Thursday, February 10, 2005

Shell Game - Part II

Were Hambleton's inconsistencies the ramblings of a demented old man or was there a much more sinister motive, perhaps driven by the LAPD?

The police first contacted Hambleton on May 16, 2001. In the tape-recorded interview with Detective Richard Haro, Adrian Soler, both of the LAPD, and Sargeant Earl Bechtel of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office, Hambleton said he had never been solicited by Blake. He said Blake seemed relatively happy, and they compared notes on health and talked about a film project, but did not discuss personal matters.

Indeed, Hambleton's health made him a least likely candidate for a hit man. In 1999, he had five surgeries. He had one kidney and was being treated for hypertension. Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels objected to testimony concerning Hambleton's health, and the defense was barred from exploring it further.

Hambleton said they drove to Blake's house where Blake showed him his water pistol collection – and never showed him any gun. He also said that in the 30 years he had known him, he never knew Blake to approach anyone about doing a hit or some other dirty work, or even kidding around about such things. Hambleton said he had been keeping up with the TV and radio reports, and admitted he had read every tabloid report on Blake.

He told police that he and Blake had an "upbeat" conversation about a potential movie project. But on the witness stand in the criminal trial, he said he and Blake only discussed the project "momentarily."

"Just monentarily is that your testimony?" defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach asked, as he proceeded to remind Hambleton what he told police and what he previously said under oath.

At the preliminary hearing, Hambleton had described his discussions with Blake in detail. Blake told him to get a motorcycle and start getting in shape. Hambleton said he did get a motorcycle right after he and Blake's last meeting and about 30-45 days before police met with him.

At the criminal trial, however, Hambleton changed his story, claiming that he got the motorcycle before he met with Blake. He continued to deny it even after hearing his preliminary hearing responses.

Schwartzbach displayed a picture of two motorcycles on Hambleton’s property. Hambleton denied these motorcycles were for the movie project, but he said the movie project motorcycle was somewhere else on the premise. Pressured, he said he had obtained "several motorcycles" and had gotten the first one when he was put "on notice" that there might be a movie project (presumably when Harrison first called him). He then said he later got a four-stroke because the first one was a two-stroke.

He knew Blake was having a special Harley-Davidson motorcycle built. Indeed, Schwartzbach displayed a police photo of a custom black Harley found on Blake’s property. Later, Robert Edwards, the owner of Fatty's Aggressive Machinery in Burbank would testify for the defense that Blake hired him to extensively customize the bike -- replacing the chrome with black chrome, modifying the seat, custom painting the bike, and improving the engine's performance.

Hambleton said he started alternately walking and running in half-mile increments around a track on his property. He started lifting weights. He confirmed that he started getting in shape.

He denied talking to Blake about his role in the movie, but according to the preliminary hearing testimony, they had a discussion about that as well.

Hambleton also said that Blake brought the treatment out at the house along with the three-ring binder containing Bakley’s letters, but said it was in a manila envelope and never opened, so he didn't know if it was actually there.

Haro, Soler, and Bechtel again went to Hambleton's house on May 21, 2001, at about 9AM but this time Hambleton did not let them on the premises. According to Haro, he beeped his horn at the locked gate about 30 times. He then tried another gate where he rang some cowbells that were hanging there. Hambleton denied that he knew they were there. However, in the May 21, 2001 interview he told officers that he knew they were there but couldn't get to the gate before they left.

During his testimony, Lead Detective Ronald Ito said he began preparing a search warrant around 11AM while detectives remained outside Hambleton's house. Ito claimed he prepared the warrant based on some information they received. Although he did not say what that information was, two days prior detectives interviewed David Attwater, who had been living at Hambleton's. The search warrant was executed at about 6:30PM.

This time Ito was present with the other detectives and Miles Corwin, who was writing a book about the LAPD Robbery Homicide Unit, but Bechtel had left. Hambleton appeared to be intimidated by Bechtel. He told detectives that he had to deal with him on a daily basis and he did not like the idea that LAPD was using Bechtel as a "go between." He said that Bechtel had planted Attwater as a mole in 2001 to get information about the 1999 incident. He had said it was possible because "it had happened before." Schwartzbach stated that Hambleton believed that Bechtel was responsible for getting Michael Flesch and Keith Seals, two others who had lived with Hambleton, arrested. Samuels objected and Hambleton never answered.

