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A profile of Ashley Smith's life; Inside the Robert Blake Case

Aired March 17, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And, good evening, everybody. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
It is shocking, but true. If you're a mom or dad and want to know about steroids, just ask your kids.


ZAHN (voice-over): Ask around your neighborhood high school, a quick fix for all-star performance or the road to teenage tragedy?

BRENDA MARRERO, MOTHER OF EFRAIN: And I just was saying, Efrain, Efrain, oh, my God, and I knew he was gone.

ZAHN: Tonight, steroids, your children and the athletes they admire.

MARK MCGWIRE, FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER: My message is that steroids is bad. Don't do them.

ZAHN: And a TV tough guy beats the rap. Robert Blake talks the talk, but how did he walk away from a murder charge?


ZAHN: And we begin tonight with steroids, the new drug of choice in many American high schools. In Connecticut, six high school students face charges relating to bringing muscle-building steroids to school. Some of those students appeared in court this week. Those drugs, police say, were bought in Mexico, then sold to or shared with other students.

There have been similar scandals in other high schools, even in middle schools across America. Consider this. The government says 75,000 eighth graders used illegal steroids last year, 75,000. Those are kids around 13 years old. And it gets worse, 91,000 tenth graders, and more than 100,000 by the twelfth grade. Why? Well, maybe they're taking a cue from their sports heroes, some of whom were taken down a notch in a congressional hearing today.


ZAHN (voice-over): It was standing-room only and an all-star lineup, Jose Canseco, who names names in a tell-all book called "Juiced." JOSE CANSECO, FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER: I make a mistake using steroids, no buts about it. I don't want youngsters using steroids.

ZAHN: Mark McGwire, who broke baseball single season home run record in 1998 and is one of the people Canseco's book implicates.

MCGWIRE: Steroids are wrong. Do not take them. It gives nothing but false hope.

ZAHN: Pitcher Curt Schilling, an outspoken opponent of steroid use.

CURT SCHILLING, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER: Steroids is cheating. And winning without honor is not winning.

ZAHN: Also testifying, slugger Sammy Sosa and all-stars Rafael Palmeiro and Frank Thomas. Most players who testified vehemently denied using steroids.

RAFAEL PALMEIRO, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER: I have never used steroids, period. I do not know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.

ZAHN: McGwire dodged the issue of his own behavior.

MCGWIRE: Well, sir, I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to talk about the positive and not the negative about this issue.

ZAHN: Everyone agreed on one thing today, that Major League players need to be Major League role models.

MCGWIRE: Every little leaguer, pony league, high school, college player needs to understand that performance-enhancing drugs of any kind can be dangerous.

ZAHN: In the audience today, two parents who know that all too well. Their son is dead.


ZAHN: They are the parents of Efrain Marrero. They didn't get a chance to speak at today's hearing, but they did submit a statement, and their story is one that will serve as a warning to parents everywhere.


FRANK MARRERO, FATHER OF EFRAIN: He was the kind of son every parent hopes for. He was the big brother every little sister and brother dreamed of.

ZAHN (voice-over): Nineteen-year-old Efrain Marrero was a big kid, 6'2'', 285 pounds, older brother to Erika and Ethan. His parents, Frank and Brenda, nicknamed him the gentle giant. F. MARRERO: As he got to be a younger man, he played little league baseball. He played soccer. He played Pop Warner football. But as he transitioned through the years, he found out that, with his physique, his build, that football was what he was cut out to do.

ZAHN: Efrain dreamed of college football. But to be a starting linebacker, he knew he'd have to be stronger and faster.

F. MARRERO: And he at that point said, I'm going to go to the gym. I'm going to run. I'm going to do all that thing so I can -- I want to play linebacker, though. I don't want to be on the line.

ZAHN: Soon, the Marreros saw a transformation in Efrain. The baby fat was gone. For the first time, he had chiseled muscles.

F. MARRERO: He said to me, hey, dad, I can bench 350 pounds. And I'm thinking, my goodness, that's a lot of weight. But I thought -- I didn't think -- I thought he was just doing it naturally. Or it was he was going to the gym. But it never dawned on me that, you know, he used to do 225, 250 pounds. And that was a 100-pound increase. How did he get that? How did he do that?

