LOS ANGELES – A retired homicide detective portrayed actor Robert Blake as a man with murder on his mind months before his wife was slain, quoting Blake as saying unless Bonny Lee Bakley aborted her baby, he would have her "whacked."
In a riveting first day of testimony at the actor's preliminary hearing, prosecutors revealed Wednesday their case against the former Baretta TV star relies at least in part on his own words — some related by witnesses, others surreptitiously tape recorded by the slain Bakley herself.
The hearing, expected to last at least two weeks, was to resume Thursday.
On Wednesday, prosecutors played an audiotape of a phone call in which Blake berated Bakley for getting pregnant.
"You lied to me. You double-crossed me. You double-dealt me, and that's who you are," Blake said.
Blake's lawyer objected to the tape on the grounds it was recorded illegally. Superior Court Judge Lloyd Nash initially said it could be used, but later said he would have to research law on the matter.
Bakley, 44, was shot as she sat in the couple's car near Blake's favorite restaurant, Vitello's in Studio City, where they dined May 4, 2001. The 69-year-old actor has said after they left, he returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he'd left behind. When he came back to their car, he said, he found her mortally wounded.
Prosecutors maintain he shot her.
Blake, gaunt and gray, listened grimly to the testimony at a hearing that will determine whether he stands trial for murder. His handyman, Earle Caldwell, charged with conspiring in the slaying, sat off to the side listening quietly. Caldwell is out on $1 million bail posted by Blake, who is being held without bail.
Blake showed no reaction as his old friend William Welch, a retired homicide detective, testified about a scenario as bizarre as a movie script.
He said the actor told him he had impregnated Bakley during a one-night stand and wanted her abducted to undergo an abortion, and, if that failed, to have her "whacked."
Welch, a Los Angeles police officer for 21 years before he became a private detective in 1985, said he had done work for Blake over about 10 years and they were friends.
He said the conversation occurred in October 1999 after Blake asked him to go for a walk by the Los Angeles River, which runs near the Studio City home where Blake was living.
"He said, 'We're going to hire a doctor, we're going to abort her and if that doesn't work we're going to whack her,'" Welch testified.
"I said, 'Robert, you mean we're going to kidnap this girl, we're going to hire a doctor, we're going to abort her against her will, if that doesn't work we're going to kill her?'
"He said, 'Yeah, I've thought about it and that's what we're going to do."
Welch said he suggested Blake instead pay Bakley as much as $100,000 to make her go away, but the actor rejected that idea, then outlined his plans.
"I said, 'Robert, well first of all, I'm not going to do this, and second of all, we're not going to do this, and thirdly, I hope to hell you're not going to do this.' I said, 'This is a terrible idea.' I believe I used a little bit stronger language."
He said the next morning Blake called him and said he had changed his mind.
On cross-examination, Blake's lawyer, Thomas Mesereau Jr., noted that after the conversation the investigator continued to work for Blake for more than a year on various aspects of his relationship with Bakley.