Monday, January 24, 2005

The Boo-Hoo Girl

Wearing knee-high red patent leather boots, a short black miniskirt, and a gold pendant, Cody Blackwell had her day in court. She was, as they say, a little too old for her outfit and someone in the gallery whispered that she looked like a woman scorned.

The jury was on break and Detective Brian Tyndall gave her a tour of the courtroom, pointing out the witness box and the judge’s bench before escorting her into the judge’s chambers.

“Do you solemnly state that the testimony you may give in the cause now pending before this court is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?" the court clerk asked when the judge, lawyers, and Blackwell emerged from chambers and Blackwell took the witness stand.

“I do,” said Blackwell.

Blackwell was there to tell a melodrama about a kidnapping, a story that sounded straight out of a tabloid. She had, in fact, sold her story to The Star newspaper a month before she told it to police.

According to Blackwell, in August or September 2000, Robert Blake called to offer her some work. He told her that a woman was coming with a baby the next day, and they were going to San Diego to get a blood test to determine the baby's paternity. Blackwell could help hold the baby. Blake asked Blackwell to move some of her personal items into a spare room to make it look as if she had been there for some time. Blackwell said Blake indicated that her position might be permanent.

That same day, Blake and Blackwell went to Toys R Us and spent about $1,000 in baby items.

At 8 a.m. the next day, Blackwell arrived at Blake’s house. There she claimed she saw a tall man named Moose, who wore fatigues. In court, Blackwell identified the man named Moose from a police booking photo which prosecutor Shellie Samuels displayed on a large screen for everyone, including the jury, to see. It was Blake’s handyman, Earle Caldwell.1

“All of a sudden I went from Cody to Nurse Nancy,” Blackwell said, as she recounted how Blake told her to pose as a nurse so when Bonny Lee Bakley arrived, she would feel more comfortable leaving the baby with her. He also told her the trip to San Diego was postponed.

According to Blackwell, Blake left the house to pick up Bakley and the baby.

When Blake returned, Blackwell said Moose dropped to the ground and hid in the tool room before Blake and Bakley entered the house.

Blake introduced Blackwell as Nancy. It was the first time, Blackwell claimed, that she had met Bakley. Blake then showed Bakley the baby’s room and Blackwell’s room.

Afterward, Blake and Bakley went out again, leaving the baby with Blackwell. Blake called about 10 minutes later, and instructed Blackwell to take the baby to her house on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. On cross, Blackwell said that the baby was "not in good shape" and was not able to make a bowel movement.

About an hour later, Blackwell said Blake called her at home and asked her to meet him with the baby somewhere on Riverside Drive. Blackwell couldn’t recall the exact location. She said that Blake was driving a black Chevy Blazer or Dodge SUV. The seats in the back were removed --“it was flat and raised up,” according to Blackwell.

Blake paid Blackwell $300 for a week’s wages. As she was leaving, Blackwell said the baby started crying. Blake then wanted Blackwell to go with him.

"He said, 'Get in the car. I want you to hold Rosie, but I want you to lay down in the back,'" Blackwell stated, "so I wouldn't know where we were going."

She didn’t object and didn’t ask why.

Blake drove to Calabasas with Blackwell and the baby lying in the back of the car without seats, seat belts, or a baby seat -- or so it would be if Blackwell’s description of the event was true. Although Blackwell couldn’t see where they were going, according to her testimony, she knew they were headed to Calabasas because she knew Blake’s daughter lived in that area.

He stopped at a McDonald’s where Blackwell got out. Blake gave her $10 for lunch and drove off with the baby. Blackwell never said where in the car she had left the infant.

About an hour and a half later, Blake returned to the McDonald’s without the baby. On the way back to Blackwell’s car, Blackwell said Blake complained about Bakley and her friends, saying things like “Just let them come to my house and let them come over the fence. I'll be ready for them. I'll shoot them dead and the birds can pick the flesh off of their bones.” He told her the baby was someplace where she would be well taken care of.

"So did he rant the entire way back from Calabasas to where you had left your car?" Samuels asked.

"No, just a bit, you know," Blackwell replied. "He just got that out."

Three days later, Blake called Blackwell to pick up her things from his house.

“My first thought was ‘Oh, my God, he’s killed her,’” Blackwell said referring to Bakley, tears welling in her eyes. She said she began watching the news because Bakley was not the kind of person who would let a kidnapping go unnoticed.

“And when I didn't hear it on the news that day, that's when I thought that he killed her,” she said, as she began bawling like a character in a Vaudeville stage play. “I thought 'oh my God, she's done. He has done away with her.'

And I didn't go to the police. Why didn't I go to the police?” Blackwell reflected. “Because I should have. I mean, I should have, because that's what I was thinking, but I didn't.”

Judge Schempp had enough of her hysterics. She shot her a disdainful glance and handed her a tissue.

Samuels continued her direct examination. “Now, at some time many months later you became aware that Bonny Bakley was murdered, and, in fact, you realized that she hadn't been dead all this time that you thought she was dead?”

“Right,” Blackwell replied.

“And at some point did the press become aware that you had involvement in this case?”

“Yes, that's how the police got to me.”

Blackwell said she received a lot of calls from the press before she consented to sell her story.

“When you realized your involvement in this case,” Samuels asked. “was it your purpose to make money on it?”

“No,” Blackwell replied and then before Samuels could stop her, added, “I was behind on my rent. I was going to lose my place, and that's why I did it.”

When Samuels asked Blackwell why she didn’t go to the police, she said she was “scared” because she had been involved in a kidnapping.

Defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach took aim at the statements she made to the police and The Star. He prominently displayed The Star magazine cover with a picture of Blake and daughter Rose, and made Blackwell acknowledge that the article was entitled, “Robert Blake Baby Kidnap Led to Murder.” When it came to acknowledging the date, however, Blackwell resisted, stating she didn’t have her glasses with her. He directed her to another screen where she finally agreed that the publication date was June 5, 2001.

“That was the interview for which you were paid $8,000 or $10,000; is that correct?” Schwartzbach asked, referring to the fact that although she had testified she was paid $8,000, she had told police she had been paid $10,000.

“Eight, sir. I was paid eight,” Blackwell insisted.

“And you didn't really have an interest in making money even though at the time you were in bankruptcy; is that right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you couldn't afford your rent, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

Schwartzbach read from the article. "'When Blake dropped off his baby daughter at Cody Blackwell's home, the infant played with her pet dog Deja Vu, which is part wolf.' Is that correct?"

"But he didn't drop the baby off," Blackwell insisted. "I took the baby there."

Schwartzbach next directed Blackwell’s and the jury’s attention to The Star photograph captioned “Nanny and the Wolf.” According to The Star, Blackwell put the baby on her bed with the dog and the baby played with its fur.

When asked to verify how old the baby was, Blackwell replied, "I think nine months old, I think. I think she was."

Schwartzbach made her acknowledge that the baby was born on June 2, 2000, and that at the time Blackwell stated the events happened, the baby was only three or four months old.

"And you let this baby that was three or four months old play with the fur of this animal that was three-quarters wolf, correct?"

Samuels objected to the question, but Schempp overruled.

"Yes, sir," Blackwell replied.

Schwartzbach asked Blackwell if she had told police Moose, the man who ducked down and hid when Bakley first arrived, had curly black hair. She denied this, saying that Moose had dark brown hair and that it was average length. She said it was “fuller” than in the photo shown. He then asked her if she told The Star that Moose had shoulder-length black hair.

“No, I didn't,” she replied. “There were a lot of inconsistencies in that article.”

“Oh,” Schwartzbach said. “The article wasn't entirely right?”

“That’s true,” Blackwell said, then rambled on, “I went ‘no, that's not true, that's not true.’ You know,” as if explaining to the court how she originally read through the article when it was published.

“The Star in its article did say that you described Moose as having shoulder-length hair, correct?”

“You know, I really didn't read the article. I mean, I read it once. I looked at it, and I can't recall that, sir.”

When Schwartzbach put the article in front of her and asked her if it would refresh her memory, Blackwell stated again she didn’t have her glasses. Judge Schempp handed her a magnifying glass.

She then admitted that The Star reported Moose as having long, curly black hair, but Blackwell said she did not recall saying that.

Under Schwartzbach's questioning, Blackwell also said that it was "a matter of days" before Bakley arrived that Blake asked her to move her things into the house and talked about employing her as a nanny, although on direct examination, she had led the court to believe that Blake had these discussions with her the day before Bakley arrived.

"Oh, by the way," Schwartzbach casually asked, "I take it as of the time that Miss Bakley and Rosie came to the house, you knew the baby's name was Rosie?"2

"Yes, sir," Blackwell replied.

On direct, Blackwell had stated she didn't go to the police because she feared she would be implicated in a kidnapping.

Schwartzbach asked her again if in the fall of 2000 she thought that Blake had murdered Bakley. She said she did. She affirmed that she would not have played a role in a murder, and affirmed, several questions later, that she didn't fear she would be arrested for murder because she didn't play any role in a murder.

"Yet despite the fact that you believed that Mr. Blake had murdered Miss Bakley sometime in the fall of 2000, you didn't call the police. Is that correct?"

"Oh, I see where this is going," Blackwell replied. And possibly, the jury saw where it was going as well. "Yes, that's true."

So you thought that for the entire period of time from September of 2000 until sometime in May of 2001, you believed that Robert Blake had been guilty of kidnapping and guilty of causing the death of Miss Bakley, correct?


Schwartzbach asked her again if at any time before Bakley’s murder Blackwell had called police. He asked her if she had called police after she first learned of Bakley’s murder in May 2001. He asked her if she had called police after she gave the interview to Star magazine. And he asked her if she called police after the interview was published.

No, she had not.

It wasn’t until July 6, 2001, a month after The Star's publication and two months after Bakley’s murder, that police showed up at Blackwell’s door to interview her. Detectives Ronald Ito, Steven Eguchi, and Tyndall were accompanied by Miles Corwin, an author who was writing a book about the LAPD’s Homicide Unit.3

Blackwell admitted that on May 4, 2001, she called Blake at home “just to see how he was doing.”

“So the day of the murder,” Schwartzbach asked, “you called up the person who you thought was guilty of kidnapping and of murder to see how he was doing?”

“That's correct, sir,” Blackwell replied.

Although Blackwell’s story may have been possible despite all the “inconsistencies” between her testimony, the police reports, and The Star article, it was others’ testimonies and documents that would show that at least some of Blackwell’s adventure was in her head, probably conjured up by her financial troubles.

1Caldwell was originally charged as a co-conspirator in the murder of Bakley. The conspiracy charge against Blake and Caldwell was dismissed by the trial court judge in October 2003. In chambers, Schwartzbach protested Samuels’ showing of the booking photo.

2Blake signed a temporary custody agreement with Bakley on October 4, 2000. The custody agreement listed the baby as “Christian Shannon Brando.” It wasn't until after their marriage in November 2000 that Bakley changed the baby's name to Rose Lenore Sophia Blake.

3The detectives never disclosed to Blackwell who Corwin was, and, according to her testimony, she believed he was a police officer. Blackwell was not the only witness to have been misled regarding Corwin’s identity.

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