Shell Game - Part I
Ronald Duffy Hambleton told police that Blake had solicited him to kill Bonny Lee Bakley and his testimony was the basis for the second felony count against Blake. A prepaid phone card, the prosecution claimed, was corroborating evidence that Blake had been planning a murder.
But with each question in the preliminary hearing, Hambleton's stories changed. He said that all Blake talked about were murder "scenarios," then saying that they talked about a movie project. He said he was telling the truth even when events were conflicting. The uncertainty of his mental state become apparent when he testified that he once was a vice president of a bank and had been an "expert witness" in hundreds of court cases. He claimed to be an expert in all types of contracts, including mortgage and chattel contracts, but when Mesereau asked if Hambleton was a lawyer, Hambleton said no.
On February 9, 2005, the prosecution again called Hambleton to testify against Blake. This time they were better armed, having filed motions and making arguments asking Judge Darlene Schempp to limit testimony regarding Hambleton's drug use, his background, his health, his illegal activities, and a 1999 felony misdemeanor conviction. But what was even more revealing than what they limited, was what they didn't present.
Hambleton began his testimony saying he met with Blake in March 2001, after not having contact with him since he worked as a stuntman on Blake's "Joe Dancer" TV movies in the early 1980's.
His son, Daryl Hambleton, was racing in an annual motorcycle event, Day in the Dirt, in November 2000. Roy "Snuffy" Harrison, who testified a few days earlier, said that he and Blake attended the same event. Harrison mentioned to Blake that he had run into Daryl Hambleton, and Blake told Harrison that if he saw Duffy Hambleton would he ask him to give him a call. Harrison tracked down Daryl Hambleton's phone number, contacted him, and asked him for his father's number.
Hambleton testified that Harrison set up the first meeting between him and Blake. However, Harrison said he had not set up a meeting, that he only called Hambleton on Blake's behalf and told Hambleton to give Blake a call.
On March 11, 20011, Hambleton drove down from his home in Lucerne Valley with a friend, Nate Henry, to meet with Blake in Studio City at Dupar's Restaurant, a 125-130 mile trip. He testified that the appointment was at 2PM, but he and Henry arrived about 45 minutes early. During the preliminary hearing, he testified that they arrived at 11AM.
Hambleton brought Henry because he believed that Blake wanted to meet about a movie script. Hambleton said that story was about an aging motorcycle racer, and he claimed he and another stuntman, Ronnie Rondell, had written it many years ago. (Harrison also testified that Blake had asked him to contact Rondell.) Henry was interested in doing stunt work and was a licensed Harley-Davidson mechanic.
According the Hambleton, Blake wanted to talk in private so they left Henry at Dupar's and went to another Studio City restaurant, Art's Deli.
Hambleton claimed that Blake started to solicit him to murder Bakley as soon as they got in Blake's car. "As soon as we got into the Ram Charger he started," Hambleton said. "He started speaking or talking immediately about his problems with his wife."
In Art's, Hambleton told police, were people who recognized Blake, including the cashier to whom Blake spoke. Hambleton said that Blake was talking so loudly about his wife that "gapers" were looking at them, and Hambleton told him to quiet down. In fact, in the preliminary hearing Hambleton testified that Blake's voice "could be readily overheard." Hambleton said that whenever he brought up the subject of the script, Blake rebuffed him immediately and he never got a chance to talk about it for any length of time. He said that Blake said he could do nothing regarding a movie project because Bakley would "cash in on half of it," and that "it was necessary to get rid of her." (M. Gerald Schwartzbach, Blake's defense attorney, pointed out to the jury that on March 19, 2001, one week after Hambleton met with Blake, Blake and Bakley executed a pre-nuptual agreement that insulated Blake's estate from her. It was unlikely Blake was worried about what Bakley would get.)
Hambleton claimed Blake said "we" when referring to getting rid of his wife. "'We' –meaning he and I -- that somehow we were going to get rid of her," Hambleton said, and later added, "He went from 'we' to 'me.' In other words, it was down to a singular. I had been obviously picked out to do the job because that's -- I mean, that's the way that it went."