ZAHN: Then Frank and Brenda started noticing changes in Efrain's once-gentle behavior.

B. MARRERO: He was working really hard to do well in school and he worked really hard on his English paper. And Erika, she needed to go on the computer. And she accidentally deleted a paper of Efrain's that needed to be turned in that day.

And he got so angry that he went upstairs, tore up her scrapbook and then slammed the downstairs door so hard that he broke it.

F. MARRERO:. That was very uncharacteristic of Efrain to do that. We just thought that it was a young man who had anger problems and that I was trying to help him to manage that at the time to do that. And it didn't occur to me that...

B. MARRERO:. It didn't occur. Steroids never just -- that just never crossed our mind.

ZAHN: One day last summer, Brenda confronted Efrain. Why was he being so secretive about what he was doing on his computer?

B. MARRERO:. And I said, Efrain, what are you doing? And he goes, well, I have something to tell you. And he goes, I'm doing steroids.

ZAHN: Efrain's temper was out of control. His parents noticed he was sleeping more and acting paranoid. Now that Efrain admitted using steroids, the Marreros sought counseling and convinced Efrain to quit cold turkey. But, then, on September 26.

B. MARRERO:. It was a beautiful Sunday morning. It was very sunny outside. And so I said, well, why don't we go to church at 5:30, because we'll do the evening mass and that way, we can get the errands and all that out of the way in the morning.

ZAHN: Efrain wanted to stay behind, but asked his mother if she would pick up a new video game for him.

B. MARRERO:. I just looked at Efrain and I smiled and said, yes, I'll see what I can do for you, Efrain.


B. MARRERO:. And that was the last time I saw him.

ZAHN: The Marreros came home to a scene in their bedroom that changed their lives forever.

B. MARRERO:. I walked into my bedroom, and I saw Efrain lying face down on our bedroom floor. And then I screamed really loud. I went down on the floor, and I put my face on to Efrain and on his forehead, and I just was saying, Efrain, Efrain, oh, my God. And I knew he was gone. He was blue and he was cold. And I left the room. I thought I was going to get sick. So, during that time, Frank ran up the stairs.

F. MARRERO:. Yes, I ran upstairs. I heard her screaming like -- again, I had never heard a scream like that in my life. It was a scream of bloody murder.

As I come into our bedroom, I see our son lying down on the floor. And right next to our bed -- he has a towel around him. He's naked with a towel around him, and he's down there. And I, too, thought he was dead, but I said, I'm not going to give up. I'm going to help him. I'm going to help him, you know?

ZAHN: Efrain, three weeks shy of his 20th birthday, was dead. He had found his father's pistol and shot himself in the head. An autopsy later confirmed, it was suicide. Brenda and Frank still struggle for answers.

F. MARRERO: I look at all the other things that you would associate with suicide, and none of those are there. The only thing that's there is steroids. It's the only thing that I could come up with.

B. MARRERO:. There's no doubt in our minds that steroids killed Efrain.

ZAHN: They Marreros blame themselves. They believe they tragically missed the signs of steroid use.

F. MARRERO: Now we look back and we look at all those signs. I mean, to the T, to the T, every one of them was there. It was right in front of our eyes.

B. MARRERO:. Efrain was such a good kid with a good heart, and he was not only my son, but he was my buddy.

ERIKA MARRERO, SISTER OF EFRAIN: Every day, I think about him and just his laugh, really, and his smile, and the way that he hugged me and protected me. And I know that, even though he's not here physically, he's here in spirit.

F. MARRERO: I know that my son is looking down on us right now, very proud of his parents, very proud of what we're doing and very proud that we stepped forward, because he's telling us, dad, mom, get out there. You need to tell them, because this killed me.


ZAHN: What a legacy he left and such courageous parents to want to save other families all the hurt and heartache they've been through.

The Mayo Clinic suggests some warning signs for all of us to look for, boys developing prominent breasts and a higher voice, girls developing a deeper voice and more body hair. And both may develop severe acne, aggressive behavior and severe depression.

There is more posted on the Mayo Clinic Web site, and you can log on at

Coming up next, another story about the safety of our children. We've gotten used to seeing pictures of missing children on milk cartons or in flyers in the mail. It's actually a campaign that got started 20 years ago with a little girl whose mother is still looking.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What is that moment of panic like, that first moment when you realize your child has disappeared?

