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LAPD Press Conference on Arrest of Robert Blake

Aired April 19, 2002 - 00:01   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning now from New York. It's a minute past midnight, Eastern time.

In Los Angeles at this hour, at Parker Center, the main police station, the central police station in Los Angeles, Los Angeles police detectives and we presume the chief of police, because it's a star turn moment, you wouldn't want to miss it, about to hold a news conference.

What they will tell us about the arrest earlier this evening of the actor Robert Blake for the murder of his wife, now almost a year ago, on May 4, 2001. We will see, we're told, and I won't even feign surprise at this, that they're running a little bit late. I've been doing this a long time. I've never known these things not to run a little bit late.

In any case, we expect perhaps Chief Parks, who is by the way fighting to keep his job in Los Angeles these days, and that's not going very well. We expect he'll be part of the group, and whether the lead detectives in what they call Robbery/Homicide in Los Angeles, the elite detectives in the City of Angles will come out and talk about the case that they've taken almost a year to develop against Robert Blake and a second man, Earle Caldwell, who is sometimes described as a bodyguard, a friend, an acquaintance, a handyman -- these cases always seem to have this other character in them, and this one does too. He was arrested in Burbank at about the same time Mr. Blake was arrested at the home he was staying in.

And what precisely the charges will be, we don't know. There are a number of possibilities, and not the least of which that this could ultimately be a capital case, but that's a decision not to be made by police in Los Angeles and not to be made by anyone tonight. That's a decision that prosecutors in Los Angeles will have to make.

Obviously, there are some parallels, some, to the O.J. Simpson case. There are far more reasons to make this thing different. But nevertheless, it is one of those things where a celebrity has been taken into custody. He is charged with an awful crime. Somebody that people know. It is the kind of thing that attracts our attention, certainly, and attracts, we suspect, your attention as well.

This was the scene earlier tonight, that white car -- don't get me started on that. A white care going down the freeway in Los Angeles at at least three times the speed of the white Bronco of some years back. Mr. Blake in the back of that care, handcuffed, wearing a white shirt and a blue baseball cap, as I recall, being taken from the Valley, I think, where he was living, down to Parker Center, downtown.

This is the back of Parker Center and Mr. Blake there handcuffed, as is standard procedure, being taken in for processing, to be fingerprinted, mug shots taken, all the things you see, and probably saw, in some of the detective shows that Robert Blake has roles in.

It's been said a number of times -- I'll say it again for those of you who have just joined us, Robert Blake's career hardly was in its ascendancy. He's 69 years old. He hasn't had a significant role in a movie or television series in some time, but he had a pretty good career.

He was a child actor, in the movie "In Cold Blood."

If we can, let's just go back to the scene of the press conference. Frank Buckley is there. He's been at Parker Center.

Frank, are we close? We're real close.

COM. GARY BRENNAN, COMMUNITY AFFAIRS GROUP, LAPD: Good evening. I'm Com. Gary Brennan, commanding officer of Community Affairs Group for the Los Angeles Police Dept.

We're here tonight, clearly, to announce some specific developments in the case of Bonnie Lee Bakley.

I'm going to introduce the chief of police and commanding officer of Detective Services Group and commanding officer of Robbery/Homicide division. Each will have some remarks. At the conclusion of those remarks, we will take some questions. Bear in mind that this being an ongoing investigation, some of your questions will not be able to be answered in complete detail.

Now I'm going to introduce the chief of police of the Los Angeles Police Dept., Bernard C. Parks.


We're hear today to announce that the Bonnie Lee Bakley case is solved.

At 5:30 this afternoon, detectives with the Los Angeles Police Dept. Robbery/Homicide division arrested actor Robert Blake for the murder of his wife, 44-year-old Bonnie Lee Bakley.

As you recall, Bakley was found last year, May 4, in North Hollywood, slumped in the front seat of her husbands car and she had been shot.

Our detectives will present this case against Blake to the L.A. County District Attorneys Office on Monday. It is anticipated that Blake will face one count of murder with special circumstances and two counts of solicitation of murder.

