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Actor Blake liable in wife's death

Former 'Baretta' star ordered to pay $30 million in damages

Actor Robert Blake waits Friday for the jury to return its verdict in a civil wrongful death lawsuit.


Robert Blake
Crime, Law and Justice

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Robert Blake on Friday was found liable in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the estate of his slain wife and ordered by a jury to pay her children $30 million in damages.

Blake was cleared of her murder in a criminal trial eight months ago.

The four children of Bonnie Lee Bakley sued the 72-year-old former "Baretta" star in 2002. (Read the wrongful death complaint [pdf])external link

"These kids lost their mom, and that got overlooked over the years," said Eric Dubin, the attorney for the children.

Dubin added he did not name a compensation figure in his closing arguments because he wanted to leave that up to the jury. "I'm happy with what they came up with," he said.

Blake has said his legal bills have left him almost broke, but Dubin said he has "every reason to think he will pay," he said. In a similar case, former football star O.J. Simpson was acquitted of criminal charges in his wife's death in 1994 but found liable in a civil suit. The family of Nicole Brown Simpson has seen little of the $8.5 million awarded by the jury in 1997. (Watch a comparison of the Blake and Simpson cases -- 2:00)

The jury in the civil case had to decide only whether it was probable that Blake was responsible; in the criminal case the jury had to decide his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The civil case jury voted 10-2.

Another key difference in the two cases was that in the criminal case Blake had a right to silence and to not give evidence; in the civil case he had to give evidence.

"In going through the evidence we believe Mr. Blake was probably his own worst enemy on the stand," jury foreman Bob Horn said. (Watch the foreman explain the jury's decision -- 1:37)

"The majority of us felt that Mr. Blake was guilty," he said. "There is no price that anyone can put on the love of a parent or a mother in the future, regardless of the character of that particular person."

The $30 million -- whether Blake pays it or not -- is a deterrent to anyone plotting a crime, Horn added.

The jurors who supported the monetary award never reached a consensus on whether Blake acted alone or hired someone to kill his wife, several of them said.

Blake, who was the star of the television show "Baretta," avoided reporters after the trial, leaving through a back door in the company of deputies.

Criminal case heard Blake hired two hitmen

In the criminal trial, Blake was charged with one count of murder and two counts of solicitation of murder after the 44-year-old Bakley was shot to death in May 2001 in Studio City, California. The couple had just dined at Blake's favorite Italian restaurant. (Full story)

Blake denied that he killed Bakley and told police he was carrying a gun because his wife feared someone was stalking her.

In the criminal trial, the jury acquitted Blake on the murder count and one of the solicitation counts but deadlocked on the second solicitation count.

A judge later dismissed the second solicitation count despite arguments by the prosecution that Blake tried to hire two Hollywood stuntmen, Gary McLarty and Ronald Hambleton, to kill his wife.

Blake's lawyers attacked the stuntmen as habitual liars and drug addicts. Jurors didn't believe the stuntmen because of discrepancies in their preliminary hearing testimony and their testimony at trial, juror Lorie Moore said.

The prosecution contended that Blake felt Bakley forced him into marrying her by getting pregnant and that he wanted to keep her away from his child, Rosie, who was 3 months old at the time of the killing. Dubin added that Blake wanted to kill Bakley so he could raise Rosie by himself, an allegation Blake denied.

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