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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 22:43 GMT
Actor 'killed wife over daughter'
Robert Blake appears in a Los Angeles court at the start of his murder trial
No direct evidence links Mr Blake to the killing of his wife
US actor Robert Blake killed his wife because he wanted sole custody of their young child, a court has heard.

Mr Blake, 71, star of 1970s police TV drama Baretta, has denied murdering his wife Bonny Lee Bakley, 44, who was shot in a car outside a restaurant in 2001.

Prosecutor Shellie Samuels told a Los Angeles court Mr Blake had tried to hire two stuntmen to kill his wife but acted himself when they refused.

Before Baretta, which ran from 1975-8, Mr Blake was a child star in the 1940s.

'Trailer trash'

The actor, who played a killer in 1967's Oscar-nominated movie In Cold Blood, faces life in prison if convicted.

In her opening statement, Ms Samuels alleged that Mr Blake killed his wife because he "despised" her and regarded her family as "low-life trailer trash" who might turn their daughter into a prostitute.

Robert Blake

"The victim in this was killed because the defendant wanted sole custody of their child and wanted the baby away from her mother and her mother's family," she said.

"This was not a marriage made in heaven."

The prosecution claims Mr Blake shot his wife in the head after failing to persuade two stuntmen with whom he had worked on Baretta to do it for him.

Ms Bakley was found dead in Mr Blake's car around the corner from an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles where they had dined on 4 May 2001.

The actor told police he went back into the restaurant to get a gun he had left behind and discovered his wife dead when he returned to the car.

Paternity test

There is no direct evidence linking Mr Blake to the murder weapon or showing that he fired a gun that night.

He has previously said his wife was murdered by one of the many men she had wronged in the past.

Mr Blake married Ms Bakley in November 2000 after tests showed her daughter Rosie, born five months earlier, was his child.

The prosecution told the court Ms Bakley had got pregnant against Mr Blake's wishes and had refused to have an abortion.

In his acting career, Mr Blake won a Golden Globe award and an Emmy for playing undercover New York detective Tony Baretta.

The trial was due to start two weeks ago but was delayed after Mr Blake lawyer's computer was stolen. It followed a series of earlier delays, in part because Mr Blake twice fired his lawyer.

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