They spent about half an hour at Art's, then Blake drove Hambleton around the neighborhood, driving by Blake's house on Dilling Street first. They drove the area around Vitello's, on Farmdale and Kraft, and behind Vitello's alley several times. Hambleton said that Blake wanted him to see the "lay of the land" and the path from his house to Vitello's. All the while, Hambleton claimed, Blake talked about getting rid of Bakley. He said Blake suggested that he and Bakley could walk to Vitello's, and somewhere along the way "this could take place.” He testified that Blake and Bakley could drive over and "it would take place either when they left or when they arrived." And in a third scenario, Hambleton could hide in Blake's van when they went to dinner "because there was plenty of hiding places and take care of business when they returned.”
While Blake was presenting these scenarios, Hambleton claimed he tried to talk his way out of them, including telling Blake that perhaps he could buy Bakley off.
After 45 minutes of driving around, Hambleton said that Blake suggested he contact him thru Harrison. Hambleton didn’t want to do that and suggested Blake get a prepaid calling card and told him that calls on the card could not be traced. They went to a 7-11 station in the neighborhood, where Hambleton said he hoped the cashier would recognize him. (Although not testified to, Hambleton is an actor as well as a stuntman.) They then bought gas at a 76 station and Blake gave Hambleton his phone number on a slip of yellow paper. Afterward, they went to Blake's house.
Although Hambleton claimed he was solicited as soon as he met up with Blake and the only substance of their conversations was about solicitation, in the November 29, 2001 and the January 28, 2002 recorded interviews with police, Hambleton said he wasn’t solicited until they got to Blake’s house.
At Blake’s house, Blake went behind a counter and pulled out a gun in a zippered case. Hambleton said it looked like a .25 caliber Beretta or a mini- or baby Colt. Hambleton said he didn't touch it and Blake put it away.
Hambleton had told police he knew he "could be in some real deep shit" because his fingerprints were all over Blake's house. But he said he had purposely "rolled" his fingers to make sure that he left prints on the items.
"So is it correct, sir," Schwartzbach asked, "that although Mr. Blake was talking about murdering his wife, you intentionally wanted to leave your latent fingerprints on items at his house. Is that correct, sir?
"Yes. Yes, that's correct," Hambleton answered.
Schwartzbach asked Hambleton to describe the zippered gun case. Hambleton said it was dark – black or brown – and made of a regular fabric like corduroy, not vinyl. He said he had a clear memory of it. But in an interview with police on January 28, 2002, Hambleton told detectives that the gun was not in a holster or case. Schwartzbach forced him to admit he had heard on the news that a zippered case had been found in Blake's Hidden Hills home in late 2002 and he had read in the tabloids that a list was found with "25 auto" on it.
Schwartzbach confronted him. "Your fingerprints weren't on a gun at Mr. Blake's house because you never saw any .25 automatic at Mr. Blake's house. Isn't that correct?"
Although Hambleton denied it, it was clear he had been lying about a gun in a zippered case.
In the living room, they talked about BB guns and the water pistols which Blake collected. Hambleton said he had a Red Rider Centennial BB gun2 issued from the National Rifle Association which Blake was interested in.
Blake then brought out a gray three-ring binder with Bakley's scam letters and photos, some of them "scandalous" according to Hambleton. Hambleton said he did not read the letters because he did not "do domestic" since they had this "new law," referring to his alleged private eye background. Blake, who was carrying a registered .38 when Bakley was murdered, told Hambleton that he had recently gotten his gun permit because he was protecting Bakley from her past.
There were murder scenarios in the house as well. In one, Hambleton said Blake showed him a rear sliding glass window which lead up to the guest house. He said Blake wanted him to pose as a burglar and enter and escape through the iron gate entrance that surrounded the property. Blake would open and close the gate and Hambleton would leave by foot, walk down to the LA river wash at the end of Dilling, and cross the footbridge there.
