Eye on the Sparrow
In the end the story wasn’t about Bonny Lee Bakley. It was the story of a lonely old man and a baby, whom he said was the greatest gift he’d ever received. It was about choices, said defense attorney Gerald Schwartzbach, and it manifested itself in characters straight from Central Casting, according deputy district attorney Shellie Samuels. It was a story ripped from a novel by Raymond Chandler, shuffled with a manuscript by William Faulkner. And underpinning it all, from beginning to end, was the media.
I have followed this case since I turned on the late news the night of May 4, 2001.
“In breaking news tonight, the wife of actor Robert Blake has been found shot to death while she waited in her husband’s car,” the 11PM news anchor reported live from the scene. As she continued, the mobile news van broadcast the video tape they shot about an hour before to the local news stations. The camera peered through the darkness at a car, a dumpster, and an ambulance. “Police say that Robert Blake, best known for his starring role in the 70s TV series, ‘Baretta,’ had just finished dining with his wife at a local restaurant in Studio City, when they returned to his car. Blake reportedly went back to the restaurant to retrieve something he’d left behind, leaving his wife alone. When he returned, he discovered she had been shot, and went to a nearby house to call 911.”
Tonight, March 16, 2005, Robert Blake was freed. Despite the media trial by fire, American justice was served and the system of a jury of one’s peers worked. I attended some of the Blake trial and was present for testimony of most major witnesses. I saw unimpeachable men like William Jordan and despicable ones like Frank Minucci. I saw a prosecutor hell-bent on winning and a defense attorney whose ethics were unwaivering. I heard members of the press turn the story of one man's misfortune into entertainment. I learned that no matter how black it seems, a little faith can turn things around.
There will always be people who believe Robert Blake is guilty. In fact, members of the jury expressed that they had found Blake "not guilty," that they did not find him innocent. But I know there were many facts that the jury didn’t hear.
I believe that there was physical evidence in this case and that the shooter walked away from the crime with that evidence on his person, something that Robert Blake could not do that night.
Other questions remained unanswered as well. The prosecution built its case on the idea that Blake “freaked” after he shot Bakley and abandoned that part of his plan to return to the restaurant to establish an alibi. But if his plan was to return to retrieve something he left behind, wouldn’t that something still have been at the restaurant? And why would he plan a murder at a restaurant he patronized for 30 years, in a neighborhood where everyone knew him on sight, on a Friday night in LA?
I, for one, will always believe in his innocence.
I snatched a couple of moments one day during the trial when the press weren’t hovering to tell Blake to hang in there and to let him know that I believed he was an honorable man for taking care of Rosie.
I saw him on TV today after his release. He said that he wanted to go out “cowboying.” I understood this to mean that he wanted to be among people who do not know him as a celebrity, past or present, among “real” people who have no desire to ride on his fame for 15 minutes. I wish him all the luck and good fortune in the world. I hope he finds the kindness that he (and I) want to believe still does exist.
Perhaps I’ll run into him one day while he’s out cowboying. Until then, I’ll be content being one of the friends he never met. Until then, I’m keeping the faith.
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