What compels a man to protect his rights while infringing on another’s?
Miles Corwin was an unwilling participant in the trial of Robert Blake. In the early hours of May 5, 2001, Corwin was called to accompany homicide detectives in the investigation of the murder of Bonny Lee Bakley. At the time, he was working on a book about the LAPD, Homicide Special, which was published in mid-2004. He explored the crime scene with police, listened to witness interviews, and viewed many items of evidence even before the defense had a chance to examine them. He attended strategy meetings. He had access to prosecution and police documents. He was given a desk in the LAPD squad room.
At Robert Blake’s preliminary hearing in February 2003, Judge Lloyd Nash ruled that, “Bringing along an author presents the possibility of contamination of evidence. It’s fraught with all sorts of problems and it’s absolutely a proper area for cross-examination.”
As Corwin wrote in the Author’s Note of his book, Homicide Special, he was “chagrined that [his] access was used to attack the investigation and will probably be employed as a defense strategy during the trial.”
In a pre-emptive move to minimize Corwin’s presence in the investigation, Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels called Corwin as a prosecution witness. Prior to the jury being seated, Corwin’s lawyer, Alonzo Wickers, again submitted a motion to suppress Corwin’s testimony. Judge Darlene Schempp politely allowed Wickers to present his motion, then summarily dismissed it and ordered Corwin to testify.
Samuels began by meticulously going through Homicide Special with Corwin. Chapter by chapter, she named the crimes and the detectives who investigated them, asking Corwin to acknowledge each as she said them.
“Did you perceive that the Blake case was more important than the other cases you covered?” she asked.
“No,” Corwin replied.
He told the jury that he did not touch anything in Blake’s house. He told them that he stood for hours watching the police but did not assist them in any way.
It was on this fact that Judge Schempp had previously ruled in a pre-trial hearing that although Corwin’s presence violated Robert Blake’s Fourth Amendment rights, his presence did not materially influence the search. The fruits of the search of the house, therefore, remained in evidence.
Schwartzbach began by displaying a picture of the front cover of the February 2004 issue of Playboy magazine. The model on the cover was larger than life, but Schwartzbach drew the attention of the jury to the headline in the upper corner. “Busting Robert Blake – Inside the Case that Jailed a Star,” he read aloud.
Schwartzbach asked if Corwin thought that his interview on Good Morning America on January 6, 2004, the magazine and newspaper articles, and the book’s release could prejudice potential jurors against Blake, since these came out about the time the original trial was scheduled.
Corwin said that he was not concerned because of voir dire – the selection process to weed out those jurors who might have seen or read something about the case.
Schwartzbach then asked him if he understood that jurors sometimes don’t admit to what they’ve seen or heard.
Regarding Homicide Special, Schwartzbach accused Corwin of writing propaganda for the LAPD. Corwin denied this, stating he strived to write stories in the book from different perspectives. But he admitted he never spoke to Blake or his lawyer.
“Once you learned that Robert Blake’s wife had been murdered, you pretty well knew that would be in the book?” Schwartzbach asked.
Corwin answered no.
Then Schwartzbach began going through the pages of Homicide Special. Line by line Schwartzbach asked him details of his text. For the most part, Corwin answered, “I don’t remember.”
“Within hours of Ms. Bakley’s murder, detectives had expressed in your presence that Mr. Blake had killed Ms. Bakley,” Schwartzbach stated to Corwin as he located the relevant passages. Corwin wrote that Detective Coffey stated that “Blake was full of shit” and that Ito said he was frustrated he could not detain Blake. “Everything circumstantial is going against him,” Ito said, according to the book.
Schwartzbach continued to page 371. Corwin describes a meeting between District Attorney Greg Dohi, Detective Ito, and other detectives. The conversation is detailed as only a first-hand witness could describe. Schwartzbach read the part where Ito feels he will get “no relief until he drives out to Blake’s house and slaps the handcuffs on him.”
Miles Corwin was present during the search of Blake’s house in May 2001. In fact, he was listed on the warrant documentation, and Detective Ito introduced both Corwin and Assistant District Attorney Greg Dohi as observers at the beginning of the videotaped search. “Did you ever ask Mr. Blake if you could enter his home?” Schwartzbach asked. At this point Shellie Samuels raised an objection.
Corwin remembered that he didn’t touch anything and didn’t wear gloves during the search. He also said he couldn’t remember what parts of the house he was in. But in Homicide Special, Corwin goes into explicit detail, describing each room: the cluttered living room with the wagon wheel light fixture, the immaculate nursery, the sprawling two-story guest cottage with a gym and aerobics room, Bakley’s apartment with the kitchen and fireplace, Blake’s bedroom where $12,000 cash was found in a drawer, and the bathroom with the words “I’m not going down” scrawled on a mirror.
By this time, one wonders whether anyone in the room believed anything Corwin had said.
Schwartzbach returned to Corwin’s contract with the LAPD.
“As an educated, experienced journalist -- experienced crime journalist -- you knew your notes were subject to subpoena. Correct?”
Corwin said that he thought only his finished manuscript applied. He made no acknowledgment of the fact that, according to the contract, the “notes and other memorialization… are subject to subpoena and production in either criminal and/or civil litigation.”
He had destroyed his notes.
While looking out across the expanse of the San Fernando Valley (a spectacular scene from the 8th floor of the Van Nuys courthouse), a courtroom observer remarked of the thousands of buildings and millions of people, “All this for man’s convenience –- and his greed.”
(On March 15, 2005, Miles Corwin played a prominent role in deliberations. The jury, on the 8th day, asked for a readback of Corwin’s testimony. The request, according to Court TV, read, “Defense cross-examination of Miles Corwin through the beginning of the second readback…” Written above the request and crossed out were the words, “Miles Corwin’s testimony referencing pressure or leverage placed on Hambleton.” The jury acquitted Robert Blake the next day.)