They returned to Dupar's and met up with Nate Henry at about 5PM, according to Hambleton. There was no more discussion about when they'd meet again or what would happen next.
Hambleton and Henry drove back to Lucerne Valley, stopping at Hambleton's son's house in Acton. Hambleton said he arrived home at 7:30 or 8PM.
But Hambleton's timing of the events didn't add up. He claimed that Blake drove him around the neighborhood for two to two-and-a-half hours and they met up with Henry about 5PM. But at the preliminary hearing, Hambleton said that he arrived home in Lucerne Valley at 5:30 or 6PM – two hours earlier than what he testified to at trial. Also, Blake's home on Dilling Street was walking distance from Vitello's, less than a half mile. At 25 miles an hour, they would have driven the route about 100 times.
Duffy testified that he did not tell Nate Henry or his son that Blake had solicited him. But on January 28, 2002, in a tape-recorded interview, he told Lead Detective Ronald Ito that he told Henry to forget about getting his SAG card or doing stunt work on a movie project and that wasn't "the real nature of being called to visit." He said he told Henry that the meeting was about Blake's wife and her "demise."
On the witness stand, however, Hambleton denied saying this even though Schwartzbach read aloud from the transcript.
That evening, Blake called him to see if the phone card worked. According to the list of calls made on the phone card, there was one from Blake's home to Hambleton's on March 11, 2001, at 9:18PM. Hambleton testified that he had just arrived home when Blake called.
In the preliminary hearing, Hambleton said that Blake called no more than 10 minutes after he arrived home at 5:30 or 6PM.
On cross-examination, Hambleton said he called Blake back on his card to see if there was "two-way communication." But at the preliminary hearing in 2003, Hambleton said that the "first and only time" he ever called Blake was on May 4, 2001.
The next time Blake and Hambleton met was at a café in Pearblossom, a town out in the California desert which Hambleton suggested because it was halfway between his home and Blake's, and because he wanted to be seen with Blake.
Hambleton again told the jury ways Blake suggested getting rid of Bakley.
He said that Blake was going to pick Bakley up in Memphis and drive back to California. En route somewhere, Hambleton could "take care of business." Or, at the Grand Canyon Blake would call Hambleton by cell phone and let him know at what motel they were staying. There was also a suggestion about stopping by a river, although Hambleton did not elaborate what would happen at the river or where the river was located. Still another place was Laughlin, Nevada, where he could shoot her in a motel there. In Jawbone Canyon near Mojave, California, "which is a rather lonely area," according to Hambleton, "he suggested that I ride in on a motorcycle and take care of business and leave on the motorcycle while the two of them are camped out."
Schwartzbach pointed out inconsistencies in his testimony. In a recorded interview with police on January 6, 2003, Hambleton told police regarding the Grand Canyon "that had to do with, you know, maybe getting her too close to the edge." He also said he did not know where any of the motels would be.
Schwartzbach ask him to confirm that Gary McLarty, another stuntman who claimed Blake solicited him, testified at the preliminary hearing before Hambleton and that Hambleton knew that hearing had been televised. Then Schwartzbach pointed out that Hambleton never in any police interview mentioned Laughlin, and the first time he did was at the preliminary hearing after McLarty.
Schwartzbach later, while questioning Detective Ito, showed the jury a picture of a handcuffed Blake being taken into custody. On Blake's sweatshirt was a reference to Jawbone Canyon. That picture was shown many times on television after Blake's arrest three years before.
Blake met with Hambleton at the same café in Pearblossom a second time. Hambleton claimed this meeting was three or four days before the murder, but at the preliminary hearing he said it was a couple of weeks before the murder.
Hambleton also claimed that Blake asked him what the hit would cost, but Hambleton didn't see any reason to give him a "price structure." He said Blake would have to start taking out small increments of cash.
Hambleton didn't know Blake had a habit of keeping large amounts of cash in his home, so it was unlikely that Blake would have to "start."
Blake allegedly told Hambleton that Bakley was back in California and he "wanted to get the show on the road." He said that Hambleton could hide in the camper van and when they went to Vitello's he could "take care of business." Blake told Hambleton that a friend would "already have the holes dug."
