LOS ANGELES – With no fingerprints, DNA evidence or murder weapon that can be linked to Robert Blake (search), his murder trial has largely come down to the word of three men who say the actor tried to cast them as real-life hit men.
Two are retired stuntmen who have had problems with drugs and the law. The third is a street thug-turned-minister who projected a persona on the witness stand that evoked comparisons to one of the characters in television's popular mob drama "The Sopranos (search)."
All three said Blake tried to cast them as real-life hit men and they refused.
Blake's trial, which was expected to resume Monday, could conclude by month's end. It has become the story of a faded star who lost his way in the winter of his life because of a woman. Blake has pleaded innocent.
The colorful trio portrayed Blake, 71, as a man who had reached his wit's end in 2001 as he tried to extricate himself from a relationship with a con artist and convicted felon who had given birth to his child.
Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels is relying on them to clinch her case and convince jurors Blake killed his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley (search), when he couldn't get anyone else to do it.
Defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach, who has attacked all three as liars, got one to acknowledge from the witness stand that he was a heavy cocaine user afflicted with paranoid delusions, and the two others to say that Blake never directly asked them to kill his wife.
Blake, best known for his lead role in the '70s TV series "Baretta" and the movie "In Cold Blood," is charged with shooting Bakley, 44, on May 4, 2001, as she sat in a car near his favorite restaurant.
He said he returned to the car to find Bakley mortally wounded after leaving her briefly to return to the restaurant to retrieve his gun. The weapon, which Blake says he inadvertently left behind, was not the one used to kill Bakley.