Police again told Hambleton that they "strongly suspected" Blake had solicited him, but they told Hambleton that they didn’t believe he had actually committed the murder or had found someone else for Blake. Hambleton again denied any solicitation. According to Corwin's book, Homicide Special, Ito said to Hambleton, "Isn't it true that he gets ahold of you for one reason, it's to kill his wife, and you turn him down? Isn't that the main reason you met with him, and it wasn't for no bull script?"

The search produced 20 tabloids all relating to the Bakley murder and a slip of yellow paper with Blake's phone number on it. Hambleton said he had read all the articles and believed the tabloids were very accurate.

Hambleton believed that the police had come to him because Attwater had been a "snitch." He told Attwater that Blake had offered him $100,000 to kill his wife. He wanted to verify whether Attwater was a "mole" planted by Bechtel, so he made up a story based on a tabloid article. He denied Blake had ever offered him $100,000.

Attwater, Hambleton told police, first became aware of Blake's relationship with Hambleton when he answered Blake's call on May 4, 2001.

Samuels implied through her questions that Hambleton didn’t want to go to the police because Blake might find out he was a snitch. But according to Corwin, Hambleton told police that he didn’t want to be labeled a snitch because he had associations with the Mongrels and Hell’s Angels motorcycle gangs.

"Give me two weeks and I could probably come up with who the killer was," Hambleton told police, perhaps alluding to his alleged private investigator background. "You've got a bunch of flakes that aren't credible to build your case." Hambleton apparently thought he could solve the murder for them.

At various points in the interview police suggested Hambleton sell his story to the tabloids for $100,000.

Ito also reminded him that he was scheduled to return to court soon on his criminal case. "Here's your opportunity," Ito said.

At the end of the interview, Hambleton let on that he had more information but that "torture" wouldn't get it out of him. He would tell Ito on his "death bed." Ito said that Hambleton "didn't look so good" and gave him his number.

In June 2001, Corwin attended a meeting with detectives and district attorneys. He wrote in his book and also testified that the attendees discussed whether they could get some leverage on Hambleton, and Ito discussed the pending weapons charge against him.

On December 6, 2004, about two weeks before the Blake case went to trial, Hambleton entered a plea bargain to one misdemeanor count of brandishing a weapon. He eventually received 90 days community service and probation, although when he pled his case, he was given a 90-day jail sentence and rehabilitation.

The jury was not told about the original felony charges against Hambleton or that these had been reduced to one misdemeanor count. Samuels successfully argued that the case was closed and the defense had no right to explore the original charges with the witness.

She claimed that the defense had constantly implied that the prosecution had something to do with all the continuances in the case. Indeed, Mesereau stated at the preliminary hearing in 2003 that Hambleton's case had been delayed 22 times. Schwartzbach argued that the charges were pending during the time that he changed his story and made the statement that Blake solicited him.

Ito and co-Lead Detective Brian Tyndall interviewed Hambleton again on November 28, 2001, bringing with them a grand jury subpoena. It appeared to be only interview that was not recorded.

Hambleton seemed to be surprised that there was no recording and appeared less confident in some of his answers. Schwartzbach showed him two pages of Ito’s notes to refresh his recollection.

In those notes, Ito wrote that Hambleton said Blake attempted to show him Bakley’s pictures and letters, but Hambleton “cut him off.” On the stand, Hambleton tried to adjust the meaning, saying he cut Blake off from talking about Rosie, Blake and Bakley’s infant daughter. Schwartzbach forced him to admit that he had been referring to Bakley’s letters, not Rose.

Hambleton told detectives that if he had to appear before a grand jury, he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right. But he then decided to “come clean” and hinted that he had some information saying, “I might be willing to discuss it further,” and “there’s more that I could tell you.”

The next day, November 29, 2001, Ito, Tyndall and Assistant District Attorney Greg Dohi visited Hambleton again, and this time the tape recorder was again present. He expressed his desire to do the interview to improve his situation. "And part of his situation was he had a pending case," Schwartzbach told the judge.

It was at this meeting that the litany of murder scenarios began to spring from Hambleton's mouth.

On January 24, 2002, Ito, Tyndall, and Dohi interviewed Keith Seals in jail. Seals told them that in March or April 2001 Hambleton had offered him $10,000 to do a "job." At that time Seals worked for Hamilton "taxing" people who owed him money, that is, collecting drug debts for methamphetamine sales. Because of the large amount of money offered, he assumed it was for a "hit."

