Blake Found Not Guilty of Murder

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The jury in the Robert Blake (search) murder trial on Wednesday found the "Baretta" actor not guilty of the 2001 murder of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley (search).

The jury also acquitted Blake of one charge of trying to get someone to kill Bakley but deadlocked on a second solicitation charge. The jury voted 11-1 in favor of acquittal and the judge dismissed the count.

The 71-year-old star of the 1970s detective drama "Baretta" (search) dropped his head, trembled with emotion and sobbed heavily as the verdict was read. He hugged his lawyer and later almost fell while reaching for a water bottle.

Bakley's adult daughter sobbed quietly in the back of the courtroom.

Outside the courthouse, Blake was cheered by supporters and put out a cigarette he had been smoking before thanking his lawyers and private investigators.

"This small band of dedicated warriors saved my life," he said.

He also described the financial toll the case had taken on him.

"If you want to know how to go through $10 million in five years, ask me," he said. "I'm broke. I need a job."

At one point, Blake asked someone in the crowd for something to remove his electronic monitoring bracelet. He then bent down and cut off the ankle device.

The jury of seven men and five women delivered the verdicts on its ninth day of deliberations, following a trial with a cast of characters that included two Hollywood stuntmen who said Blake tried to get them to bump off his wife.

Blake had faced life in prison; prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.

Blake was charged with shooting Bakley, 44, in their car outside the actor's favorite Italian restaurant on May 4, 2001, before their marriage was even 6 months old.

The defense called it a weak case built largely on the testimony of the two stuntmen — both of whom were once heavy drug users.

"The prosecution built their case on the backs of those two men and neither one of them was worthy of belief," defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach said outside court.

No eyewitnesses, blood or DNA evidence linked Blake to the crime. The murder weapon, found in a trash bin, could not be traced to Blake.

"They couldn't put the gun in his hand," jury foreman Thomas Nicholson told reporters, adding the case lacked evidence that could "connect all the links in the chain."

"There was nothing," Nicholson told reporters. "Supposition, more than evidence."

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the prosecution had done its best with the case.

"We always said this case needed to be decided by a jury," she said. "The jury has weighed the evidence, and the decision has been made."

Eric Dubin, an attorney representing Bakley's family, said the verdict won't stop their wrongful death suit against Blake scheduled to begin on July 7.

"When we put him on the stand, we'll find he's guilty in the civil court," Dubin said.

Bakley's daughter Holly Gawron, 24, said she was shocked by the verdicts and looked forward to her family's wrongful death lawsuit against Blake. The trial in that case is set to begin July 7.

"I hope somehow that I will be able to find some justice, some form of punishment for him, because he's off celebrating his freedom for murdering my mother," she said. "It's very hard to deal with."

Prosecutors said Blake believed his wife trapped him into a loveless marriage by getting pregnant. They said Blake soon became smitten with the baby, Rosie, and desperately wanted to keep the child away from Bakley, whom he considered an unfit mother.

Bakley had been married several times, had a record for mail fraud and made a living scamming men out of money with nude pictures of herself and promises of sex.

"He was tricked by Bonny Lee and he hated her for it," prosecutor Shellie Samuels said in closing arguments. "He got taken by a small-time grifter."

Blake has been in front of the camera from childhood, back when he was sad-eyed little Mickey in the "Our Gang" movie shorts, and appeared in the 1967 movie "In Cold Blood," in which he portrayed a killer who dies on the gallows.

In "Baretta," Blake played a tough-talking, street-smart detective whose catchphrase was "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."

Those acting successes seemed well in the past by the time a divorced and lonely Blake met Bakley at a jazz club five years ago. They had sex in his truck that night, and she was soon carrying Blake's child.

They were wed in 2000 in a no-frills ceremony at which the bride wore an electronic monitoring bracelet because she was still on probation for fraud.

Prosecutors said Blake killed his wife after failing to persuade a street thug-turned-minister and two stuntmen from his "Baretta" days to do the job. One of the stuntmen said Blake talked about having Bakley "snuffed" and mentioned locations for the killing, including the Grand Canyon.

Also, a former detective who worked for Blake as a private investigator testified that the actor proposed to kidnap Bakley, force her to have an abortion and, if that did not work, "whack her."

The defense portrayed the stuntmen as drug users prone to hallucinations and delusions.

Blake was acquitted of asking stuntmen Gary McLarty to kill Bakley.

McLarty's "testimony in my view was so disjointed and so irregular in what he was trying to say. It had no bearing in my judgment," jury foreman Nicholson said.

The judge dismissed a second charge that Blake asked Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton to kill his wife. Nicholson called Hambleton a "prolific liar."

Blake told authorities that he walked his wife to the car after dinner, then discovered he had left his gun back in the booth at Vitello's Restaurant. He went back to get it, then returned to the car and found his wife shot, he said. That gun was not the murder weapon.

Blake did not testify. But his lawyer showed the jury a videotape of a jailhouse interview with Barbara Walters in which he denied killing his wife.

"It's all about Rosie. It's always been about Rosie," Blake said. "The greatest gift in the world, and I'm going to try to mess it up by being selfish?"

Rosie, now 4, is being raised by Blake's adult daughter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.