JANICE MCKINNEY, MOTHER OF MISSING GIRL: It's the most scariest thing. I think my guilt started at that point.


ZAHN: Coming up, an update and a warning for parents.


ZAHN: We turn now to the Middle East, where the pressure mounts for Syria to get its troops out of Lebanon. The U.N. secretary- general, Kofi Annan, said today he expects that will happen before Lebanon holds elections in April and May. And massive anti-government rallies continue there.

My colleague Anderson Cooper has been reporting from Lebanon all week long and today ventured into Syria.

What were you allowed to see, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Syria -- it was remarkable, Paula, to go to Syria. It's such a different scene than what is happening here in Lebanon. The winds of change may be blowing in Lebanon, but going to Syria, it's almost a little bit like going back in time to another regime. You walk around the marketplace, you walk around the city and there's just not a sense of change. We went there because we wanted to talk to people, but it's very frustrating actually trying to talk to people, actually getting to hear what they really think, because people are not free to talk. They're not free to speak their minds, Paula.

ZAHN: So, once you eventually got them into a situation where they could be speaking freely, what did they say about what was going on in Lebanon?

COOPER: Well, that's the thing. You're with a camera and you have a government minder, because they follow you everywhere. And, on camera, people will say, Lebanon is part of Syria and they say it should not break away. We're there to help the Lebanese.

The Lebanese, of course, say -- are increasingly saying, look, we don't need your help. We want you out. We want our own independence.

But, off-camera, Syrians tell you a very different story. As soon as the camera is away and you're away from the government minder, they'll come up to you and say, look, we're not free to really tell you what we think. If I told you what I think on camera, some secret police will come up and show up at my door in the middle of the night and take me away. So, it's a fascinating look inside a one-party dictatorship.

ZAHN: And I guess we can well understand their fear.

Anderson Cooper, thanks.

Coming up in a little bit, we're going to take you back into the strange world of Robert Blake and his dead wife.

Also, a mother whose daughter has been missing for 20 years, how her tragedy has saved other lives.

But, first, just about 15 minutes past the hour, give or take a minute or two, time to check in with the top stories with Erika Hill.

You can't count on us with the clock here. We'll say just about 15 minutes...


ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Clock, schmock. As long as we get you the information, that's all that matters, right, Paula?

ZAHN: Exactly. Go to it.

HILL: We start off tonight in the Supreme Court, which rejected a last-minute appeal by the parent says of Terri Schiavo to stop the removal of her feeding tube. That removal is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on Friday. The parents of the brain-damaged woman argued their daughter's religious freedom and due process rights were violated.

Officials in Houston are blaming a faulty heating system for making shoppers at a discount store sick. A district fire chief says carbon monoxide from the malfunctioning system affected 55 people. They were taken to a hospital for treatment, but none face a life- threatening condition, according to the fire department.

Mortgage rates are at their highest level in seven months. Freddie Mac's weekly survey shows 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are averaging 5.95 percent. Freddie Mac forecasts, rates will rise to about 6.25 by the end of the year. Another say rates, though, are still low by historic standards

Authorities in Montana have arrested a man accused of plotting to kidnap David Letterman's young son and nanny from his home. Kelly Frank is being held on a felony charge of solicitation. Police were tipped off by a man who said he was approached by Frank about the alleged plot. Police say Frank, who was working as a painter at Letterman's ranch, intended to seek a $5 million ransom, a scary story there.

Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: Poor David. It wasn't enough to have a stalker all these years and now this.

HILL. Yes.

ZAHN: Erica, thanks.

Coming up next, a mother whose little girl disappeared 20 years ago, and the unsolved mystery behind a national campaign that is still saving lives. Stay with us.


ZAHN: There could be a break tonight in the disappearance of a 9-year-old, Jessica Marie Lunsford, who vanished from her Florida home last month.

Well, today, police in Georgia picked up a man described as a person of interest on a probation violation. John Evander Couey, a convicted sex offender, turned up at a Salvation Army shelter in Georgia. Police say he had failed to report a change of address. It turns out, police say, he was living with relatives just across the street from Jessica's home. \the police say they are still checking out other leads. It has been three weeks today since Jessica Lunsford disappeared.

