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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 04:57 GMT 05:57 UK
Actor in court over killing of wife
Robert Blake
Robert Blake faces the death sentence if convicted
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By Peter Bowes
In Los Angeles

The American actor Robert Blake has appeared in a California court to face several charges relating to the murder of his wife, Bonny Bakley, last year.

Mr Blake, 68, is accused of "personally and intentionally" killing Ms Bakley, 44, after the pair dined in a Los Angeles restaurant together.

In addition, the actor has been charged with solicitation of murder, conspiracy and the special circumstance of lying in wait. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Under California law, "lying in wait" is a "special circumstance" which gives prosecutors the option of seeking the death sentence should Mr Blake be convicted.

Elaborate plan

Mr Blake's former bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, 46, faces one count of conspiracy to commit murder and has also pleaded not guilty.

Robert Blake
Mr Blake portrayed a tough cop in Baretta
Both men, who are being held in jail, remained silent during the court hearing, except when asked for their pleas.

The issue of bail for Mr Blake was not addressed during the brief court session and a 1 May date was set for a preliminary hearing of the case.

According to prosecutors there was an elaborate plan to kill Ms Bakley.

Court papers revealed a list of 18 "overt acts" said to have been committed by the two men in plotting the murder.

"Defendant Blake shot Bonny Lee Bakley twice with an unregistered vintage Walther P-38 military 9 mm handgun," according to the official criminal complaint.

Mr Caldwell is accused of keeping a list of items needed to carry out the murder, including duct tape, a small sledge hammer, pool acid and shovels.

Porn pictures

Mr Blake is best known as the star of the 1970s detective series, Baretta, for which he won an Emmy award.

The five-minute court appearance, in the LA suburb of Van Nuys, took place amid frenzied media attention.

The case has been closely followed by America's tabloid press ever since Ms Bakley was shot dead in her husband's car last May.

Bonnie Bakley: Used many aliases
Television cameras were allowed in the courtroom, despite objections from Mr Blake's lawyers.

Legal experts believe the defence team will focus on Ms Bakley's past.

She married Mr Blake after she gave birth to a child she initially said was fathered either by him or Marlon Brando's son, Christian.

DNA tests showed Mr Blake was the father of the girl, named Rosie, who will turn two in June.

In addition, shortly after her death, it was revealed that letters, pornographic pictures and meticulously detailed records showed that Ms Bakley, using many aliases, ran a business soliciting money from lonely men who answered her ads in magazines and newspapers.

The case is the highest profile murder investigation seen in Los Angeles since the former sports star OJ Simpson was charged with the killing of his ex-wife.

LA police are said to have built a case against Mr Blake involving more than 900 items of evidence and 150 witnesses in 20 states.

Unlike Mr Simpson, who was acquitted of murder, Mr Blake is not a national hero - nor is he a major player in Hollywood. But the lurid nature of the case has gripped the US media.

See also:

19 Apr 02 | TV and Radio
Actor arrested over wife's murder
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