Deliberations Begin in Civil Suit Against Robert Blake

Jurors began deliberations Friday in the wrongful-death lawsuit that claims "Baretta" star Robert Blake is liable for the killing of wife Bonny Lee Bakley (search) 4 1/2 years ago.

Blake, 72, was acquitted of murder in March after a criminal trial, but the lawsuit brought on behalf of Bakley's four children seeks to hold him civilly responsible and to win monetary damages.

Jurors put in just over two hours of work before recessing for the weekend. They began deliberations after Los Angeles County Judge David Schacter instructed them on the questions they must answer to reach verdicts.

The judge said they must decide whether Blake intentionally caused Bakley's death or plotted to cause it. They also must decide whether there was a conspiracy between Blake and co-defendant Earle Caldwell, his former handyman, to cause Bakley's death.

The jurors were also given guidance on how to determine damages if they find liability.

Verdicts require agreement by nine of the 12 jurors rather than a unanimous decision. The burden of proof (search) in a civil suit is lower than in a criminal case also. A criminal conviction requires a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To determine liability in a civil case, jurors must find that a claim is more likely to be true than not.

At trial, the children's attorney suggested Robert Blake (search) was bent on getting rid of his wife at any cost, while the defense sought to show that the actor wanted to stay married and raise the daughter he had with Bakley in a stable environment.

Blake married Bakley in 2000 after tests showed that he was the father of her baby, Rosie.

In May 2001, Bakley was found shot to death in Blake's car on a street near a restaurant where they had just dined. Blake claims he went back into the restaurant to retrieve a handgun that he carried for protection but had left in their booth, then went back out to the car and found his wife mortally wounded in the passenger seat.

Plaintiffs' attorney Eric Dubin alleged that in the months before Bakley died, Blake tried to distance himself from her and then tried to hire two former Hollywood stuntmen to kill her. Dubin claimed that when those plans failed, Blake took matters into his own hands.

Blake attorney Peter Ezzell contended, among other things, that because of Bakley's background there were many people who might have wanted to kill her. Bakley ran a mail-order business in which she solicited money from men by using nude pictures of herself and promises of sex.