Well, this year marks a milestone for parents of another missing child. Their daughter's picture was the first put on a mass mailing asking, have you seen me? That was 20 years ago.

The story from Randi Kaye in Cabot, Pennsylvania.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JANICE MCKINNEY, MOTHER OF MISSING GIRL: The past 20 years probably has been a real torture.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Words spoken by a mother in pain.

MCKINNEY: Four o'clock, the bus came and we heard it. And she just never came up the driveway.

KAYE: A mother overwhelmed by grief and guilt.

MCKINNEY: I should have been there when Cherrie got off the school bus, and I wasn't.

KAYE: February 22, 1985, Cherrie Mahan went to school and never came home.

MCKINNEY: I think that the last words that I probably told her was, you know, have a good day and I do love you. And that was probably as I took her down to the bus stop and she got on the bus.

KAYE (on camera): Did she tell you she loved you back?

MCKINNEY: Yes. She always told me that.

KAYE (voice-over): That day, Janice McKinney went from being the mother of a bubbly 8-year-old who loved rainbows and reading to the mother of a missing child. It was Cherrie who helped put a face on missing children nationwide, the first child on ever on a "Have you seen me?" mailer, delivered to homes around the country.

(on camera): What is that moment of panic like, that first moment when you realize your child has disappeared?

MCKINNEY: It's the most scariest thing. I think my guilt started at that point, because, up until that day, I was there. And if I would have been there, she -- I wouldn't be going through this.

KAYE (voice-over): Ever since Cherrie was old enough to go to school, Janice says she walked her daughter to and from the bus stop.

(on camera): It was a day just like this one, snow on the ground, the sun shining. Cherrie got off her school bus right here. She had to go about 200 feet around that bend to get to her driveway, then another 300 feet to her front door. Investigators never found any footprints, which means Cherrie never got very far.

KAYE: Janice called state police and tracked down Cherrie's school bus. She had to be sure Cherrie wasn't still on it. Children on the bus told Janice and police Cherrie got off at her regular stop with other children. Those young witnesses described a blue van right behind the bus with a snowcapped mountain and a skier painted on its side.

Investigators checked out hundreds of leads, no van, no Cherrie.

(on camera): Is there indication as you walk this way how far she got?

GLENN HALL, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA STATE TROOPER: No, there was no sign of any tracks or anything.

KAYE: So, what does that tell you?

HALL: That apparently someone picked her up.

KAYE: Pretty quick?

HALL: Yes.

KAYE: For retired trooper Glenn Hall, who worked the case from day one, there is also guilt.

HALL: I feel that maybe there's something I overlooked at the time, but I followed every lead that I thought that night.

KAYE (voice-over): With the case now entering its third decade, Trooper Hall remains convinced a stranger abducted Cherrie, a stranger who knew the little girl's schedule and who knew the area. Such crimes are rare. Of the thousands of children each year who are officially described as abducted, the vast majority are taken by someone they know. But every year, about 100 children are taken by a stranger.

MCKINNEY: That was her dog much and that was her cat.

KAYE: Janice gave birth to Cherrie when she was just 16. They grew up together, she says. This year, Cherrie would be 29 and this is what investigators think she might look like.

MCKINNEY: I don't know. Cherrie could be married and have children and have graduated and I could be a grandmother.

KAYE: Cherrie's mom works two jobs, barely sleeps, anything to keep out the dark thoughts. Five years after Cherrie was kidnapped, Janice had another child, Robert, now 15.

After losing Cherrie, Janice says she didn't want to go through life without being a mother. Her son Robert is a soccer player with big plans to go away to college, something that doesn't sit so well with his mom.

MCKINNEY: He's never, ever gone anywhere without somebody. I mean, from the time he was able to walk until this day, I mean, I go to every soccer game. I stand by the door, you know, worried that somebody could come in and take him.

KAYE: Janice works hard to keep Cherrie close and her memory alive. There is an angel at the family's cemetery plot. Two decades and countless tears later, Janice is still not ready to place a gravestone here.

MCKINNEY: We live in a society where we need to see something. And until I see something or hold something or know something, I can't put it to rest yet.