Detectives have also arrested 46-year-old Earl Caldwell for conspiracy to commit the murder of Ms. Bakley.

This is a case that has taken nearly a year to complete. More than 900 items of evidence linked to both Blake and Bakley, and they all have been carefully examined. Some of the evidence includes letters, records, photographs, and other physical evidence.

Detectives also interviewed over 150 witnesses and the investigation has taken us all over the United States. In fact, detectives spent time in over 20 states since this investigation started. No other case in department history has required such an extensive travel.

Detectives also followed up on over 150 clues provided by the community. All other possible suspects were investigated and have been eliminated.

LAPD, working closely with the L.A. County District Attorneys Office, conducted an intensive and painstaking investigation in this case, pursuing many leads and reviewing thousands of pages of documents.

The LAPD case has developed both physical and significant circumstantial evidence that Robert Blake killed Bonnie Lee Bakley.

Earl Caldwell is a resident of the city of Burbank. Approximately two years ago, Blake hired Caldwell as a full-time handyman to maintain properties belonging to Blake. Caldwell was also a bodyguard for Mr. Blake.

I am very proud of the work done by our detectives in Robbery/Homicide. It certainly is a time consuming and very thorough professional investigation. And because of their dedication and the effort we have in this case is a fine example of outstanding police work.

As. Com. Brennan said earlier, what's important for you to realize is that because this is an ongoing investigation, he questioning will be very limited as we will not be able to share many of the details with you.

I'd like to ask Capt. Tatreau to come up at this time, who can provide you additional details.

CAPT. JIM TATREAU, LAPD: Thank you, chief.


TATREAU: It's Jim Tatreau, T-A-T-R-E-A-U. I'm the captain at Robbery/Homicide division.

This morning, detectives secured arrest warrants for Robert Blake and Earl Caldwell. Those arrest warrants were executed late this afternoon, as the chief mentioned.

The detectives proceeded to Robert Blake's home in the Hidden Hills area and contacted Mr. Blake's legal representative, his attorney, and we asked for his cooperation in arranging that Mr. Blake know that we were at the house.

He did that, encouraged Mr. Blake to cooperate. The door was opened and Mr. Blake stepped from the house, prepared to be arrested. He was passive, cooperative, and it was without incident.

I can tell you that he had an interest in the daughter. The young girl, Rose, she is in the custody of Robert Blake's daughter, and she is in excellent health.

And with that, that is the basis of the day, as far as effecting the arrest.

Mr. Caldwell was arrested a distance, after leaving Robert Blake's home this afternoon. He was arrested as he left.

QUESTION: The chief mentioned physical evidence. Can you tell us what that is?

TATREAU: I cannot comment on the physical evidence at this time. However, as the chief mentioned, there is physical evidence and there is significant and compelling circumstantial evidence.


QUESTION: There's no murder weapon.

TATREAU: Yes. The murder weapon has been documented in the media.

QUESTION: ...apparently was ready some months ago. Why did it take the DA's office so long to go ahead and present the case today, to give you the arrest warrant?

TATREAU: No, this case was not ready months ago, at all, no. There has been significant progress made on this case during the past weeks, and...


TATREAU: There was no key break. As was mentioned, there is physical evidence and there is significant and compelling circumstantial evidence, and as it will unfold in court, and some of it is very interesting, and some of it is, I might add, very good detective work.

QUESTION: Was all the evidence always focusing on Mr. Blake? Was he your prime suspect from the start? And, number, two, how strong a case do you think you have?

TATREAU: Mr. Blake certainly was a suspect from the start, but there was significant evidence, as you recall, delivered to this department, at the back of Parker Center, days after the murder.

That included many of the 900 items of evidence that we had to evaluate. Much of it caused the extensive travel that the chief referred to. Much of it related to the business that Bonnie Lee Bakley operated, the mail solicitation type business that was ongoing. And those leads had to be resolved.

And we also had about 150 clues from the public that had to be resolved. And we did that. That's why we are here, almost one year after the crime.

QUESTION: How strong a case do you believe that you have?

TATREAU: We believe we have an excellent case.

QUESTION: Who do you believe was the shooter?

