A criminal trial jury deliberated nine days in March 2005 over one count of murder and two counts of solicitation in the Bonny Bakley murder case. They found that there was not enough evidence to convict Robert Blake on either the murder count or one of the solicitation counts. The jury hung on the other count 11-1 (in favor of not guilty) and the criminal court judge dismissed the charge against Blake.
There was much discussion on cable news and the print media on whether the jury should have been better educated on circumstantial evidence. The jury however, said they “could not put the gun in [Blake’s] hands” and said they didn’t believe the witnesses against him.
A civil jury heard the same evidence and, although they found Blake liable for the murder, when asked whether they thought he personally shot her or hired someone, answered they didn’t know.
The following is a description and rebuttal of the physical evidence and major witness testimony of William Welch, Gary McLarty, Frank Minucci, and Ronald Duffy Hambleton as presented in the criminal court, the civil court, and various motions filed by the defense. Although the criminal jury deliberated in secret, their conclusions may have been reached based on these facts.
The prosecution charged Robert Blake with intentionally killing Bonny Bakley by use of a handgun and soliciting two stuntmen to murder her. A special circumstance of lying in wait was also charged. It is important to note here that the prosecution never asserted that Blake hired someone to kill Bakley.
When a gun is fired, it disperses residue, which comes out the sides, the front and the back of the gun. According to the prosecution’s expert witness, gunshot residue (GSR) can travel up to 15 feet. According to the defense’s expert witness, the murder weapon, a World War II Walther P38, would leave approximately 2,440 GSR particles on a shooter’s hand.
The prosecution contended that Blake fired the gun, threw it in the dumpster, and wiped his hands on the grass and other objects, including glasses of water, to remove traces of gunshot residue.
The LAPD tested Blake’s hands for GSR the night of the murder. They also ran at least two analyses on his clothes. Blake’s hands contained five lead-only particles, considered “consistent” with GSR, but not “specific.”1 (The term “specific” refers to particles which contain all three elements of GSR: antimony, barium, and lead; the term “consistent” implies that only one or two elements are present in the particle. Consistent particles are produced from many sources other than GSR.)
There were also minimal specific and consistent GSR particles found on Blake’s clothes. However, experts testified that Blake was in an environment with guns at the crime scene, his home, and the police station, and he was carrying a gun the night of the murder, where he could have picked up those particles. GSR particles can persist in clothes for years and there was no possible way to date when the clothes were contaminated.
Additionally, the officer that picked up the clothes from Blake at his home the next day, put the clothes together in an empty, uncovered Xerox paper box found at the police station and drove around the entire weekend with the clothes in the trunk of his police car. Upon realizing the officer’s incompetence in handling the clothes, Det. Ron Ito did an unscientific “experiment” in which he placed a white shirt in a box, put it in a police car trunk and took it for a ride.2
On Monday, May 7, 2001, The LAPD dumped the contents of the dumpster on the ground at a landfill site. The gun, found at the bottom of the heap, was covered with dirt. Upon examination, the SID determined that the gun had been coated with an oily substance. According to a pre-trial motion filed by the defense, the LAPD spent almost three years and thousands of dollars trying to identify the oily substance and link the substance to Robert Blake. The investigation produced 350 pages of documentation. Shellie Samuels, the assistant DA, told the press during the criminal trial, that the oily substance was probably from something in the dumpster.
This brings to mind certain questions: if the source of the oil was in the dumpster, why did the LAPD spend three years trying to find the source of the oil? They sent samples of the oil on the gun, the oil in Blake’s car, and oil found in a discarded motor oil container to at least three labs in California and Ohio. If the source of the oil was in the dumpster, one can only conclude that other items in the dumpster would also have been coated with the substance. There was no evidence that anything else in the dumpster had been contaminated with oil.
It is unknown whether the oil was placed on the gun before or after it was fired. If it was applied afterward, the shooter would have had to douse or spray the gun; the shooter, therefore, would have to carry a container with the oil in it. The LAPD found no container on the scene. Based on the timeline and the activity in the neighborhood (it was Friday night and businesses were open), it is unlikely that Blake could have left the vicinity to dispose of the container without encountering a patron or resident.
If the oil was placed on the gun before the shooting, presumably to eliminate any fingerprints or other evidence that might be on the gun, the shooter’s hands (or gloves if these were worn) would contain traces of the oily substance. In addition, traces of the oil would have mingled with the GSR particles. No evidence was ever presented by the prosecution that Blake had traces of oil or GSR-specific particles on his hands.
