The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced Thursday it has decided not to pursue a death penalty case against the TV tough guy. Rather, prosecutors will seek to convince a jury to send the actor to prison for the rest of his life, without the possibility of parole.
Not surprisingly, Blake's lawyer is pleased. And perhaps surprisingly, at least one member of Bakley's family isn't outraged.
The D.A.'s office did not elaborate on its decision, merely noting that it was reached after convening its panel on "special circumstances" cases.
"Special circumstances" is the stuff that death penalty cases are made of--premeditation, lying in wait, etc. This is the sort of thing prosecutors talked about Monday when they charged Blake with four counts of murder and conspiracy stemming from the May 2001 Bakley slaying.
In outlining their case, the prosecution alleged Blake unsuccessfully tried to hire two men to kill his wife, and then plotted to do the deed himself. (Additionally, Blake bodyguard Earle Caldwell is charged with conspiracy to commit murder.)
That the D.A.'s office seemingly switched gears and decided not to opt for a death-penalty conviction has legal experts debating: Was it Blake's age? (He's 68.) Was it Blake's celebrity? (He's TV's Baretta, after all.) Was it his lack of a criminal record? (Clean, up until his arrest last week.)
To Robert Pugsley, professor of law at Southwestern University School of Law, it was a matter of prosecutors being prudent--and keeping their eye on the prize: a guilty verdict.
"[The decision probably was] designed to secure the conviction at the guilt/innocence phase of the trial...and not have the jurors second-guess themselves because they realize if they vote guilty they have to go into a second penalty phase," Pugsley says.
To Court TV anchor and former prosecutor Nancy Grace, it was a matter of "special treatment."
"He is being handled with kid gloves," Grace says. "I feel they are responding to the attacks on the victim's alleged reputation. [And] they are responding to yet another celebrity defendant."
Of course, according to Blake attorney Harland Braun, the D.A.'s office is merely responding to reason. Braun told the Associated Press he thinks prosecutors made "the right decision" in forgoing the death penalty.
"This indicates it will be a professional trial and it will be something that the county will be proud of," Braun told the wire service.
In the Los Angeles Times, Bakley's sister, Margerry Bakley, said she doesn't think prosecutors let Blake off the hook.
"It doesn't lessen the charge. He's still facing life in prison with no parole if convicted," she told the paper. "We don't need more of this unnecessary pain and suffering."
Blake, who has pleaded innocent to all charges facing him, is the father of Bonny Bakley's daughter, Rose, who turns 2 in June.
In other developments:
Blake's grown daughter from his first marriage, Delinah Blake, tells ABC's 20/20 that she believes her father's account of what happened the night Bonnie Lee Bakley was shot outside a Studio City, California, restaurant--specifically the part where Blake says the murder occurred while he was back in the restaurant, retrieving the gun he'd mistakenly left there while dining.
"It sounds ridiculous," Delinah Blake says in an interview to air tonight. "However, my father is...left-handed, right-brained, severely dyslexic. My father leaves things places...He's not someone who is tremendously strong in memory."
New details have emerged regarding the two Baretta stuntmen who may be called to testify against Blake.
Gary McLarty and Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton were ID'd this week as the men prosecutors say Blake tried to talk into killing Bakley for him. Turns out each has some baggage of his own. Hambleton is facing misdemeanor weapons charges for allegedly pointing a rifle at sheriff's deputies at his San Bernardino County, California, ranch in 1999. And McLarty is "living off the sale of firewood and some residuals," per divorce papers filed last year. (Legal documents pertaining to both men are available online at TheSmokingGun.com.)