TATREAU: Robert Blake shot Bonnie Bakley.

QUESTION: Is it his gun?

TATREAU: It's the weapon that was already documented in the media that was recovered from the dumpster a few days -- I'm sorry, just a day or so, I believe, if I recall, after the murder.

QUESTION: That was registered to Blake?

TATREAU: I'm not going to comment on the history of that weapon.

QUESTION: If Blake was the shooter, then what was Caldwell's role in this?

TATREAU: Mr. Caldwell has been arrested for conspiracy to commit murder. And it probably will not surprise you that with that charge, we are not going to discuss the details of his role in that conspiracy, but we obviously believe that there is at least one overt act that substantiates that and enough that, obviously we have a signed arrest warrant.

QUESTION: Will he testify against Mr. Blake?

TATREAU: I won't comment on that.

QUESTION: Why today, Capt. Tatreau? Why today?

TATREAU: This was the first time we had a signed arrest warrant.

QUESTION: What gave you enough to go to the judge at this point and say will you sign this arrest warrant?

TATREAU: The entire case. Preparing it, getting it ready, organizing, and you know -- a lot of work.

QUESTION: Is it safe to say you had to rule out all the other suspects before you made the arrest -- that you may have had enough, in your view, to make an arrest earlier, perhaps, but you wanted to go through the other possibilities that Mr. Braun raised?

TATREAU: Well, I don't think that's unfair to say that we wanted to resolve any other possibilities that were going to be raised.

QUESTION: With all this travel, how much money has been sent investigating this particular case?

TATREAU: It's been a significant amount of money, due to the travel.

QUESTION: Do you have a dollar figure?

TATREAU: No, I don't.

QUESTION: This department has been criticized in the past for rush to judgment. What would you say to any critics that might say that this was a similar rush to judgment?

TATREAU: Well, we didn't rush anywhere. Some people, say, you know, it's a year later, and we went at a very proper pace. There was not an inordinate number of detectives assigned to this case. It did not get, as some might think, the entire resources of the department.

The detectives assigned to this case completed many other tasks unrelated to this case during the past year, because...

QUESTION: Can you say something about the motive in this case, as to why Mr. Blake would shoot his wife?

TATREAU: We believe the motive is that Robert Blake had contempt for Bonnie Bakley. He felt that he was trapped in a marriage that he wanted no part of, and quite frankly the entire situation was not one of his liking at all.

QUESTION: ...what happened that night. We've heard his version of it.

TATREAU: No, we're not going to get into that, except that obviously we believe that Robert Blake shot Bonnie Bakley that night outside Vitello's Restaurant.



QUESTION: The chief said he will seek two counts of solicitation. Can you elaborate, describe a little bit, what that's about?

TATREAU: No. Those are solicitations of individuals other than Earl Caldwell. And obviously, we're not going to talk about who those people are.

QUESTION: This was not a hit, then, in your opinion, by a hired gun.

TATREAU: No, it was a hit by a husband.


TATREAU: Not at this time.

QUESTION: Captain, was Mr. Caldwell at the scene on the night of the fourth?

TATREAU: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Was Mr. Caldwell at the scene the night of the fourth? The crime scene?

TATREAU: The night of the murder?


TATREAU: No. I believe he was out of town.

QUESTION: Did you gather any physical evidence after that gun was recovered in the dumpster?

TATREAU: Well, certainly the gun.

QUESTION: After the gun.

TATREAU: After the gun, in the dumpster?

QUESTION: No. Other physical evidence beside the gun.

TATREAU: I can't even recall, quite frankly, right now. There is a lot of items.

QUESTION: Did Blake take a gun shot residue test?

TATREAU: A gun shot residue test was performed and I'm not going to talk about the results of that test.

QUESTION: ...was no gunshot residue, or he would have been arrested long ago?

TATREAU: Mr. Bronx (ph), comment.


TATREAU: We've got all the evidence. There might be some witnesses out of state, that's possibility. In all that travel, there could be.

QUESTION: Did Mr. Blake offer money to individuals to commit the murder prior to the act?