ZAHN: Randi Kaye reporting for us tonight.

To be specific, there are about 800,000 children a year reported missing, according to the most recent federal study. And, of that, most are runaways or taken in family abductions, such as custody disputes. About 3 percent, or 24,000, are classified as non-family abductions.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: In Atlanta today, an emotional remembrance for Judge Rowland Barnes, the first of four to die in a burst of violence that began at the Fulton County Courthouse last Friday. And the FBI said it will reward Ashley Smith $20,000 more for her part in the arrest of suspect Brian Nichols. Smith gets credit for bringing it all to an end with her deep faith and incredible courage.

But as Sharon Collins reports, Ashley wasn't always on the side of the angels.


SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She was a good student and a stand-out athlete at Augusta Christian. She had been baptized and pledged her life to God. But Ashley Copeland's (ph) teenage years were not easy ones. Her Pastor Frank Page, counseled her during those years.

REV. FRANK PAGE, ASHLEY SMITH'S PASTOR: Well, there were times of teenage rebellion. There were times when she would move away from the lord and be rebellious to authority and just like most teenagers do.

COLLINS: Ashley's first brush with the law came when she was 16, still in high school, a shoplifting conviction for stealing a shirt from the local Macy's.

PAGE: I think her faith has always been real since she was a teenager. But faith for many of us, in fact, probably most all people sometimes has an ebb and flow. And she went through some tough times, some dark times where I don't think her faith was very strong enough. It certainly wasn't strong enough.

COLLINS: Ashley's rebelliousness lead to more charge. There was an arrest for underaged drinking. She lasted just one-quarter at a local college before dropping out. Her stepfather at the time, Larry Croft, says that Ashley was a good kid who started hanging out with the wrong people. That she started drinking and using drugs.

Croft and Ashley were close, even though he says, she didn't always appreciate the tough love he and her mother try to do impose on her. When her life looked like it was getting out of control, he put her to work in his water purification business.

LARRY CROFT, ASHLEY SMITH'S STEPFATHER: She could do anything, the child's a brilliant, brilliant child. And she would do things like bookkeeping, answering the phone, helping me with my closing sales calls, things like that.

COLLINS: Ashley met a young man, Daniel Smith, Mack, who was trying to overcome his own troubled past.

CROFT: She saw him and said, "I'm going to marry that man." And sure enough, they ended up getting married. It was tumultuous at first. And then it began to level out, because he started basically listening to her. And I could see the change in him.

COLLINS: The leveling out, Croft says, began after Ashley and Mack Smith's daughter, Paige, was born five years ago.

CROFT: He had started his business. I helped him get his business started. And they were doing quite well, as a matter of fact. And as a matter of fact, they had gotten a whole new coterie of friends. And that's really what preceded the problem the night he was killed.

COLLINS: The circumstances of that night remain unclear to this day, but at some point in the early morning hours of August 18, 2001, Mack and Ashley went to the Applecross (ph) Apartments in suburban Augusta, to confront some of Mack's former friends who had been hassling him.

CROFT: There was animosity over the fact that they had befriended a sheriff's deputy that lived in their neighborhood. And they were being accused of being -- what did Ashley say? The guy called up that night and said you're a narc, I think that's the term that they used. And that's basically what precipitated the fight between Mack and these group of savages that actually beat him severely. And then two of them stabbed him to death.

COLLINS: Ashley told police and her family she had been across the parking lot when the brawl began. She quickly called her stepfather for help. But it was too late.

CROFT: He fell back and into her arms in the back of that truck and he died right there in her arms, right there in her arms. And I was -- I got on the scene about -- oh, gosh, they hadn't even taken him away yet. She was just -- she was just, of course, I mean, it was horrible. She was weeping uncontrollably, and it was horrific.

COLLINS: Friends and family say Ashley went into a deep depression after Mack's death.

CROFT: Oh, she was devastated, like anyone else would be. She had this small child that she was caring for. Her life had begin to get a lot better. Mack's business was growing. And all of a sudden this was yanked away. And she was distraught.

COLLINS: Just months after Mack's death, she was convicted on a DUI charge and went into a court rehabilitation program. Larry Croft, brushes off an incident where she broken into his home. But said, he knew she needed help coping with a drug addiction. He paid for her when she voluntarily went back into rehab last year.

