The Baretta star is a free but broken man after a jury acquits him of murdering his wife

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated March 17, 2005 08:00 AM

Emotions ran high in a Van Nuys, Calif., courtroom Wednesday afternoon as accused murderer Robert Blake was declared a free man.

On the ninth day of deliberations, the jury acquitted the former Baretta star, 71, in the May 2001 shooting death of wife Bonny Lee Bakley, 44. Blake was also cleared of one charge of trying to get someone to kill Bakley, but the jury was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal on a second solicitation charge.

The judge dismissed the count, and Blake was allowed to walk out of court.

Upon hearing the verdicts, his head hit the table in the courtroom, and he sobbed, as did his adult daughter, Delinah Blake, who sat in the back of the courtroom. Delinah, 35, has been raising Blake and Bakley’s daughter, Rosie, who was born in June 2000. The Blakes were married that November.

Outside the courthouse, Blake was cheered by fans and delivered a rambling speech, at times bitter, thanking his lawyers and the case’s private investigators. “This small band of dedicated warriors saved my life,” he said.

“If you want to know how to go through $10 million in five years, ask me,” said Blake. “I’m broke. I need a job.” He borrowed a pocketknife and cut off the electronic monitoring device attached to his ankle. He then kissed his lawyer on the cheek.

“The prosecution built their case on the backs of … two men, and neither one of them was worthy of belief,” defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach said outside court, referring to two former stuntmen with admitted drug problems. The men claimed Blake tried to hire them to bump off Bakley.

“(Prosecutors) couldn’t put the gun in his hand,” jury foreman Thomas Nicholson told reporters outside court, adding that the case lacked evidence that could “connect all the links in the chain. … There was no gunshot residue, no blood on the clothing. There was nothing. It was supposition more than evidence.”

The verdict didn’t please everyone. Bakley’s sister, Margerry Bakley Smith, told Court TV: “It’s open season in Los Angeles for anyone’s wife or girlfriend to be killed if you have enough money.”