MEDIA WATCH: Media deliberates the substance of evidence against Blake

Up until two years ago, actor Robert Blake was most famous for his role as 1970s TV cop Baretta. But the former Little Rascal, who has been acting in Hollywood for 65 years, now earns media coverage exclusively for being the chief suspect in the 2001 slaying of Bonnie Lee Bakley, his wife of six months and the mother of his infant daughter.

Up until two years ago, actor Robert Blake was most famous for his role as 1970s TV cop Baretta. But the former Little Rascal, who has been acting in Hollywood for 65 years, now earns media coverage exclusively for being the chief suspect in the 2001 slaying of Bonnie Lee Bakley, his wife of six months and the mother of his infant daughter.

In late February, preliminary hearings began to determine if there is enough evidence against Blake to hold a trial. Media Watch monitored analysis from legal pundits on TV regarding how the hearing is going so far. The initial prosecution witnesses (including a former LAPD detective of 20 years who is now a private investigator) all described how Blake had solicited their help in detailed scenarios in which they could "snuff" Bakley. Prosecutors also played an audiotape of a conversation between Bakley and Blake that showed how he became angry when he discovered his wife had become pregnant and would not have an abortion. Opinions were evenly split between those who believed that the evidence presented thus far is pretty damning and those who questioned the credibility of the witnesses. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin (February 27) commented, "I don't think I've ever seen a murder case with more evidence of motive." Toobin also commented that prosecutors had displayed enough evidence to go well beyond the relatively low requirements to determine whether there should be a trial. He indicated that the prosecution was grandstanding for the media: "Why do it when you don't have to? It's PR. It's show business. It's LA. They want to tell the public, they want to tell the jury pool, 'Look, we've really got this guy'" (CNN, February 28). The defense played up the fact that the former stuntmen witnesses had drug problems, violent pasts, or criminal records, and that they couldn't keep their stories straight. Celebrity attorney Trent Copeland told CBS' The Early Show (March 4), "These people have baggage." Supporters of the prosecution often acknowledged that the witnesses lacked credibility, but pointed out that it is often disreputable characters who are in a position to be solicited for help in a hired murder, not upstanding citizens with clean records. Coverage also made frequent comparisons to the OJ Simpson trial -the media circus surrounding the hearings, a Hollywood star charged with murder, similar allegations of the LAPD contaminating evidence, and even Blake spending the last year in the same LAPD cell that Simpson had stayed in. TV reports also addressed Bakley's shady past, painting her as scam artist who conned money out of lonely men. Blake and his lawyers argued that it was someone from her past who shot her. Finally, many criticized Blake for speaking out to the public via his Barbara Walters interview on 20/20. Blake's attorneys, past and present, were cited for arguing against this. Third-party analysts wholeheartedly agreed. Criminal defense attorney Howard Weitzman told Fox (February 26), "Talking to the press in this case is death. It just shouldn't have happened." But Blake has indicated that he needed to speak out because the media and the police "have totally blackened his name" (ABC, February 26), and he wanted to get out a message to his infant daughter.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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