LARRY HACKETT, EXEC. EDITOR, "PEOPLE MAGAZINE": According to her family and to others, she was trying to get on the straight and narrow. She was trying to get her life back in order. She was taking responsibility for herself.

CROFT: I think within the last two years is when she began to get very serious about growing strong in her faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what was happening that time in her life? Was that two years after her husband died? Was she out of rehab at that time?

CROFT: That is correct. Since coming out of that situation, she has made a slow, steady progress towards stability and maturity.

COLLINS: After drug rehab, Ashley went back to school. She gave up custody of Paige to her aunt in Augusta and moved to suburban Atlanta returning weekly to see her daughter. Four weeks ago, her aunt gave her a copy of "The Purpose-Driven Life," a book that offered a Christian-based guide to living. Ashley, in turn, told her family not to lose faith in her.

DICK MACHOVEC, ASHLEY SMITH'S GRANDFATHER: She told us a few years ago, she said, "Papa, mama, believe me, I'm going to do something that's going to make you proud of me."


ZAHN: And proud indeed. And Ashley's entire story is the focus of a very special "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" tonight. Please join me for "Ashley Smith: A Hero's Journey." Gets underway tonight at 10:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

If you saw Robert Blake right after his acquittal of murder, you'll probably never forget his reaction.


ROBERT BLAKE, ENTERTAINER: I was a rich man, I'm broke now. I've got to go to work. But before that, I'm going to go out and do a little cowboying.


ZAHN: We have no idea what that really means, but please stay with us for more of the world according to Robert Blake.


ZAHN: Well, he may be broke, out of work, but acquitted of murder. Robert Blake begins trying to put his life back together. The actor found innocent yesterday of killing his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. He wasted no time striking back at those he said made a media circus out of his case.


ROBERT BLAKE, ACQUITTED OF MURDER: In the past four or five years, all of you have -- have interviewed a great many people. You've interviewed my friends. You've interviewed producers that worked for me. You've interviewed distant relatives and close, immediate relatives. You've interviewed, "Hey, I lived at his house. I know him. I know him inside out."

Well, guess what? They're all liars. And about half of them are commode scum. They were out to hustle you to make a buck over my hopefully dead ass. Well, they missed their bet.


ZAHN: Robert Blake wasn't the only one whose life became tabloid fodder. A sordid picture also emerged of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, the victim in the case. A picture that may well have affected the jury.

Bakley was the mother of Blake's daughter, who was only three months old at the time of her murder. We have this account of the problems in her life from "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS."


BONNY LEE BAKLEY, MURDER VICTIM: When I met Blake, I kind of wanted him but I kind of didn't because he wasn't, like, up to par with the looks.

ZAHN (voice-over): On audiotapes of Bonny Bakley released by Robert Blake's attorney, she recorded conversations with friends, leaving a clear impression of just who she thought she was.

BAKLEY: I was the kid that everybody hated in school cause I was like poor and I couldn't dress good and you know, and everybody always made fun of me cause I was, like, a real loner type, you know. So you grow up saying, "I'll fix them. I'll show them. I'll be a movie star."

ZAHN: But Bakley never did become a movie star. She just figured out a way to become part of the Hollywood scene she had always craved.

BAKLEY: It was too hard cause I was always falling for somebody. So I figured, well, why not fall for movie stars instead of becoming one, you know?

ZAHN: So she sought out Hollywood celebrities. One of them was Marlon Brando's son, Christian, according to Bakley's brother.

PETER CARLYON, BAKLEY'S HALF BROTHER: She liked him more because he was younger. He's cuter and comes from a much better background, even though he's a convicted murderer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She dated him, too, then?

CARLYON: She did date him and they did have a brief, tawdry little affair.

ZAHN: Brando, who pleaded guilty to killing his sister's boyfriend in 1991, spent five years in prison. He has not commented on Bakley or any of her claims.

Bakley became pregnant in the fall of 1999. When her baby daughter was born in June of 2000, she at first thought it was Brando's and wondered what affect the child would have on their relationship.

BAKLEY: I don't know if the baby is going to work for me or against me, cause, you know, sometimes they're a pain to have around, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's his baby, right?

