Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Housekeeper

“I think he forgets things a lot.” -- Lidia Benavides, in testimony, responding to a question about Robert Blake’s memory.

M. Gerald Schwartzbach today brought witnesses to the stand that not only impeached key prosecution witnesses but also impeached the media itself.

Lidia Benavides, Blake’s former housekeeper, was the fourth witness to take the stand this morning. Born in El Salvador, Benavides spoke so little English she required a translator. Benavides had been a housecleaner for 22 years and had worked for Blake for three years before Bakley’s murder, once a week on Tuesdays cleaning his home.

She said Blake paid her $70 per week in cash. “But other times,” Benavides added, “he was very kind to me and would pay me with a $100 bill and say keep the change.” The comment was unsolicited by Schwartzbach and was in sharp contrast to prosecution witness statements in earlier testimony.

Through Schwartzbach’s questions, Benavides told the court that 3-6 months before the murder, Blake had given Benavides a key to both the front gate and the front door and told her to always keep them locked.

She also told the court that she had seen a man parked in an old car with “patchy paint” outside Blake’s house on two occasions approximately three weeks before the murder.

On cross, Prosecutor Shellie Samuels tried to impeach Benavides’ testimony via an unusual method – by quoting from the National Enquirer.

Lidia Benavides had spoken to the National Enquirer in June 2001. The Enquirer paid her $1,000 for her story.

Samuels began firing questions at Benavides so fast that on several occasions Benavides told Samuels to slow down.

“Did you tell the Enquirer that ‘Robert Blake was a macho star who treated Bonny Bakley like his personal sex slave…’?”

“Did you tell the Enquirer that ‘although Blake claims a man was stalking Bakley, the housekeeper never saw anyone’?”

“Did you tell the National Enquirer that there were ‘no hugs, no kisses, no hand-holding. I think it was a sexual relationship’?”

There was laughter from the jury and the gallery as Samuels read every preposterous line from the article.

Benavides’ answer was always a resolute “no.” It was convincing, and one was left with the feeling that this woman had been duped by the Enquirer and paid a paltry amount to use her name. Benavides was unshaken and the effect was most likely not what the prosecutor had intended.

“Did you sue the paper?” Samuels, with a stunning lack of tact, asked Benavides.

“I called the paper and told them not to be liars,” Benavides replied.

At one point, Benavides tired of the questions. “Do you want me to tell you something?” she asked.

“No,” replied Samuels.

At the end Schwartzbach had a couple of questions for Benavides:

“Did you take an oath to tell the truth today?

“Of course,” Benavides replied.

“Is telling the truth important to you?”

“I am a Christian,” Benavides said. “And [the truth] is very important to me.”


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