TATREAU: I can't say for sure. I really don't -- but they were solicited, and it's probably a safe bet.

QUESTION: Blake's attorney has said that there was -- that every person that new Bonnie Bakley could have a possible motive to kill her. And that's a part of what his defense package is going to include. Have you basically ruled out all these people? Are these all the witnesses you've traveled 20 states to talk to? You've ruled every single one of these people as having any motive and...

TATREAU: We feel comfortable with that. And also, there's certainly not -- no way did every person that dealt with Bonnie Bakley want to kill her. In fact, that's just not accurate at all.

QUESTION: Captain, can you share with us any comments that Mr. Blake made at the time of his arrest today?

TATREAU: He didn't really make any comments. He was very passive and friendly. He was familiar with the detectives from, you know, the original incident.

QUESTION: He made no comments about this? Did he seem surprised?

TATREAU: He told his daughter that, he mentioned to the caretaker there with the daughter to take care of the child, and things would be fine.

QUESTION: He wasn't surprised?

TATREAU: No, I don't think he was surprised.

QUESTION: Is it odd the gun was left at the crime scene? Is that odd?

TATREAU: I don't know.

QUESTION: What is the status of his booking and his bail?

TATREAU: We're going to process him here at Parker Center. We're going to actually technically book him here, fingerprint and photograph him, but we're going to transfer him to the L.A. County jail.

QUESTION: Tonight?


QUESTION: What kind of bail will you be asking for?

TATREAU: There won't be bail.

QUESTION: Isolation?

TATREAU: Very likely. That's going to be the sheriff's determination. It's their jail.

QUESTION: What is the special circumstance?

TATREAU: Lying in wait.

QUESTION: Have you discussed whether this will be a capital case with the district attorney's office?

TATREAU: If the special circumstances are agreed with by the district attorney's office then, because of the law, he could face the death penalty.

QUESTION: Can you talk about his story that evening, because I know there were some conflicting reports. He was telling you he went -- were there too many problems with his story that he kept changing? Or did his story stay constant throughout?

TATREAU: We're not going to comment on his statement. It was a pretty extensive statement. He certainly spoke to the police that night, but we're not going to comment on that.

QUESTION: As a cagey veteran of this department, when did you feel that this man was likely, not certainly, but likely, your main suspect?

TATREAU: Who is the cagey veteran, me or you? When did we think yet?

QUESTION: When did you think that Mr. Blake was your primary suspect that you were going to focus your investigation on? How quickly afterwards?

TATREAU: I don't know what the detectives thought, and that's what's important. It's not what I thought.


TATREAU: I don't know. I'm not going to say what I thought, but the detectives were the ones that were important.

QUESTION: Captain, who are the lead detectives on the case?

TATREAU: Ron Ido (ph), Brian Tindle (ph), Steve Aguchi (ph), Robert Bub (ph) assisted, Det. Mike Waylan (ph) and probably a couple of others that I'm failing to mention had to do some things during this past year.

The lead is Ron Ido (ph) and Brian Tindle (ph).

QUESTION: Did Ido (ph) pull him out of the car earlier?

TATREAU: That escorted him out of the car? That was Det. Ido (ph).


TATREAU: Are they here? No, they're working.

QUESTION: When did they report to you that they thought he was the primary suspect?

TATREAU: I don't know. They, you know -- when they got the warrant signed this morning, they said we think that's him.

QUESTION: How were the other members of Mr. Blake's household this evening when he was taken into custody?

TATREAU: The child care person was a little shaken, but she regrouped quickly and took care of the child. QUESTION: Who was that third man that was brought in at the same time Robert Blake was? It was an African-American man, also handcuffed. Is he material to this case?

TATREAU: No. He's an arrestee for another murder that we brought back from Kansas City. Just another case.

QUESTION: How about reaction of the Bakley family. Have you been I touch with the Bakley family?

TATREAU: I have. I'm sure the detectives have.

QUESTION: Everybody is asking, you know, it's been almost a year. Surely there must be some sensitivity on your part to be able to address the question of what happened, why now.

TATREAU: What happened, why now?

QUESTION: Why now? Why today? What happened after 11 months...