BAKLEY: Yes, but you know, he may still not like it.

ZAHN: Later, a DNA test proved Robert Blake, not Brando, was the father. In the end, Bakley pursued a relationship with Blake, 23 years her senior.

BAKLEY: Who would you go for more if you were me, Blake or Christian?


BAKLEY: Probably feel safer with Blake because Christian could go off, right. Remember how wacky he was?

ZAHN: Bakley finally married Blake in November 2000, and they named their child Rose.

BAKLEY: He'd come on really mushy and sweet like he's really falling for me. And then, you know, and I was backing off.

ZAHN: According to Blake's former attorneys, it wasn't a loving relationship.

HARLAND BRAUN, BLAKE'S FORMER ATTORNEY: 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.

ZAHN: Bakley moved in with Blake but stayed in the bungalow behind the actor's four-bedroom house with the words Matahari Ranch painted across the face of the building.

CARLYON: Well, basically, before they were married, he didn't really even want to get married. He just -- he wanted to have a relationship with the child and not so much a relationship with her.

ZAHN: Blake began to suspect his bride might have a shady past, according to his attorney, and hired private investigators to check out her background. Bakley's brother didn't deny that his sister had legal problems.

CARLYON: She didn't murder and she didn't molest and she didn't rape. She wasn't a hardened criminal. She was really just a petty -- a petty scam artist.

ZAHN: Bakley had been convicted of processing false I.D.s, used to open post office boxes as part of a mail order fraud businesses. Prosecutors say she sought out lonely men to send her money in return for nude photos.

BAKLEY: I got three years probation just for having different I.D.'s, you know, and it wasn't even like I was really using them for anything totally, you know, too, too illegal either, you know. I mean, it's my business and if I want to, you know, like, fool guys in the mail and say that I'm somebody else, you know, what's the difference?

ZAHN: Blake has told the LAPD he feared someone from his wife's criminal past had been stalking her. But her family's attorney says the person she feared the most was her husband.

CARY GOLDSTEIN, FORMER BAKLEY FAMILY ATTORNEY: I know she feared her life. There were times when she was greatly in fear of him. She was treated, I think, very wrongly by him.


ZAHN: And so for the family of Bonny Lee Bakley, the fight for justice is not over yet. They have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Robert Blake. Bakley's sister Marjorie says, quote, "I believe in my heart he's guilty."

In a few minutes, we'll consider Robert Blake's future.


BLAKE: I'm going to get a job. I'm broke. Right now, I couldn't buy scratch for a hummingbird.


ZAHN: Coming up, a vintage performance from an unemployed actor.


ZAHN: Please stay with us. Jeanne Moos considers what's ahead for an unemployed 71-year-old actor who's just been cleared of the murder of his wife.

But first, about 10 minutes before the hour, time to check in with Erica Hill, Headline News.

Hi, again.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS: Hi, Paula. We start off with the Michael Jackson trial. Today, the pop star's former house keeper testified the children, quote, "became wild" during visits to Jackson's Neverland ranch. She says they drank alcohol in Jackson's presence and often slept with him instead of in their assigned rooms. Jackson is accused of molesting a then 13-year- old boy at the home in California.

The Senate voted today to remove all proposed cuts in Medicaid to next year's budget. The move is a blow to President Bush and Republican leaders, who had hoped to push through at least some reductions in benefit programs. The vote kills much of the deficit reduction in the $2.6 billion spending plan, although the Medicaid cuts could be revived when the House and Senate work on a compromise.

President Bush wants Robert Portman to be the next U.S. trade representative. Portman is a six-term congressman from Ohio. If confirmed, he would replace Robert Zoellick, who's become a deputy secretary of state. The president calls Portman a skilled negotiator and a tireless advocate for Americans -- America's manufactures and entrepreneurs.

More than one billion people will take to the skies this year as air traffic is expected to return to pre-2001 levels. The FAA predicts U.S. air traffic will grow an average of 3.4 percent over the next 12 years. More than 688 million passengers flew on U.S. airlines last year.

And Paula, maybe that explains all the long lines at the airport.

ZAHN: What lines, Erica? What are you talking about?

HILL: We must be at different airports then.

