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Actor Robert Blake, Bodyguard Arrested in Wife's Killing

Police planned to seek charges that could carry the death penalty against Baretta star Robert Blake in the shooting death of his wife last May.

Blake, 68, was arrested Thursday at a home in Hidden Hills, a gated suburban community where the actor moved after Bonny Lee Bakley's slaying.

"Robert Blake shot Bonny Bakley," police Capt. Jim Tatreau said Thursday night. "We believe the motive is Robert Blake had contempt for Bonny Bakley. He felt he was trapped in a marriage he wanted no part of."

Bakley, 44, was killed a block from a Studio City restaurant where she and the actor had dined. They were married about five months before the slaying, after DNA tests proved Blake was the father of her 11-month-old daughter, Rosie.

The weapon was recovered from a trash bin a day or so after the killing, he said. 

Police Chief Bernard Parks said detectives will ask prosecutors to charge Blake with one count of murder with special circumstances and two counts of solicitation of murder. The so-called special circumstances — lying in wait — could make Blake eligible for the death penalty.

Blake was taken to the downtown Los Angeles County jail, where he was held in the hospital section to segregate him from the general inmate population, said Deputy Roberta Granek, a Sheriff's Department spokeswoman. He was not ill, she said.

Police said they would seek to have Blake's bodyguard and chauffeur, Earle Caldwell, 46, who was also arrested Thursday, charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

The police chief said there was "physical and significant circumstantial evidence" but gave no details. The nearly year-long investigation covered more than 900 items of evidence, more than 150 witnesses and travel throughout the country. Police said much of that related to the mail solicitation business that Bakley operated. 

Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the district attorney, said prosecutors will review the case and announce Monday whether they intend to file charges. 

After his wife's death, Blake said he had walked her to the car and then returned to the restaurant to pick up a gun he left behind. He said he carried the weapon to protect her. When he returned to the car, he said he found his wife shot. 

His attorney, Harland Braun, met with the actor at police headquarters Thursday. 

"He's calm, he's collected. His main concern right now is his children," Braun said, asserting he has a strong defense but declining comment on the police case because he had not seen its details. 

The attorney quoted Blake as saying: "I'm going to fight this, but I don't want my children's lives defined by this." 

Braun said he believes Bakley's "real killer is still out there." He said everyone "who ever came in contact with her had a motive" to kill her. 

Cary Goldstein, attorney for Bakley's family, said they were pleased with the arrests. He warned against any attempt by Blake's lawyer to raise questions about Bakley's behavior. 

"I've said from the very beginning, there's nothing that Bonny ever did in her lifetime that justifies her having been murdered. Her wrongdoings were picayune, at best," he said. 

The case thrust Blake back into the limelight after years of semiretirement. A former child star, he had his greatest success in the 1970s TV series, Baretta, in which he played a tough-talking cop. 

He received accolades for his performance as a killer who goes to the gallows in 1967's In Cold Blood, and he won a 1975 Emmy for Baretta, but his career had been stalled for years. 

As details of the couple's lifestyle emerged, the story became even more bizarre. Theirs was hardly a traditional marriage. They met at a nightclub and began seeing each other and having sex. 

When Bakley became pregnant, she said she was unsure if the child was fathered by Blake or Christian Brando, son of actor Marlon Brando. But DNA tests eventually showed the little girl was Blake's daughter and his lawyer said the actor felt he had to marry her. 

For the wedding, the bride had to get permission from a judge to be released from electronic monitoring in her home state of Arkansas where she was under house arrest for possessing fake identifications. After the marriage, she left the baby in the actor's custody. The pair had signed a temporary custody agreement. 

Later, she moved into a cottage behind Blake's home and Blake hired a nanny for the baby. 

Blake's lawyer, who was hired shortly after the killing, investigated the woman's past and came up with the theory that there were many men who might have wanted her dead. 

Stacks of letters, pornographic pictures and meticulously detailed records showed that Bakley, using many aliases, ran a business soliciting money from lonely men who answered her ads in magazines and newspapers.