Seals' friend Donna Sharon, who was living at Hambleton's along with Seals in the spring of 2001, said Seals told her that Hambleton tried to hire him to "do a job for a friend out of town" for $10,000. She said that Seals would not be able to return to Hambleton's afterward and that Hambleton "made him swear not to tell anyone." Seals did not want to do the job because he suspected it was bad and Hambleton would not identify who wanted the job done.

Seals was incarcerated for a parole violation shortly after Hambleton's offer. After Seals was released in September 2001, he contacted Hambleton and Hambleton "said the job he had spoken to him about earlier was about Robert Blake's wife." Hambleton told Seals he had found someone else to do the job, but "he fucked it up."

In 2003, Dianne Mattson, who in 2001 was Christian Brando’s adult babysitter, came forward with information that she could identify Hambleton as one of the men she overheard talking with Brando on a speakerphone in Brando’s house1. Two others on the phone were Jerry Lee Petty, a retired stuntman, and a “homeless, toothless” man who was difficult to understand. The men said they were “tweaking” in LA, meaning they were using drugs to get high. The conversation started with the usual Brando “suck ups,” Mattson said, Hambleton telling Brando it was an honor to be talking to the Godfather’s son2. Petty told Brando how Bakley had "duped" him by telling him the baby was Brando’s when in fact she knew the baby was Blake’s. In that conversation, Mattson overheard Brando say, “Somebody ought to put a bullet in that bitch’s head,” referring to Bakley. The others on the phone agreed.

Hambleton had a major drug habit according to Attwater’s statement to police. Hambleton denied using illegal drugs saying he gave them up because of medical problems. He said he had used them “as an older gentleman” around 60 years old, and knew the difference between chrystal methamphetamines and powdered form. Hambleton, who was 68, then stated on cross examination that the last time he had used drugs was early 1999 or August 1999.

Hambleton admitted knowing people were using illegal drugs on his property, which he considered a “halfway house for the less fortunate.”

He denied seeing Sharon, Seals, or Attwater using drugs on his property, and denied using them himself in front of Sharon.

Sharon and Seals, who later testified for the defense, said he kept methamphetamines on the dining room table, in the hutch, and various other places around the house, and that Hambleton used the poolroom as the lab. They testified that he snorted, smoked and ate it, and under the influence, he would not sleep for days. Sharon testified that Hambleton would hallicinate, one time seeing a four-feet tall horned beast, and would be delusional stating that he thought a phone repairman had bugged his phones. She said he would sit on the porch for hours with a shotgun and refused to go to the store because he thought undercops were following him.

Ito testified that he saw no illegal drugs on Hambleton’s property and did not investigate Hambleton’s drug use or connections despite having information from Seals, Sharon, and Attwater that Hambleton used drugs and had a meth lab on his property. Hambleton said that his property had been search 7-9 times since 1999 and he was not arrested for possession of narcotics.

After Mattson came forward publicly, the police were forced to investigate her claims. They re-interviewed Brando in July 2003. Brando claimed he didn't know Hambleton.

The police interviewed neighbors of Petty3, including Rocky Dickerson, who told them he and Brando had grown up together, and spent time around Petty and his friends. Dickerson remembered a stuntman named Duffy who he described as "tall, Caucasian, six foot," and possibly "bald-headed." He said that he had heard Petty refer to a stuntman named Duffy months before he died.

At that point, the investigation into Hambleton appeared to stop. It wasn't until spring 2004 that Brian Allan Fiebelkorn contacted the LAPD after learning that the police had been questioning neighbors about the transients that lived in the neighborhood and knew Petty. Fiebelkorn believed, and later testified at the Blake civil trial, that he had seen Hambleton on several occasions in his neighborhood weeks before Bakley's death. He also told police that he had seen one of the transients, Mark Jones, with a Walther P38, the same gun used in Bakley's murder4.

With Fiebelkorn's and Mattson's information, police could tie Hambleton with Brando and Jones. Instead, they did only as much investigation as needed in order to appear to satisfy the defense's claims. Since they had publicly announced in 2002 that Blake was the perpetrator of her murder, any new arrest would undoubtly be fruitless because they had already created reasonable doubt by arresting and charging Blake prematurely5, especially with the lack of physical evidence.

Fiebelkorn tried to warn the LAPD and Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley that Hambleton was misleading them6. Instead, Ito, Cooley, and Samuels fought hard to suppress the evidence. Ito, in a secretly taped conversation attempted to intimidate Fiebelkorn, first by telling him the District Attorney wasn't interested in his evidence and then accusing him of somehow being involved. Samuels successfully argued in court that the defense's motion for introduction of third party culpability be denied.