"Did it concern you that he said holes, instead of hole?" asked Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels.
"Yes, it got my attention very greatly," Hambleton replied. "because the way we were talking all along, there was only going to be one hole, and then he started talking about holes, which is plural, and that definitely got my attention."
When Hambleton asked Blake if Earle was going to dig the holes, Blake asked him how he knew about Earle. Hambleton reminded Blake that he had mentioned him in another conversation. On cross, he also said that Blake had known Earle Caldwell for 25 or so years.
Earle Caldwell was Blake's handyman who did odd jobs around Blake's properties. He was initially charged as a co-conspirator with Blake in Bakley's murder, partly based on Hambleton's "holes" and the fact that there were two shovels on a list that police found in Caldwell's jeep. (The former prosecuting attorney, Greg Dohi, while desperately arguing the charge was valid, blundered in court one afternoon with the comment, "Two holes -- two shovels.") However, on October 31, 2003, Judge Schempp ruled that she saw no evidence of a conspiracy and dismissed the charge against Blake and Caldwell. The Los Angeles District Attorney did not appeal the dismissal.
Lisa Johnson, who was Caldwell's girlfriend, testified on January 26, 2005, that Caldwell started working for Blake around 1999 or 2000. It was publicized that Caldwell started working for Blake shortly after he met him.
Schwartzbach pointed out that Hambleton never told police that Blake knew Caldwell for 25 years and the first time he had ever mentioned it was at the preliminary hearing. Hambleton insisted he had told police.
Less than two weeks after the murder, several newspapers and magazines, including People, the Los Angeles Daily News, and the New York Daily News, mistakenly reported Caldwell's name as "Caufield." Among the tabloids collected during a search on May 21, 2001, of Hambleton's house was People Magazine. Although not discussed at trial, Hambleton initially testified in the preliminary hearing that Earle was "Earle Caufield."
Blake wanted to be present in almost all the scenarios, Hambleton told the jury, and that his preference was that she die by gunshot. He said that Blake didn't care if he was caught with a smoking gun, because he was an actor and could handle it.
But in a tape recorded interview on November 29, 2001, with Ito, Tyndall, and Dohi, Hambleton said Blake didn't care whether he was present. "In other words, he just wanted the job done and it didn't matter whether he was there on the spot." He said Blake would be at most of the scenarios because that’s how Bakley would be there.
And in the recorded January 6, 2003 interview, Hambleton said Blake "adamantly" wanted to be there.
Hambleton said that he had made up his mind that he was going to tell Blake he was not going to do it. "But he (Blake) said that he was going to obviously have to do it. And I go, you know, once again trying to talk him out of it, I said … 'how are you going handle this? What are you going to do?' because the whole scenarios had a lot of holes in them."
Throughout his testimony, Hambleton claimed he was always trying to get out of "taking care of business." But his way of getting out of it seemed to be playing along with Blake instead of turning him down. Samuels asked if after the second meeting in Pearblossom whether Hambleton told Blake he wasn't going to do it.
"It was pretty well established," Hambleton answered. "Because he wanted the thing to happen right away. And once again, I told him that there was no way in heck that I was going to get involved with my case pending in San Bernardino county. I suggested that he get someone else, and his response to that was that 'It would be just someone else that we're going to have to kill.'"
The pending case Hambleton referred to was an incident that happened on December 26, 1999. Hambleton called 911 to report that 20 armed men were on his property and he was holding them off at gunpoint. When police arrived they had to use bolt cutters to get onto the premise. They instructed Hambleton and anyone else in the house to come out. Hambleton eventually came out of the house with a loaded weapon pointed at the officers. The officers talked him into dropping the weapon. When they tried to arrest him, he resisted.
One of the officers, Sargeant Stan Ware who later testified for the defense, climbed over the fence, got behind Hambleton and knocked him down on the ground in order to control him. When the police secured the premises, they found no one, although Hambleton was still insisting the men were on his property. Ware testified that Hambleton appeared to be under the influence of some substance and was hallucinating.
