LOS ANGELES – Robert Blake's defense attorney relentlessly attacked the story told by a key prosecution witness Monday and said outside court that the retired stuntman's account of the actor planning the murder of his wife had been turned into "Swiss cheese."
"It's just another episode in a case that's been glamorized into something it's not," said attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. "It's a case made out of Hollywood tabloids, not reality."
Mesereau had spent all day at Blake's preliminary hearing dissecting statements given by Ronald Hambleton to police in the weeks after Bonny Lee Bakley was slain.
Hambleton, one of two stuntmen who form the heart of the prosecution's case, admitted he initially told a drastically different story to police than the one he recounted on the witness stand. He said he had been afraid to tell the truth.
"I didn't think it was conducive to my health to be labeled a snitch," he said.
Last week, Hambleton testified that Blake told him he wanted his wife "snuffed." Two earlier witnesses said Blake wanted someone to "whack" or "pop" his wife.
At day's end Hambleton continued to maintain that Blake solicited him to kill Bakley, but he also conceded he had not told police about that until six months after the killing. In the interim he told them his only discussions with Blake were about a movie script.
Damaging statements elicited by Mesereau included an acknowledgment that Hambleton made up a story about Blake offering him $100,000 for the killing and told it to someone as a ruse to catch a "snitch."
And he said he read tabloid reports on the Blake case before he ever talked to police. Mesereau suggested Hambleton eventually tailored his accounts to what was reported, but he denied it.
"Would you buy a used car from this man?" Mesereau quipped as he left. "Someone said this witness is now Swiss cheese and it's true."
He said that Blake's mood has been improving.
"As he sees their case unravel, he's feeling better," Mesereau said.
Prosecutors did not comment on Monday's testimony.
Blake is accused of shooting Bakley, 44, to death in their car after dining at a restaurant on May 4, 2001. The hearing will determine whether he stands trial for murder and his handyman-bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, is tried for conspiracy.
With Hambleton on the stand, Mesereau cited his interview by police on May 21, 2001.
"And you said you had made up a story that Blake had offered you $100,000," Mesereau said.
"I told it to a snitch," Hambleton said, explaining that he figured if the story then surfaced he would know that the man he told it to had been planted in his San Bernardino County home by local authorities to gather information because they thought he was an unsavory character.
The alleged snitch was living on Hambleton's property, which he described as a halfway house for released convicts and others.
In cross-examination, the defense sought to show not only that Hambleton lied under oath but that police suggested to him that he make up the solicitation story.
"And didn't the police say, 'You have a date to go to court for your (case). Here's your opportunity?"' Mesereau asked.
Hambleton acknowledged that was in the transcript of his interview, but denied he was expecting police help in his case.