In questioning a detective Wednesday, the attorney for accused wife killer Robert Blake suggested police were sloppy in handling evidence and in allowing an author to be present during a search of the actor's home.
Gerald Schwartzbach questioned James Gollaz, a member of the LAPD's renowned robbery/homicide unit, about his actions after the May 4, 2001, shooting death of Bonny Lee Bakley, 44. Bakley was killed as she sat in a car in Studio City, waiting for her husband to return from a restaurant where they had just dined.
Gollaz, whose job the next day was to collect Blake's clothing for gun shot residue testing, may have contaminated that evidence, Schwartzbach suggested. The detective acknowledged that he allowed all the clothing to be placed in an empty Xerox box taken from the police station.
Gollaz also testified that he did not remember asking Blake if he was wearing the same clothes that morning as he had the night of the murder. "I hoped and assumed it was the same clothing,'' Gollaz said. Under intense cross-examination, Gollaz acknowledged that he made no effort to separate the clothing, then kept the open box in the trunk of his police car over the weekend before taking the articles to be booked into evidence. Had GSR already been on the box, or in Gollaz's trunk, it may have been transferred to Blake's clothes, the attorney suggested. The detective's hands and trunk were never tested for GSR, Gollaz said.
But on redirect, Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels scoffed at the notion that GSR is transferred easily. "Does gun shot residue jump?'' she asked Gollaz. "I don't know,'' he responded. "You ever hear of it jumping?'' "No,'' he said.
According to coroner's reports, the GSR found on Blake's hands and clothing could have come from something other than the murder weapon. Schwartzbach also asked why ex-Los Angeles Times reporter and author Miles Corwin was present for the search at Blake's home in Studio City.
"Search warrants do not authorize private citizens to participate in the execution of searches in the private residences of persons, correct?'' he asked the detective. Gollaz said he was unsure about how the law pertained to observers.
At the time, Corwin was in the process of gathering material for Homicide Special: A Year with the LAPD's Elite Detective Unit, a book that chronicles the Bakley murder investigation, among other cases. Also testifying were three LAPD patrol officers who went to the crime scene soon after the homicide.
Officer Samer E. Issa described a "very emotional'' Blake who "was vomiting'' as the officer questioned him about the events of the evening. "Throughout the conversation he did mention his wife was in the illegal porn business and she had asked him to bring his gun....'' Issa said. Issa said Blake told him he had bought the gun for her protection because someone had tried to kill her two years earlier in Arkansas. Blake told him that when he remembered he had left the gun in Vitello's, an Italian restaurant where the actor and his wife had dined, he ran back to retrieve it, then returned to find Bakley, who "appeared to be sleeping with some blood coming out of her mouth.''
When Samuels asked Issa if he thought it strange that Blake volunteered that his wife worked in the porn industry, Schwartzbach objected and Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp struck the question from the record. Officers Walter Grant and Oswaldo Pedemonte recounted how they transported the witness Blake to the North Hollywood police station and were later instructed by their watch commander to put him in an 8-by-8 holding cell.
"He was very upset and panicked and I believe he told me he was claustrophobic and he couldn't be locked up in a small area,'' Grant said. The officers opened the door for Blake and an ambulance was requested. Paramedics left after checking Blake's blood pressure, the officers said.
Schwartzbach showed the officers an adult detention log from the night of the murder indicating Blake was held in the cell from about 11 p.m. to midnight. "That's a room where you routinely place suspects, correct?'' asked Schwartzbach. "One of many, yes,'' said Grant.
Blake is charged with murder and two counts of solicitation of murder. Prosecutors believe he killed his wife after having been turned down twice after asking others to do it. Earlier, a waitress who said she had served Blake "hundreds of times'' said the actor seemed to be "having a heart attack'' when he walked back into Vitello's after his wife was shot.
"His appearance had changed dramatically,'' Robyn Robichaux said. "It frightened me. I thought he was having a heart attack,'' Robichaux said. "He aged 50 years in 10 to 15 minutes.'' She said the "color had left (Blake's) face, he was white as a sheet, he looked like he was out of breath.'' Robichaux testified that she noticed nothing unusual about Blake's behavior during dinner. "You observed no animosity or hostility with Ms. Bakley when they were at the table?'' asked defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach. "No,'' she responded.
Also Wednesday, a busboy being trained at Vitello's the night of the killing testified that he never saw Blake re-enter the restaurant the night of the killing. But Ricardo Sida, then 15, acknowledged he was not paying much attention to who entered and left the restaurant. Sida did say that busboys were taught to check the floors below the tables while clearing. In his opening statements, Schwartzbach said Blake's gun fell onto the carpeted floor as Blake stood up to leave dinner.
"Part of the instruction you received was to check the floor?'' the prosecutor asked. "All the time, check the floor ...,'' Sida said. But Schwartzbach got Sida to acknowledge that he was just beginning his training at Vitello's the night of the murder and would not know whether those orders about checking the floor were always followed.