LOS ANGELES – Jurors in the Robert Blake (search) trial heard a retired stuntman describe a murder plot worthy of a Hollywood movie, but the defense noted the witness initially told police he knew of no such scheme.
Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton (search) held the packed courtroom's attention Wednesday as he described how Blake, an old associate on the "Baretta" (search) TV series, contacted him after 20 years of silence to talk about killing Blake's wife. He was expected to take the stand again Thursday.
Hambleton, 68, gave the most detailed account yet of Blake allegedly scouting locations for the murder of Bonny Lee Bakley (search). He said they visited Blake's home and the restaurant near where Bakley eventually was slain in May 2001.
The actor proposed several death "scenarios," Hambleton said, including by a river in Laughlin, Nev., or at the Grand Canyon. He said Blake also mentioned an ambush by the side of a road or a shooting in a hotel room.
Hambleton said he met with Blake in March 2001 to discuss a possible movie role for him. The retired stuntman said he had proposed the idea for a film about aging motorcyclists to Blake decades earlier.
When they met, he said, there was only brief discussion of the movie.
"He was talking about getting rid of Bonny Bakley — that was the main thing on his mind," Hambleton said.
When Hambleton resisted, he said, Blake responded, "If you're not going to do it, I sure as hell am."
In spite of his reluctance, Hambleton said he met with Blake three more times.
Blake, 71, is accused of shooting Bakley, 44, in a car near his favorite neighborhood restaurant. Blake claims he found her shot after he returned to Vitello's restaurant to retrieve a gun he carried for protection and left in their booth. It was not the murder weapon.
The prosecution's case, now near its end, has not produced strong forensic evidence tying Blake to the crime. There was no blood on his clothes and minimal gunshot residue found on his hands could have come from the gun he carried.
Blake married Bakley after tests showed he was the father of her baby, Rosie.
Under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels, Hambleton testified that Blake said he wanted to protect Rosie from her mother, who the actor claimed had involved another child in pornography.
"He said he didn't care if he was caught with a smoking gun because he wanted to make sure Rosie didn't grow up in the same environment," Hambleton said.
On cross-examination, Blake's lawyer, M. Gerald Schwartzbach, pointed out that Hambleton denied knowing anything about a murder plot when police first came to see him. Schwartzbach quoted from police interviews in which Hambleton repeatedly said Blake had not solicited him to murder Bakley.
Asked by the detectives if he had any hunches who did kill her, Hambleton replied, "I'm sure I am just as surprised as anyone else. I have no idea."
He did not change his story until six months later, when he was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury, Hambleton acknowledged, and by then he had been following stories about the killing in tabloid newspapers.
Schwartzbach suggested that Hambleton made up the murder plot based on the tabloid reports.