The prosecution’s GSR expert testified that he used rubbing alcohol to clean the gun, to insure little or no GSR remained on the gun. The defense’s GSR expert testified that her test shooter (in the lab) used soap and water to remove any traces of GSR on his hands. No evidence was presented that Blake used soap or rubbing alcohol or some other substance which would remove GSR or oil nor did he have any such substance in his car.
Finally, the defense’s GSR expert testified that after 2 ½ hours (the time elapsed after the shooting), Blake would have approximately 97 particles of GSR on his hands. This estimate was based on formulas derived from studies on the subject. The prosecution’s expert agreed that the studies were valid.
Circumstances aside, the evidence shows Blake did not fire the gun.
The witnesses against Blake presented another problem for the defense: the prosecution hoped to convince jurors that so many people couldn’t all be telling lies about Blake wanting to “whack,” “pop,” and “snuff” his wife. But during the trial, M. Gerald Schwartzbach, Blake’s defense attorney, proved what liars they were.
William Welch was a retired LAPD detective who worked for Blake in October 1999. Welch claimed that Blake told him that if Bakley wasn’t going to abort the baby, he’d take her to a doctor and force her to have an abortion, or else he was going to “whack” her. Welch also said that Blake wanted to plant drugs on Bakley and then have some of Welch’s LAPD buddies arrest her.
Welch never reported any of these claims to the police before Bakley’s death. It wasn’t until June 2000, over a month after the murder, that Welch contacted a North Hollywood police officer and friend, Michael Thrasher, and asked Thrasher to put him in touch with the homicide detectives on the case. According to the initial police report, Welch said he had "no first-hand knowledge" of Blake wanting to harm Bakley. It wasn’t until Welch’s second interview with detectives that Welch told his “whacking” and drug-planting stories.3
In addition, another private investigator, Jim King, testified at the criminal trial that Welch had told him that Blake said if he couldn’t get Bakley’s probation revoked, Blake would put up with Bakley in order to take care of the baby.
After the preliminary hearing, Gary McLarty, a stuntman, seemed to be the most credible of the two “solicitees,” but his criminal trial testimony proved he was the most unstable. He claimed Blake offered him $10,000 to “pop” his wife. But McLarty’s mind had long ago moved to another dimension via methamphetamines. He saw space ships, thought his wife had bugged his motorcycle, and believed he could always read minds. He’d had such severe hallucinations that he wound up several times in the hospital. One such episode happened just prior to the alleged solicitation by Blake.
McLarty’s wife, Karen, and his son, Cole, told a different story about McLarty’s meeting with Blake.4 When McLarty returned home from his meeting with Blake, he called his son to tell him that Blake had offered him $10,000 to punch someone out that was bothering him and his wife. McLarty asked if his son wanted to make some money with him. Cole told his mother, who berated her husband for attempting to get his son involved. She also said that McLarty had told her that he thought Chino Williams had killed Bakley. Williams was an actor who had played on “Baretta.” Williams died in April 2000, 13 months before Bakley’s death.
Brother Frank Minucci told a story of solicitation much stonger than either McLarty or Hambleton.5 He said Blake offered him a blank check to get rid of Bakley. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office never charged Blake with Minucci’s solicitation, a fact disregarded by the press.
Minucci claimed to be an ordaned minister who said he spoke with Blake for hours and hours at a time, for weeks and weeks, discussing their abusive childhoods and later discussing Blake’s wife. He told the jury that when he didn’t take Blake’s offer to get rid of Bakley, Blake got angry and told him that he was “forced to marry the bitch.” After the wedding, Minucci claimed that Blake said he wanted both Bakley and the child dead.
The prosecution offered no corroboration to any of Minucci’s claims.
The defense did, however. Of the nine telephone numbers subpoenaed, there were about five or six three-minute calls in April 1999 and another five or six three-minute calls in April 2000. One call in April 2000, the longest, lasted 17 minutes. There were no hours and hours of calls as Minucci claimed. There was no discussion of marriage, because Blake and Bakley never discussed marriage until months after Rose Blake was born in June 2000. There was no discussion about killing Bakley and the baby because Blake didn’t know it was his baby until September 2000, when a DNA test was done.
None of Minucci’s story ever happened.
