Blake Juror Screening Gets Off to Slow Start

The search for a jury to decide whether or not actor Robert Blake (search) murdered his wife got off to a halting start Monday with only 20 of the first 133 prospects saying they could be available to serve on a long trial.

"Oh, geez!" exclaimed one woman when it was announced the trial of the former "Baretta" (search) star could last five months; others sighed and shook their heads. Prospective jurors will face a battery of questions from lawyers on everything from their jobs to their TV viewing habits.

Jury Commissioner Gloria Gomez read a statement from Judge Darlene Schempp that said prospects would be excused only for legitimate reasons relating to their employment or studies. A total of 177 jurors were summoned; 133 appeared, the commissioner said.

The entire group was ordered to return to court later in the day to fill out questionnaires.

Schempp has said she wants a pool of 150 to 200 prescreened jurors ready to be quizzed Nov. 15 when lawyers take over. That could involve the screening of as many as 1,800 prospective jurors.

Blake, his lawyer, the prosecutor and the judge will not be present during the initial jury screening phase.

Blake, 71, will stand trial for murder in the death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley (search), whom he married after DNA tests showed he was the father of her baby.

Blake told police he found Bakley shot in their car on May 4, 2001, after he went back into the restaurant where they had just dined to retrieve a gun he carried for protection.