LOS ANGELES – Robert Blake's attorney on Wednesday appealed a $30 million wrongful death verdict against the actor, saying jurors discussed O.J. Simpson, ignored the lack of evidence that Blake killed his wife and decided to "send a message that celebrities and rich people cannot get away with murder."
The award to the family of Bonny Lee Bakley was the result of prejudice and jury misconduct and should be reversed, attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach wrote in the 55-page appeal.
Bakley was shot to death as she sat in Blake's car outside a restaurant where the two had just dined in May 2001. Blake told police he had left her alone briefly while he retrieved a gun that he carried for protection and had accidentally left behind in the restaurant.
The actor was acquitted of his wife's shooting death at his criminal trial in 2005 but found liable in the civil trial a few months later.
In the document filed Wednesday with the California 2nd District Court of Appeal, Schwartzbach cited detailed post-trial affidavits from three jurors who also said that one juror cited the Bible as the basis for a finding of liability and another concealed that her daughter was under life sentence in a murder case.
The appeal claims that a juror who had a hearing impairment and said he missed most of the testimony was prodded into voting for the verdict by other jurors who warned he would force a mistrial if he didn't agree with them.
"In a case featuring no forensic evidence or confession linking appellant Robert Blake to the murder of decedent Bonny Lee Bakley, nor any testimony by an eyewitness to the killing, a jury found him liable for her death and imposed a gargantuan award of $30 million for compensatory damages," the appeal says.
Schwartzbach argues in the filing that the jurors' intent was to punish Blake, something they were prohibited from doing in a case which did not address punitive damages.
"Jurors discussed setting the damage figure high enough to 'send a message' that celebrities and rich people cannot get away with murder ... (and) the fact that O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson had escaped punishment," the appeal said. Jackson was acquitted of child molestation charges in June 2005.
It also noted that jurors' expressed dislike for Blake from the start and wanted to set the award so high that it would force Blake to relinquish custody of his and Bakley's daughter, Rosie, to the Bakley family. That did not happen. Rosie was adopted by Blake's adult daughter and her husband.
Blake has filed for bankruptcy and is unlikely to pay the award.
Schwartzbach has said he wants the verdict reversed to preserve Blake's reputation as the actor who starred in "In Cold Blood" and the "Baretta" TV series.
When Schwartzbach first raised issues of jury misconduct in a motion for new a trial, plaintiffs' lawyer Eric Dubin obtained affidavits from five jurors and two alternates who claimed the trial was fair and jurors were not prejudiced against Blake. Schwartzbach said those jurors merely offered conclusions and personal feelings which are legally "worthless." The motion for a new trial was denied.
Recently it was disclosed that the Police Department's internal affairs division is investigating a complaint alleging misconduct by the lead investigator in the case. The complaint against Detective Ron Ito was filed a year ago and has yet to be resolved. It contends that Blake's celebrity status led police to assume he was guilty and close the case after his acquittal without pursuing any other suspects.