ZAHN: Exactly. When I was in Atlanta on Monday, there were some very long lines.

HILL: We have lots of lines here, yes.

ZAHN: Nice shirt there you've got, for St. Patrick's Day.

HILL: Thanks. Happy St. Patrick's Day. Everybody's Irish today, you know?

ZAHN: Absolutely. We all have a little bit of it in us.

Time to check in with Larry King. He's coming up at the top of the hour. Congratulations. I hear you are signed with CNN through the year 2050. Is that true?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": 2050, that's correct.

ZAHN: Did they get all the numbers right in the newspapers today?

KING: No, they were a little off. But it's...

ZAHN: High or low, Larry?

KING: I like the green outfit. Very nice look. It looks a little purplish in my camera.

ZAHN: I forgot. I had a long day today. Sorry. But I did watch the parade. It was good.

KING: Yes, who was the grand marshal?

ZAHN: You stumped me, Larry.

KING: OK. Anyway, it's happened before. We stump each other.

Mary Bakley-Smith and Holly Geiron (ph), the oldest daughter and sister, respectively, of the late Bonny Bakley and her attorney, Eric Dubin (ph). And we'll meet the very successful Gerald Schwartzbach, the attorney for the very successful in court Robert Blake. Lots more coming at 9.

ZAHN: See you at the top of the hour. I'll get that grand marshal's name for you by tomorrow night. Have a good show, Lar.

KING: Good night.

ZAHN: Coming up in a minute, a tough guy gets philosophical. Jeanne Moos takes us inside Robert Blake's world when we come back.


ZAHN: Actor Robert Blake says he's broke and needs a job, but judging from his performance after the verdict, no problem. Here's Jeanne Moos.



JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was like a cross between "Law and Order" and "Baretta."


MOOS: Robert Blake won't be doing the time. And when that sank in, his head sank to the table. He got so excited he had to pop some pills. He even fell off his chair.

Outside the courthouse, exhaling like a horse, his attorney kept trying to reign him in.


BLAKE: You have a date? I'm 71 years old. You can find a place on my ass where there ain't a scar, they can put one (ph).

MOOS: Like the character he used to play, he shot down one questioner. BLAKE: What do you want, man?

MOOS: A reporter asked politely, "Who do you honestly believe killed your wife?"

BLAKE: Shut up.

MOOS: This was the world according to Robert Blake. He quoted everyone from Albert Einstein to Johnny Cochran.

BLAKE: You're innocent until proven broke.

MOOS: Blake used expressions so folksy they'd make Dan Rather envious.

BLAKE: Going to get a job. I'm broke. Right now, I couldn't buy spats for a hummingbird.

MOOS: We consulted a hummingbird expert, who said he'd never heard the expression but suggested that hummingbirds have exceedingly small feet, so spats for them would be really, really cheap.

"Baretta" may have walked, but hummingbirds can't. Their legs are so tiny they can just hover and perch. Anyway, "Baretta's" into parrots.

What's he going to do now that he's free?

BLAKE: I'm going to go out and do a little cowboying. Do you know what that is?

MOOS: Maybe you'd like to take a guess. Is Blake going to do a little A) cursing like a cowboy, B) drinking like a cowboy or C) rolling in the hay like a cowboy?

BLAKE: Cowboying is when you get in a motor home or a van and you just let the air blow in your hair and you wind up in some little bar in Arizona someplace.

MOOS: There was one final "Baretta"-ism that left the press puzzled.

BLAKE: Any of you guys on the cameras, any of you gaffers got a pair of dykes?

MOOS: Could it be that Blake is looking A) for cast members from "The L Word", B) structures to contain the flow of his tears. It turns out dykes are wire cutters. Blake borrowed a tool and right then and there sliced off his electronic ankle bracelet.

A guy who used to put people in pretend cuffs, then found himself in real cuffs, now is holding up his electronic cuff while making off- the-cuff remarks. Eat your heart out, Martha Stewart.


ZAHN: As only Jeanne Moos can see it.

By the way, when Blake was asked if he'd go back to acting, he said, well, I haven't made much money with a guitar.

We leave you with a shot of the Empire State Building, all green tonight after the end of a long day of celebration here. Happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next.


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