He was arrested and charged with two felony counts of brandishing a firearm and one count of resisting arrest.
After the second meeting in Pearblossom, Hambleton heard from Blake once again on the day of Bakley's murder, May 4, 2001, at 8:41AM. According to Hambleton, Blake left a message with David Attwater, someone who was staying at Hambleton's house. Hambleton returned the call (using his phone card) to Blake at about 2PM that day.
Although Hambleton insisted this was the only time Blake called other than the evening of the first meeting, Hambleton admitted on cross that he knew Blake had called his house on other occasions because Blake had identified himself to whoever answered.
Hambleton admitted he told Blake about his problems with the law, he told Blake that his phones were bugged, and that his house was under surveillance. Schwartzbach pointed out that on May 4, 2001, Blake left his name with someone else at the residence who answered the home phone.
Hambleton alleged that Blake asked him if he was sure the calling card was untraceable. Hambleton said he didn't want to "just come right out and tell him" that he knew "damn good and well" that the calls were traceable. So Hambleton recommended Blake call customer service and find out for certain. "And I knew that that was going to be the end of the whole thing," Hambleton said. "because it was a direct tie-in with me, which I had planned from the very beginning to hopefully get it over with."
Hambleton testified that he used phone cards regularly because he had long distance blocked on his phone (both incoming and outgoing calls) and he also didn't want anyone calling him collect. Whenever he made a toll call, he used his calling card.
Schwartzbach's strategy consisted of showing the jury just how much of a liar Hambleton was. "So as of the time you were trying to dissuade him from committing the murder and you also wanted to put some block in between you and he, you lied to him about your knowledge as to whether or not calls you made on your phone card could be traced, correct?"
"I was lying through my ass when I talked to him, yeah," replied Hambleton.
Hambleton continually evaded saying that Blake wanted to kill Bakley, instead using phrases like “taking care of business" and "doing the deed." Samuels finally pinned him down and asked him what he meant. He said Blake meant "having her killed" and "having her snuffed."
But Hambleton never used the word snuff in any tape recorded interview with police. In fact, in a recorded interview on January 28, 2002, detectives specifically asked him what words Blake used, and Hambleton says he can't remember. It wasn't until the preliminary hearing that Hambleton actually said the word snuff, and it wasn't said in response to a question about what words Blake used, but in response to a question about Roy "Snuffy" Harrison. It appeared Hambleton misheard the question. But prosecutors seized on it, asked him if snuff was the word Blake used, and it stuck with Hambleton and the media.
Hambleton said he didn't want to tell Blake "no" because Blake had mentioned Hambleton's children and grandchildren and he felt intimidated. He also claimed that Blake told him he had Mafia connections, but didn't want to use them because the Mafia would own him.
"What were you afraid would happen if you said no?" asked Samuels.
"I wasn't sure, but I knew it wasn't going to be good," replied Hambleton.
Hambleton testified that when he worked on Baretta he doubled for Tom Ewell. Ewell was a big man that towered over Blake. Hambleton, although only three years younger than Blake, was still a much larger man and looked like he could throttle Blake silly in a fistfight. It was rumored that Detective Brian Tyndall, a tall, broad man himself, had loaned Hambleton a suit to wear in court.
Schwartzbach asked if any of Hambleton's children or grandchildren had been threatened or harmed since Hambleton told police Blake solicited him. They had not.
Shell Game – Part II – Hambleton lies about lying
1In both the preliminary hearing and the criminal trial, Hambleton testified that he had met Blake on March 12, 2001. The prosecution's corroborating evidence, a pre-paid phone card and restaurant receipt, indicated that the meeting took place on March 11, 2001.
2Red Rider was a film series made during the 1940s, in which Blake played an Indian boy named Little Beaver. Although it wasn't brought up at trial, if the National Rifle Association had indeed issued a Centennial edition commemorating the Red Rider series, Blake would have to be well over 100 years old.
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