I think, 48 hours to go back to the dumpster and check around the dumpster because, of course, any scrap of fiber or any piece of evidence could have led the police to the killer. They didn't -- and that may have been lost in the period of time between the killing and when the police finally got around to looking in the dumpster.

COSSACK: Harland, it's an important part of your client's story that he was not present at the scene when the killing occurred. Now, his story is is that he left his weapon in the restaurant. Now, I must tell you that I've left my keys, my wallet, my glasses and perhaps my credit cards in a restaurant, but the thought of leaving a weapon in a restaurant is somewhat difficult to believe. Would you agree?

BRAUN: Well, that's unusual. What happened was he doesn't have a holster for it so he kept it in his waistband. He sat down in the restaurant and it hurt. And so he put it to the side next to him with his sweatshirt over it. And when he got up, he took the sweatshirt, he put the sweatshirt on and forgot about the weapon, which fell to the ground because that's where it was when he recovered it.

He goes to the car, which is actually not that far, as the reports indicate, sits down and realizes the weapon is not there. He goes back and quickly grabs the weapon. By the time he got back his wife was dead. It's a very unusual situation but, you know, the world is full of unusual situations.

I should add that if someone who didn't like Lee Bonny wanted to track her, Robert Blake is a man of habits and he goes to that restaurant almost three to four times a week. So it would be very easy for someone who wanted to either get Mr. Blake or get his wife to just wait out there because it'd be invariably that they would be there on a regular basis.

COSSACK: Harland, when was the last time that police spoke to your client or entered his house and searched it? Have they come back since the first time they did it?

BRAUN: Yes, they did an original search on the Saturday right after the killing. They talked to Robert for three hours Friday night, Saturday morning. They talked to him another hour on Saturday. They then returned to his house to search it the following Thursday. So there's been two searches of his house.

COSSACK: Do you expect that your client will be arrested, Harland?

BRAUN: No, I don't. I mean, obviously, Roger, you've represented people, a lot of people, and a criminal defense lawyer has to make some judgment in his own mind whether his client is guilty or not guilty in terms of strategy. And I've made the judgment from everything that I've seen in this case as well as interacting with Robert over a long period of time as well as talking to his long time lawyers and friends that he's not guilty. And I'm premising my defense on that.

So the better the police investigation, the better for Robert Blake, because he's innocent. An innocent person wants a thorough and complete police investigation.

COSSACK: All right, my thanks to Harland Braun. Let's take a break. When police arrived on the crime scene, they conducted a gunpowder test on Robert Blake. Let's find out how such evidence is gathered and how it would aid an investigation, right after this short break. Stay with us.


In a letter written to the "Houston Chronicle," Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh reiterated his claim that there was no "John Doe #2." The handwritten letter was dated May 2, more than a week before the Justice Department's decision to delay his execution.



COSSACK: Police continue to investigate the May 4 killing of Bonny Bakley, the wife of actor Robert Blake. She was shot and killed while sitting in Blake's car outside an Italian restaurant in Studio City.

Joining us now from Los Angeles is law professor George Cardona, a former state prosecutor. And here in Washington, Bitri Ugani (ph), forensic scientist William Conrad and former public defender Robert Wilkins. In the back, Reed Hooper (ph) and Dave Ellingson (ph).

William, Bill, I want to go right to you and talk a little bit about forensics. Now, there is a report and we spoke to Harland Braun about this, that a weapon was found about a block and a half from the scene of the murder. How will police go about determining whether or not this was the weapon that fired the fatal shot?

WILLIAM CONRAD, FORENSIC SCIENTIST: Well, the first thing they're going to do is process it for latent fingerprints and trace evidence. When they finish with that, they'll turn it over to the firearms unit there in the LAPD. What they're going to do is they're going to test fire the gun and compare the cartridge cases and bullets to the cartridge cases and bullets recovered from the crime scene and the autopsy microscopically to determine if they were fired from that particular gun.

COSSACK: Now when you talk about latent prints off a gun, how do you go about doing that?

CONRAD: Well, there's a number of processes. I am not a latent fingerprint examiner, but I've worked behind them and they're going to dust. That's an old-fashioned way. But probably using a technology that, called super gluing, where they're going to put some fumes on it which will raise up any fingerprints that might be there.

The other thing is that guns being as they are, they're oiled and the grips being the way they are, fingerprints are hard to find on the outside of the gun. But there's other areas they can look at and might be able to tell who was, who handled the gun at one time.

COSSACK: All right, now, we've talked about how you can compare bullets that were fired from the -- that may have been in the decedent as compared to the ones that test firing from the weapon. Let's talk about now whether or not you can compare unfired bullets to bullets that have been fired. In other words, can you -- the bullets that have been fired you're only going to find the front of the bullet, a bullet that perhaps was seized by the search warrant, you'd find the entire shell. Can you compare those two?

CONRAD: There is technology, the FBI has a unit that does that where they do elemental analysis of the lead cores within the bullets to be able to determine if they came from the same lot or run of bullets that were made.

COSSACK: So they would be able to say, for example, it's been reported that shells were found at Mr. Blake's house, that he was a collector of weapons. Would the police then, therefore what you're saying is they would be able to do at least try and compare unfired shells to fired shells?

CONRAD: It's a possibility, again, depending on who the manufacturer is and how many rounds of ammunition they make and those kind of things. But they do have techniques to do that at the FBI laboratory.

COSSACK: And how long do these kind of tests take?

CONRAD: That would take some time. That's not going to be a quick test. First of all, they're going to have to do the examination of the fired bullets and to make all the determinations they want to at that point. Then they'd have to submit them to the FBI and they're going to have to do some analysis, which would probably take a month or two.