TATREAU: It had to happen some time. If it would have happened six months ago...


TATREAU: Well, that's true.

QUESTION: So why now?

TATREAU: As the chief said, because we got a warrant signed today.

QUESTION: Yes, but you understand what I'm asking. Were there 100 people you had to interview, and after you interviewed 100 you can say, OK, we can make an arrest orů

TATREAU: No, but it got -- you know, I will say this. The case got better and better, and it got better and better during the past couple of months.

QUESTION: And what changed? I know you can't talk about the specifics, but...

TATREAU: Things go your way.

QUESTION: Did people start talking or witnesses come forward?

QUESTION: Yes, qualify that a little bit.

TATREAU: Things go your way. You discover things. You might find a witness, you might establish a piece of evidence and, you know, things go your way.

QUESTION: Is Det. Ido (ph) related to Judge Ido (ph)?

TATREAU: No, he's not, but he knows him. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll take one more question.

QUESTION: Are there any eyewitnesses?


QUESTION: ... shortly after they announced that he was arrested, how can there be lying in wait? How could the strength of circumstance be made...

TATREAU: Well, we're going to discuss that with the D.A. We believe it's lying in wait. If that's your intent, and that's what you did that night, we think it's lying in wait. So we're going to talk to them about it.

Thank you very much.

BROWN: Jim Tatreau, the captain at Robbery/Homicide in Los Angeles, sparring a bit with reporters.

It struck me, at least, that everything important he had to say, he said in about the first 90 seconds. And we learn in those first 90 seconds a bit about the theory of the case that the Los Angeles police have developed against the actor Robert Blake.

He will be charged, if Los Angeles police get their way -- charging decisions are made by prosecutors, with one count of murder with special circumstances. Special circumstances here the code word, if you will, in the law, for a case that could be, though does not necessarily have to be, a capital case, a death penalty case. The special circumstance: lying in wait.

But the real clue, it seems to me, in the theory of the case, is in those other two counts. Two counts of solicitation of murder.

And so, Howard Weitzman in Los Angeles tonight, we appreciate your joining us.

It sounds to me like what they're going to allege is that -- first of all, it's nice to see you. And for those who have pulled out their old O.J. Simpson trivia books, you will remember Mr. Weitzman as the first lawyer Mr. Simpson had, all making tonight even odder, I guess. It's nice to see you, in any case.

It sounds like the theory of the case is he looked for somebody to kill his wife, couldn't find someone, so he did it himself.

HOWARD WEITZMAN, ATTORNEY: The theory kind of speaks for itself.

What I found interesting is that LAPD took the time to investigate it. They seem to be very confident. It seems they have witnesses who will talk about solicitation to kill Bonnie before the event took place.

So it seems to me that this is a case that the police department has taken the time to build. A little different from the case I was briefly involved in, the Simpson case.

BROWN: You know, Howard, just watching the news conference, you realize how annoying reporters are and how difficult the job of police detectives are.

On the one hand, if they charge him really early, then they're accused of rushing to judgment. And if they wait a year, they're accused of waiting too long. It's sort of damned if you do and damned if you don't.

WEITZMAN: Well, you know, it's a perfect example, Aaron, of the pressure the media puts on law enforcement in the way that they think is proper. I think they're still a little skittish from what happened in the Simpson case, which is understandable, because they, in my opinion, blew that case from beginning to end.

Here I think they want to be sure that they have the evidence, they have amassed the facts.

What I find unusual is that they keep giving you the impression they have not gone to the district attorney's office yet and discussed it with them. I find that hard to believe, and I would have hoped the district attorney's office would have been involved in the analysis and putting together the charges.

BROWN: Well, Howard, I wouldn't want that statement to have been put to a lie detector. It is inconceivable to me -- I'm not -- well, perhaps I am suggesting that was something less than the truth.

WEITZMAN: You were always tough.

BROWN: But fair. In any case, and certainly in a case that is going to get the kind of attention this one is going to get, there have been conversations between -- it's hard to believe they are not -- between prosecutors and the police about everything, timing and everything.

Howard, stay with us.




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