LOS ANGELES – Robert Blake's (search) wife was shot by someone standing at a distance from her and the two wounds she suffered to her cheek and shoulder were both fatal, a medical examiner testified Wednesday in the actor's murder trial.
Dr. Jeffrey Gutstadt said that the absence of soot and "stippling" marks around Bonny Lee Bakley's (search) wounds indicated that the shooter was more than 1 1/2 feet away when the gun was fired. He also said the damage from the shots made it unlikely that paramedics could have saved her life.
"It would not be an instantaneous death," he said, suggesting it would have taken perhaps as little as three minutes but up to 15 minutes for her to die.
"It is unlikely that in this case they would have been able to save her life," the witness said.
Bakley, 44, was shot the night of May 4, 2001, as she sat in the front passenger seat of a car after she and Blake dined at the actor's favorite restaurant in his Studio City neighborhood.
Under cross-examination, Gutstadt said that the specific trajectory of both bullets, which went from right to left and slightly upward, made the shots more deadly than had they hit the victim straight on.
Gutstadt said he could not tell whether Bakley was sitting upright, was turned slightly to the left or perhaps moved after the first shot hit, nor could he give any opinion on where the shooter stood, how tall the person was or whether the assailant was right- or left-handed.
"The absence of sooting or stippling indicates a distant range of fire," he said.
The coroner took the stand as Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels began to show jurors the anatomy of the murder, using enlarged pictures of Bakley's wounds.
Blake, 71, sat grim-faced at the counsel table and frequently looked down and rubbed his forehead.
He is charged with murder, lying in wait and soliciting two stuntmen to murder Bakley. If convicted he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Bakley was shot 1 1/2 blocks from Vitello's, an Italian restaurant where Blake was such a longtime customer that a menu item was named after him. Police found the murder weapon, a World War II-era gun, in a construction trash bin next to the car.
The case also involves a second weapon, a handgun Blake claims he was carrying that night for protection and which he turned over to police at the scene.
Testimony opened Tuesday with prosecution witnesses describing gruesome details of Bakley's death and casting doubt on the sincerity of Blake's anguish.
Blake claims he walked his wife to the car after dinner, then realized he had left his gun on the seat of their booth and returned hastily to retrieve it. When he came back to the car, he has said, he found his wife bleeding and unconscious and rushed to a nearby house for help.
Sean Stanek, a movie director and production designer, testified about his response Blake's pleas.
"I opened the door. I said, 'Robert Blake.' He was yelling, 'You've got to help me, my wife is bleeding.' ... He was wide-eyed, pale, pupils looked dilated."
Stanek described blood gushing from Bakley and the sound of her gurgling death rattle. Jurors heard a 911 call made by Stanek with Blake shouting in the background to get an ambulance.
The witness said he was told to use a towel to try to stem the bleeding on Bakley's head until paramedics arrived. He said Blake was sitting on the curb.
"Did you notice anything interesting or unusual about the way he was acting?" asked Samuels.
"The whole thing was unusual," said Stanek. "He wasn't helping me."
Stanek imitated Blake's loud sobs and the prosecutor asked: "Did you see any tears?"
"I looked and there weren't any tears," Stanek said. "I don't know, people cry in different ways."
Two women who dined at Vitello's restaurant on the murder night also told of rushing out to the car where Bakley lay dying after Blake returned to the restaurant seeking a doctor.
Teri Lorenzo Castaneda , a school nurse, described Blake as hysterical and crying. Asked if there was anything odd about his behavior, she said he never came over to the car to be with his wife. Both she and her friend, Carol Caputo, said Blake's emotions turned on and off.
"When people approached him he was very agitated and would cry out, 'Oh, my God,'" Caputo said. "But when they left he had a flat affect and appeared calm."
"Did it seem fake to you?" asked Samuels.
"No. The screaming didn't sound fake," she replied, adding what seemed odd was "the turning it on and off."