Wednesday, February 23, 2005

God's Witness

“"God gave me the gift of the century." -- Robert Blake, referring to his daughter, Rose



On February 14, 2005, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels rested the prosecution's case against Robert Blake. Her last witness was Blake, in a recorded interview with Barbara Walters and in recorded conversations with unidentified visitors while Blake was in jail.

"It was a time her whole family was going to move to Los Angeles, so there was a lot to talk about," Blake said, in a snippet from the Walters' interview. "There certainly wasn't any downside for me," he said in another.

Samuels contrasted this with another Blake quote, "Rosie is safe. Those monsters will never get her, that other family."

It was Samuels' attempt to show the jury that Blake was a liar and to solidify Blake as a villian with no conscience.

It was the last straw for a man who had silently endured two months of prosecution witnesses who accused him of soliciting murder, kidnapping, suspiciousness, and hating his wife. As the jury filed out, Blake lost the stoicism that he maintained throughout the trial, and broke into tears. The defense team tackled him like football players, shielding him from the last jurors leaving the room. Ted Brooks, one of the defense team members who was a foot taller than Blake, held Blake close and shrouded him with his suit jacket as he shuttled him out of the courtroom.

On February 23, 2005, it was Blake's attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach's turn to show another side of Blake.

Schwartzbach first called Scott Wilson, an actor and longtime friend of Blake's.

The previous evening as they did every evening after court, reporters asked the court's media relations representative for the list of witnesses on the stand the following day. When they heard Wilson's name, one of the reporters piped up and said, "Who's Scott Wilson?" to which the media rep replied, "Some actor." Many of those same reporters had made veiled analogies in stories on the case to Robert Blake's role as killer Perry Smith in the film "In Cold Blood." How odd none of them knew Blake's co-star.

Wilson testified that he had been Blake's friend since they met in the 1960s. Wilson visited Blake during the 11 months he was jailed. He described the visitation rooms, which consisted of a line of booths 3-4 foot wide, divided by a glass counter. Wilson talked to Blake through a phone. Schwartzbach tried to elicit a description of changes in Blake's physical condition from Wilson, but Samuels objected.

On cross, Wilson admitted he did not see Blake in chains, and that Blake told him he was not treated badly, that he got "roof time," and was allowed to read books.

The next witness Schwartzbach called was Father George Horan. Horan was the senior Catholic chaplain for the LA County Men's Central Jail. He would visit Blake in his cell every Sunday.

Schwartzbach showed the jury a picture of Blake's jail cell. It was just as Blake had once described it in an interview – a cement box with no windows. A small single bed took up most of the room, which was about 8-feet by 10-feet. There are over 100 single-man cells in the county jail.

Schwartzbach asked Horan to describe Blake. Horan said that Blake had lost weight, had less energy, and slept much of the time. He was very sad, and cried many times. "The basic emotion was one of sadness," Horan told the jury, "and, secondarily, he had pretty much given up the idea he was going to survive in jail." Samuels had this last statement stricken from the record.

It was Samuels who asked the question that truly illustrated Blake's condition. The answer apparently wasn't what she expected when she asked Horan whether the cell Blake was in was "nicer" than the general population cells.

"In my opinion," Horan answered, "it was worse." Horan described a heavy door and a place where no sounds could be heard nor voices from others.

On his last question on re-direct, Schwartzbach asked Horan if Blake was able to have physical contact with others.

"No," Horan replied.

The last witness again was Blake in the Walters' interview.

Schwartzbach played the same segment that Samuels had played, but he let the tape run a little longer. Blake continues to tell about his life when he met Bonny Lee Bakley. He said he was pathetic, that his career was going nowhere. He was a lonely man who spent his time hanging around jazz clubs and picking up women for one-night stands.

Then Rosie was born. The first time he laid eyes on her, he said, he knew it was his daughter. "What did I have to lose?" Blake tells Walters. "God gave me the gift of the century. I always thought my life was a home run. Now, at the end of the trail, I was going to get to hit the ball out of the universe."

Blake continued, "It's all about Rosie. It's always been about Rosie. The greatest gift in the world, and I'm going to try to mess it up by being selfish?"

The defense rested.

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