Lies of Consequence
-- M. Gerald Schwartzbach
“We're going to take her to a doctor and abort her. And if that doesn’t work, we’re going to whack her,” relayed gray-haired private investigator William Welch in response to Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels' question about what Robert Blake said he wanted to do to Bonny Lee Bakley.
Welch was a critical witness for the prosecution. He had been a police officer for 21 years and he provided for the prosecution credibility to solicitation and murder charges, credibility that neither stuntman Gary McLarty or Ronald Duffy Hambleton could entirely muster.
Welch testified that in October 1999, Blake told him he had gotten Bakley pregnant after meeting her in a jazz club. Welch suggested that Blake give Bakley money to go away and named amounts up to $100,000. According to Welch, Blake said that he had offered money, and that had not worked. That’s when Blake told him they would force her to have an abortion or murder her.
Welch claimed he believed Blake was serious. He told Blake that was a "really bad" idea and hoped he had talked Blake out of it.
On cross, however, Welch admitted that he knew that Bakley was not having a monogamous relationship with Blake, and that she was also in a relationship with Christian Brando, Marlon Brando's son. He said he also knew that Bakley had once claimed to have had singer Jerry Lee Lewis' child. Welch, who had suggested Blake offer her money to go away, and who had believed he had talked Blake out of murdering her, apparently never suggested to him that perhaps it wasn't his child.
Welch had worked for Blake since 1989 and said he continued to do investigations for Blake after this abort/whack conversation throughout 1999 and 2000.
Sometime after Blake's and Bakley's daughter Rose was born, Blake showed Welch nude pictures of Bakley, ones she used in her mail order business. In September 2000, Welch suggested that he do a complete background check on Bakley, in preparation for civil litigation Blake was planning regarding custody of the child. Welch contacted another private investigator, Jim King, from Little Rock, Arkansas.
King prepared a thick report on Bakley's activities and her probation. Bakley was at the time on federal probation for credit card fraud and possession of false identification. Welch said that King had done a "great job," and said the report was about an inch thick.
In October 2000, after King sent his report, Welch testified that Blake wanted to get Bakley arrested and suggested that he could plant drugs in her hotel room. Then Welch could get his "LAPD friends" to "swoop in and arrest her." Another time Welch claimed that Blake again suggested planting drugs on Bakley, using cocaine he had in his home1. When the couple went for a motorcycle ride, Blake would signal Welch's friends by turning his cap, and they could then arrest her.
Welch again told Blake that was another "real bad idea."
Welch had not reported any of this to the police before the murder and he waited until July 5, 2001, when he met with co-lead Detective Brian Tyndall. Welch said he didn't know Tyndall and didn't trust him, so he only told him about the drug planting schemes. Welch claimed that he was concerned for his and his family's safety, after watching the media frenzy in front of Blake's Studio City home. It wasn't until October 2001 that Welch told Detectives Ronald Ito, Tyndall, and Assistant District Attorney Greg Dohi about the abort/whack conversation.
M. Gerald Schwartzbach, Blake's defense lawyer, hammered at Welch's credibility, breaking it down piece by piece. He reminded the jury in question after question that Welch had been a police officer for 21 years, and had headed up the North Hollywood Homicide division.
Schwartzbach forced Welch to admit the circumstances of his interviews with police. Welch heard about the murder on May 5, 2001. Instead of calling the police about the information he had, he left for a week on a fishing trip. After he returned, he did not contact the police. He claimed on direct that he expected the detectives to call him because he was sure that they would have found his name and number among Blake's papers during the search of Blake's house.
Around June 20, 2001, while playing golf with Michael Thrasher, a friend who was head of the homicide detail in the Hollywood division, Welch mentioned that he wanted to talk to Ito.
Welch never directly contacted Robbery-Homicide (RHD) detectives assigned to the case. It wasn't until Thrasher contacted Ito that Welch gave his first interview on July 5, 2001, two months after the murder.
Schwartzbach read from Welch's interview. "I don't think Robert did it," Welch told co-lead Detective Brian Tyndall. "but I think he had it done." He also told Tyndall that he thought Blake had planned the murder for a long time.
"You told him that," Schwartzbach countered, "on the day you withheld the information that Mr. Blake had supposedly solicited you for murder, correct?" referring to the abort/whack conversation.
And during that interview with Tyndall where Welch didn't tell him that Blake had solicited him for kidnap and murder, Schwartzbach read out loud that Welch told Tyndall, "I just have this gut feeling that Robert Blake is totally involved in this. And like I mentioned, Brian, I worked homicide for a long time… and I just think he obviously had something to do with it, gut feeling."
As for Welch's excuse that he did not trust Tyndall enough to tell him all the information he allegedly had, Schwartzbach pointed out that Welch knew Tyndall was an LAPD detective, knew he had been assigned to a murder case, and knew he was investigating a murder.