In the preliminary hearing, Ronald Duffy Hambleton, another stuntman, told the court that Blake had outlined three or four “scenarios” on how he could “snuff” his wife. Hambleton told of so many murder scenarios, the prosecution’s list of overt acts against Blake and Caldwell went from 18 acts prior to the hearing to 38 afterward. These scenarios ranged from the melodramatic -- kidnap her, throw her in the van, and drive to the desert where Blake's handyman Earle Caldwell would have dug the holes -- to the absurb -- in a popular Studio City restaurant, Blake was yelling so loudly about murdering his wife, that Hambleton had to tell him several times to keep his voice down because everyone in the restaurant was gawking at them..6
Hambleton was so delusional at the preliminary hearing, that at one point he claimed to have been an expert witness on contracts, including chattel mortgages, at hundreds of trials. When Thomas Mesereau, Blake’s lawyer at the time, asked Hambleton whether he was an attorney, Hambleton said, no, that he had been a vice president of a bank.
In 1999, Hambleton had phoned 911 claiming that there were people on his property stealing from him. When police arrived, Hambleton was still on the phone claiming that the perpetrators were still in his house while he brandished a weapon at the officers. One officer eventually managed to tackle Hambleton, who was having drug-induced hallucinations. There were no others on his property. Hambleton was taken to the hospital for psychiatric evaluation.
The police interviewed Hambleton at least four times regarding Blake.7 The first time Hambleton said that he and Blake were discussing a movie project. The second time Hambleton said they were discussing a movie project. The third time, LAPD Det. Ronald Ito threatened Hambleton with a grand jury summons and reminded Hambleton that he had an assault with a weapon charge against him. Ito had also made inferences that Hambleton would be contacted by the tabloids, who would pay him a lot of money. The police taped all the interviews with Hambleton, except one -- the one where he began manufacturing the "scenarios" of Bakley's death.
The court date for Hambleton's weapons charge was continued for six years, and settled just before Hambleton testified. Hambleton received community service, rehab time, and a fine. Because the case was settled, the Blake trial judge, Darlene Schempp, ruled that the defense could not ask Hambleton if he had made a deal with the prosecution regarding his testimony.
Was Hambleton as delusional as he appeared at the preliminary hearing or was there something more heinous going on?
According to a document called the Third Party Motion.8 filed by Schwartzbach, a woman named Dianne Mattson overheard a phone conversation around March 2001 in which Christian Brando and several others were discussing Bakley.9 Mattson said that one of the men on the call, Jerry Lee Petty, was a stuntman and a close friend of Brando’s. Petty introduced another man to Brando, someone named Duffy.
Bakley had led Brando to believe Blake’s child was Brando’s. On the call Petty told Brando that he had been “duped” by Bakley. According to Mattson, Brando became agitated and at one point said, “Somebody ought to put a bullet in that bitch’s head.”
In 2003, upon hearing Duffy Hambleton’s voice from a televised recording of the preliminary hearing, Mattson positively identified Hambleton as the person introduced as Duffy on the phone call.
In 2004, another man, Brian Allan Fiebelkorn, made an independent connection between Duffy Hambleton and Christian Brando, by associating Brando, Hambleton, Petty, William Jackson (Petty’s neighbor), and three homeless men that did odd jobs around the neighborhood. Fiebelkorn had seen Hambleton at Jackson’s house and had spoken to him on at least one occasion.10
Fiebelkorn also identified the murder weapon as having been in the possession of one of the homeless men, Mark Jones, just prior to Bakley’s murder. Jones had once pointed out Brando and another man riding in a pickup truck to Fiebelkorn one day sometime before the murder.
Both Mattson and Fiebelkorn alleged that the LAPD ignored their calls initially, then never followed up fully on their statements. Fiebelkorn met with Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley regarding the matter. Cooley promised Fiebelkorn that the prosecuting attorney, Shellie Samuels, would personally investigate his claims. Instead, Cooley stonewalled Fiebelkorn by referring the lead detective, Ron Ito, to him. Ito, in a secretly taped conversation with Fiebelkorn, accused Fiebelkorn of being involved in the murder in what appeared to be an attempt to discourage Fiebelkorn from testifying.
1The Bomb Squad – Part II
2The Bomb Squad - Part I
3Lies of Consequence
5Confessions of a Snake Oil Salesman
6Shell Game - Part I
7 Shell Game – Part II
8 Third Party Motion
9Where Deceit Hides – Part I
10The State's Conspiracy – Part I
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