The prosecution's case in regard to Count 2 seemed to be all about which of Hambleton's stories the jury would believe. There was little corroborating evidence; the most damaging was the prepaid phone card. A receipt for pancakes, one ice tea, and one coffee from Art's Deli dated March 11, 2001, was also offered up.

There was little testimony around the phone card, as if the prosecution didn't want it to fall under scrutiny. All the calls to Hambleton were made from Blake's home phone. The press reported that there were 56 calls made to Hambleton on the phone card, but most of those calls were incomplete. Samuels, in her closing argument, said that Blake was so obsessed with contacting Hambleton he dialed the 30-digit number repeatedly. Schwartzbach in his closing gave a more rational explanation – that instead of manually dialing the number, the number was "redialed" automatically as a function of the phone.

In fact, most of the calls on the pre-paid phone card were not to Hambleton, but to Blake's private investigator, William Jordan. Not only did Blake call Jordan on the phone card from his home phone, but he also called him from Northern California and Arizona during the week in April that he and Bakley were on vacation. There were no calls to Hambleton on the phone card that week, no calls from any motels where Hambleton might ride up on a Harley-Davidson shooting with both barrels.

What happened to the rest of the State's "corroboration"? Hambleton testified that he called Blake back from his home phone on May 4, 2001, and unless Roy Harrison was mistaken, Hambleton would have had to call Blake to initially set up a time and place to meet, which he said he believed was a meeting about a movie project. But the prosecution never presented any of Hambleton's phone records or Harrison's phone records.

What did Nate Henry and David Attwater say? Nothing. They were not called to testify by the prosecution. Neither were the "gapers" in the restaurants where Blake and Hambleton met, nor was Hambleton's son to say when his father stopped on his way home from meeting Blake.

In the preliminary hearing, Hambleton said that he had always been truthful to police in his interviews. But in the criminal trial, he admitted he lied in both the May 16, 2001 interview and the May 21, 2001 interview.

He was so full of lies that Schwartzbach called him on them. "Is it not your testimony that every time that you talked to him and the subject matter involved -- according to you, the killing of his wife, you lied to Mr. Blake?"

"I deceived him," Hambleton replied.

"Did you lie to him?"

"However you want to phrase it."

"Sir, do you have an understanding of what I mean by the word "lie"?

At the end of his cross, Schwartzbach continued. His questions contained nothing but comtempt for Hambleton. "When you were lying to Mr. Blake, were you looking at him right in the eye?

"I am sure that I did."

"Well, when you characterized it as lying through your ass to the police, when you were lying through your ass, were you looking at them right in the eye?"

"I am not sure whether I was or not."

"And when you testified under oath at the preliminary hearing that you had always told the police the truth, were you looking at that lawyer right in the eye?"

The jury apparently had its own suspicions about Hambleton's motive. They asked for testimony readbacks of the "Prosecution's first redirect on 2/10/05 of Ronald Hambleton, all portions related to Hambleton's testimony referencing his San Bernardino case;" and "Defense Attorney's cross-examination of Miles Corwin starting with testimony regarding page 359 of his book through completion of defense attorney's cross-examination." On the note regarding Corwin's testimony, the jury had written and crossed out "Miles Corwin's testimony referencing pressure or leverage placed on Hambleton."

In his closing argument, Schwartzbach provided one more clue to Hambleton's deceitfulness. When testifying about his day with Blake, Hambleton said that Blake bought gas at a 76 station in his neighborhood. Hambleton then added "Used to be a 76, but I think it's changed its name."

To this Schwartzbach told the jury, "By the way, Hambleton's testimony, somehow he knew that the 76 station was no longer a 76 station. Gosh, I wonder if anybody's been in the neighborhood."

Shell Game – Part I – Duffy Hambleton talks about taking care of business

1Where Deceit Hides... - Part I
2Marlon Brando, Christian Brando's father, played the starring role in the movie, "The Godfather."
3Petty committed suicide in March 2001.
4The State's Conspiracy - Part I
5On February 19, 2002, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley ordered Assistant District Attorney Greg Dohi to file a case against Blake, at the request of Chief of Police Bernard Parks. Parks at the time was under scrutiny for his job performance and subsequently lost his bid to renew his contract. In a court motion dated May 20, 2002, then defense attorney Harland Braun claimed that the arrest was politically motivated.
6The State's Conspiracy - Part II

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