Schwartzbach asked Welch if he had ever verified that Tyndall was someone whom Welch could trust, adding sarcastically, "You obviously had a telephone in your home, right?"
Welch said he called RHD on July 6 to find out about Tyndall. Schwartzbach then asked him if he had called RHD back in July, August, or September to tell them he had withheld information from them. In fact, Schwartzbach pointed out, the next interview Welch had with RHD was when Ito, Tyndall, and Assistant DA Greg Dohi showed up at Welch's home on October 30, 2001, almost four months after the first interview and almost six months after the murder.
Welch admitted he had been "a little hard-headed."
Schwartzbach confirmed with Welch that when Blake spoke of aborting/whacking Bakley, Welch understood that Blake meant that he and Welch would kidnap and murder her.
At the preliminary hearing, however, Welch testified that he specifically told Tyndall that when Blake talked about getting rid of Bakley he was not talking about killing her.
Schwartzbach turned the jury's attention to the investigation by Jim King in Little Rock, Arkansas. Welch led the court to believe that he had reviewed King's report with Blake in a somewhat summary fashion. He denied knowing what much of the report contained, claiming he didn't recall seeing specific parts. However, Schwartzbach again brought up Welch's preliminary hearing testimony. Welch at that time said he and Blake went through the report "item by item."
Schwartzbach showed Welch some correspondence from King dated September 26, 2000, and October 5, 2000. It said that Bakley was restricted to Arkansas, and noted that King had received several calls from a private investigator in California reporting that Bakley had been traveling frequently to California and outside the U.S.
That private investigator was William Jordan, another investigator hired by Blake. Jordan testified that in September 2000, he met Bakley at the Beverly Garland Hotel in Studio City, California, where she was staying. Jordan told Bakley he was in contact with her parole officer and that she had to return to Arkansas immediately. When she got back to Arkansas, she was placed on an electronic monitor to prevent her from leaving again. That fact was documented in King's report.
Although Welch claimed that in October 2000 Blake wanted to get Bakley's probation revoked by planting drugs on her, Blake already knew that Bakley was locked down in Arkansas. It was unlikely that Blake would suggest getting Bakley arrested in October when he knew she would not be returning to California until January 2001, when her sentence was finished. And although he denied it, Welch most likely knew the circumstances, too.
Jordan also testified to a similar "abort" conversation he and Blake once had regarding Bakley. He said that Bakley told Blake that she was once pregnant with Dean Martin's baby, and that Martin had hired two men who took her to a doctor and forced her to have an abortion.
Welch said that Blake asked him for his investigations file in November 2000 so he could give it to his civil lawyers. Welch said he turned it over without making a copy.
Schwartzbach asked him if in that file Welch had documented that Blake had solicited him for kidnapping, murder, and possession of illegal drugs. Welch said that he hadn't written anything down. Schwartzbach then asked him "as an experienced police officer" if he knew that solicitation for kidnapping and murder, and possession of illegal drugs were crimes. When Welch said yes to those questions, Schwartzbach asked if he ever reported those crimes to any law enforcement agency when he received that information. Welch had not.
In a court of law, a witness can only give a direct answer to a question. But Schwartzbach had a way of needling a witness until the witness unwittingly exposed himself without a question pending. It would usually happen with the witness asking if they could just explain the answer.
Welch fell into the trap. He said he had been concerned that that RHD did not contact him immediately, and he felt that if he was in charge of the investigation he would have been knocking on his door on May 6 or 7 (2001).
"I was a little unhappy with RHD at the time," Welch said, adding, in regard to why he didn't tell the whole story to Tyndall, "I knew what was the right thing to do, and I did it, but I did it when they came back and interviewed me a month later2."
Samuels tried to undo the damage of Welch's statement on re-direct. However, she only managed to elicit testimony from Welch that he didn't initially tell the police everything he knew because his feelings were "hurt."
Schwartzbach seized on that statement at the end. "It's your testimony that after having served as a police officer 21 years, having served at RHD for three years, having been the head of the Homicide division at North Hollywood for about eight years, that you purposely withheld information that you considered relevant to a homicide, a murder investigation because your feelings were hurt? Is that your testimony, sir?"
In the end the jury knew that all Welch had was a "gut feeling" that Blake was somehow involved in the murder.
Some lied for money. Some lied for fame. Some lied for favors. And perhaps some, like William Welch, lied because they believed the end justified the means. Maybe Welch lied because he felt it was the right thing to do. But if that is not the cruelest lie, it is certainly the saddest.
1No illegal drugs were found in the searches of Blake's homes.
2Welch insisted throughout his testimony that he had spoken to RHD a month after the murder, although the interview with Tyndall took place on July 5, 2001.
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