LOS ANGELES – Conceding that Robert Blake's (search) murder trial is going to generate great public interest, a judge nevertheless refused on Monday to permit TV coverage during testimony.
Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp (search) is allowing television cameras in the courtroom during only opening statements, closing arguments and the verdict.
She said she fears that if witnesses watch the testimony of those preceding them into court, it could affect what they say.
"You can't expect that witnesses won't watch," she said. "And witnesses on the stand for two or three days might go home and watch their own testimony and decide to change it."
Underscoring the judge's concern, the former star of TV's "Baretta" (search) stopped after the hearing to buy a hot dog from a vendor outside the courthouse and was immediately serenaded by a man with a guitar. The guitarist then handed the instrument to Blake and asked him to play something.
The defendant, who is free on $1.5 million bail, responded with a rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as TV cameras and a crowd of bystanders quickly gathered.
"I've been playing the guitar since I was 2," the actor said afterward. "But a very wise man once told me, 'If you have one talent, don't push your luck.' So I'm the best guitar player in my living room."
Blake, 70, is charged with shooting his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley (search), 44, to death as she sat in a car outside a restaurant where the two had just had dinner in 2001.
He told authorities he left Bakley alone in the car to retrieve a gun he carried for protection and had accidentally left behind in the restaurant. He said he returned to find her mortally wounded.
The judge rejected arguments from media attorney Kelli Sager and Court TV (search) representative Fred Graham, who said that the case will be covered in the print media and that witnesses can obtain the same information there.
Sager also said that in hundreds of cases that have been televised, witnesses are told not to watch and try to abide by those instructions.
"I would hope they try," said the judge, "but I have my doubts."
Schempp said the public interest would be adequately served by having 25 reporters in the courtroom as well as one or two still cameras throughout the trial, which is scheduled to begin after a final round of jury selection that starts Feb. 17.