December 06, 2004 06:00 PM

The murder trial of actor Robert Blake has been delayed yet again, this time after Blake’s attorney, Gerald Schwartzbach, had his laptop stolen from his home office last Wednesday.

Jurors who assembled in the Los Angeles courtroom Monday expecting to hear opening statements were instead asked to return on Dec. 20.

“Mr. Schwartzbach, are you presently ready for trial?” asked Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp. “No, your honor,” was his terse reply.

A court-appointed official monitoring the theft investigation, attorney James Blatt, had called the missing laptop “the heart and soul of the defense case.” No suspects have been identified in the alleged robbery.

Breaking an almost year-long public silence, Blake, 71, gave a brief, at-times rambling statement before the start of Monday’s hearing, saying, in part: “I’m okay, because I believe in the system. Ours is the best system in the best country. And I’m okay because I believe in God, the same God that was with me on that street corner when I was 2, the God that was with me in that cement box for a year, and that God that’s with me now.”

The last time the trial was delayed was in February, when jury selection was put on hold after Thomas Mesereau, Jr. (who is now representing Michael Jackson in the musician’s child-molestation case) abruptly quit as Blake’s counsel. Schwartzbach is the former Baretta star’s fourth attorney in his murder case.

Blake, who pleaded not guilty in a hearing held in April 2002, is charged with the May 4, 2001, shooting death of his wife of six months, Bonny Lee Bakley, 44. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

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