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Robert Blake Pleads Not Guilty to Murder

Tough-guy actor Robert Blake and his bodyguard pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that they plotted to murder Blake's wife in an elaborate plan that began months before she was actually shot to death.

Prosecutors said the 68-year-old Blake and his bodyguard plotted the slaying for about four months, and the actor asked two other people to kill Bonny Lee Bakley before deciding to do it himself.

Besides murder, Blake was charged with solicitation of murder, conspiracy and the special circumstance of lying in wait. Under California law, a special circumstance gives prosecutors the option of seeking a death sentence — a decision they said has not been made in Blake's case.

The bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, 46, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Among other things, Caldwell was accused of keeping a list of items needed for the hit, including duct tape, lye and shovels.

Both men pleaded innocent, saying nothing in court except when asked for their pleas. Blake remained held without bail. Caldwell's bail has been set at $1 million.

Blake's attorney, Harland Braun, said outside court that prosecutors were trying to make a case based on things the victim told others.

"I think what you have is a lot of people saying, 'Bonny told me this.' That would be inadmissible hearsay," Braun said.

The men were brought to court after prosecutors revealed in a criminal complaint a list of "overt acts" they said were committed in setting up the killing. It said the defendants began collaborating at least as early as Jan. 2, 2001.

Bakley, 44, was slain last May 4 as she sat in Blake's car outside a Los Angeles restaurant, Vitello's, where the couple had just dined.

Blake, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of a detective in the 1970s TV show Baretta, has said his wife was shot after he returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he accidentally left behind.

He said he was carrying the weapon to protect Bakley from threats she received.

Prosecutors, however, said the actor "personally and intentionally" pulled the trigger after weeks of planning. They suggested Blake checked out remote places to kill Bakley — including a tiny town outside Sequoia National Park and an Arizona community — in the weeks before the slaying.

The day of the murder, prosecutors said, Blake drove Bakley to dinner at Vitello's, parking his car next to a construction site about a block from the restaurant.

When the couple returned to the car, Bakley sat in the passenger seat. Prosecutors say Blake "lowered the windows, got out of the car" holding the keys and shot his wife twice with a 9mm handgun he later tossed in a trash bin.

"It was just awful after reading the complaint," Margerry Bakley, the victim's sister, said tearfully outside court. "I feel terrible. I feel absolutely terrible."

Two months before the slaying, Blake separately asked two people to kill his wife and showed each a gun he had, the complaint said. In one case, Blake allegedly said that Caldwell "would have already dug holes for burial."

Prosecutors said the bodyguard, at Blake's request, kept a list of items for use in the murder that read: "2 shovels, small sledge, crowbar, 25 auto, 'get blank gun ready,' old rugs, duct tape, Draino, pool acid, lye, plant."

Caldwell also allegedly accompanied Blake and Bakley on a trip in March 2001. The three visited Parker, Ariz., 240 miles east of Los Angeles, and Three Rivers, Calif., 160 miles north of the city.

On that trip, the complaint said without elaboration, "Defendant Caldwell, armed with a handgun, hid in bushes on the banks of a river and jumped out while defendant Blake and Bonny Lee Bakley were together."

Braun said the story had been told by Bakley to her sister and has never been backed up by evidence. He also said the list of supplies "looks suspicious but it's actually a list of supplies they used for pool cleaning."

Blake and Caldwell were arrested Thursday after an investigation covering more than 900 items of evidence, more than 150 witnesses and police travel throughout the country.

Should the case go to trial, the defense is expected to focus on Bakley's past.

Blake married her after she gave birth to a child she initially said was fathered either by Blake or Christian Brando. DNA tests showed Blake was the father of the girl, who will turn 2 in June.

Blake's attorney has suggested there could be many suspects other than the actor because Bakley ran a mail-order business soliciting money from lonely men who answered her ads in magazines and newspapers.

Police contend that Blake had the most motive because he held Bakley in "contempt" and felt "trapped" in the marriage.

On another issue, Court Commissioner Michael M. Duffey allowed TV cameras in court for the arraignment but did not rule on whether they could be present for the trial.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.