COSSACK: All right, George, let's talk a little bit about, as a former prosecutor, let's talk a little bit now in terms of strategy, realizing that Harland Braun has released these tapes and has in some way taken a very affirmative stand in his defense of Robert Blake. What kind of problems does that present to a prosecutor?

GEORGE CARDONA, FORMER CALIFORNIA STATE PROSECUTOR: Well, it kinds of forces the prosecution to follow-up on the investigation that Harland Braun wants them to do. When you're a defense attorney, part of your job is to try and steer the investigation the way you want it to go and Harland Braun is doing a very good job of that. He's giving the police evidence that's going to make them follow-up in certain areas.

COSSACK: And in doing that, is he, will he be successful or does he in some way run the risk of giving them too much?

CARDONA: Well, yeah, that's always the tradeoff and that's something that defense attorneys have to balance. By giving them this information, he's forcing them to investigate, but there's always the potential that that investigation might, in fact, generate evidence against his client. I mean we just don't know right now.

COSSACK: All right, let's take another break. As police gather evidence and search for clues, news about the death of Bonny Bakley saturates the air waves and newspapers. But does it impede justice? We'll talk about that when we come back. Don't go away.


Q: How did police in Fresno, California serve outstanding felony warrants to more than 75 fugitives?

A: By setting up a sting operation. Authorities sent letters to suspects telling them they were owed money by the Lottery Commission. Instead, they were greeted with warrants and arrested.



COSSACK: Los Angeles detectives continue to comb Hollywood for evidence in the killing of Bonny Bakley. Now, Bakley was married to former "Baretta" star Robert Blake, prompting extensive media coverage of the crime.

Robert, let's talk a little bit now from a defense standpoint. We heard Harland Braun say that he wants to force the police into really making a great investigation, a good investigation of this crime. But isn't there, wouldn't there be another side which is to prepare a jury for the defense in this case?

ROBERT WILKINS, FORMER PUBLIC DEFENDER: I think that that's definitely part of what he's thinking about. I mean, a lot of parallels have been made between this case and the O.J. Simpson case and a lot of assumptions are being made and there's a lot of suspicion towards Robert Blake, even though he's not been named a suspect. And I think that Mr. Braun has got to view part of his job as helping to keep the minds of potential jurors objective.

COSSACK: George, what about the notion of influencing potential jurors by releasing these tapes and in a way dirtying up the victim? Is that something that's effective? I know that you've studied juries.

CARDONA: I think to a certain extent it can have an effect. This is a case that's already getting a lot of publicity. If there is going to be a trial at some point, the jurors are going to be drawn from a community in which that publicity is probably at its highest, Los Angeles. So there is that potential, preparing for a defense.

But I think also it's an attempt to steer the investigation as well. I think it's both.

COSSACK: Bill, we mentioned the fact that the police would do initial tests to find out whether or not this alleged weapon that was found in the dumpster was the gun that was used to do the killing. The police allegedly found that weapon, I think, two days ago. Would they know by now whether or not that was the weapon, if a weapon was found?

CONRAD: Due to the publicity, I'm sure this one moved to the top of the pile. The Los Angeles Police Department firearms unit does an awful lot of work and I'm sure that they've got on it. Now, again, it depends on what latent prints and trace evidence they wanted to pull off the gun first, because that has to be done before you do it because you're going to test fire it. And I would think within a day or two they should have an answer.

COSSACK: What I'm suggesting is is how long does it take to -- what I'm asking you is how long does it take to make those tests, assuming that the other part of, as you mentioned, the latent prints?

CONRAD: If all goes well, it doesn't take that long to do it, a day. You can finish those tests. But again, if the gun is not a clean gun, the barrel doesn't reproduce marks well. You might have to test far more than once. You might have to do a number of other things to the gun, trying to get good reproducible marks to work with.

I've sat at scopes and been able to match bullets in a matter of 10 minutes and then other times I've sat for a week. So it's difficult to say. But I, knowing the people out there, they're going to do a good job and they're going to be very thorough about it and they're not going to rush it out. But I still would think by the end of the week you should have an answer.

COSSACK: George, the LAPD has, in recent times, gotten a lot of criticism because of what happened, for example, in the O.J. Simpson case and other cases. Is this the kind of thing that police officers and you as a prosecutor would be very concerned about making sure that things are done especially right because it's of such a high profile matter?

CARDONA: Absolutely. I mean, as you say, the LAPD did not have a good experience in the O.J. Simpson case. They certainly don't want to repeat that and I think they and the prosecutors who are working with them are going to try and make every effort to make sure that everything is done strictly by the book so that some of the problems that happened in the O.J. case don't happen in this case.

COSSACK: And Robert, conversely, now, as the defense lawyer in that case, you know you're dealing with the Los Angeles Police Department. How does a, a police department that has, from time to time, come under criticism, not always, but sometimes. In terms of preparing for a defense, is -- do you take that into consideration?

WILKINS: Well, I think that that's what Mr. Braun is doing by putting leads out there and releasing evidence to the public because then if the LAPD doesn't follow-up on it or doesn't do a good job of following up on it, he has a lot of fodder for cross-examination if this case ever gets to that point.

COSSACK: In other words, one of the things that they -- is not only put the victim on trial, from a defense standpoint, but immediately put the police department on trial, too.

WILKINS: Well, I think you have to. You've got to make sure that they're doing their job.

COSSACK: Got to go. That's all the time we have today. Thanks to our guests. Thank you for watching. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. See you then. Bye-bye.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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