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'Baretta' Pair May Be Called to Testify

Crime: Blake's lawyer says two stuntmen on the prosecution's witness list will say that the actor attempted to hire them to kill his wife.

April 25, 2002|JEAN GUCCIONE and ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Prosecutors will try to prove that Robert Blake attempted to recruit two stuntmen from his 1970s television series, "Baretta," to kill his wife, his defense lawyer said Wednesday.

Attorney Harland W. Braun said both stuntmen are listed as prosecution witnesses against the actor and that part of his defense strategy will be to show that neither is credible.

"These kinds of witnesses are always suspect," he said. "If someone really solicited you for a murder, why didn't you call police?"

Blake has pleaded not guilty to fatally shooting 44-year-old Bonny Lee Bakley on May 4, 2001.

Braun said he learned about stuntmen Gary Raymond McLarty and Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton through a search warrant executed Friday at Blake's Hidden Hills home.

Braun also received 12 boxes of documents from prosecutors Monday.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office and Los Angeles Police Department declined to comment on possible witnesses.

"In order to protect the integrity of this investigation, the LAPD will neither at this time, nor any time in the future, be releasing details or names of those involved in the case," Sgt. John Pasquariello said in a statement Wednesday.

McLarty was a defense witness in another high-profile Hollywood trial involving the 1982 deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children on the "Twilight Zone" movie set. Braun represented director Jon Landis, who was acquitted.

A few years later in 1991, McLarty shot and killed a roommate at his Lake View Terrace home. Authorities ruled the shooting an act of self-defense because the roommate threatened to kill him.

Braun said the two stuntmen contend that Blake tried to hire them to kill Bakley.

The allegations are similar to those in a criminal complaint filed Monday against Blake and his bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, who were arrested April 18 in connection with the killing of Bakley in Studio City.

Braun said Los Angeles police looked for photographs of McLarty and Hambleton in the homes of Blake and Caldwell. Police searched both homes shortly after Bakley's killing and on Friday.

Blake, 68, pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of murder, soliciting murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He is being held without bail at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.

Caldwell, 46, pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder and is being held in lieu of $1-million bail.

In the criminal complaint, prosecutors Patrick R. Dixon and Gregory A. Dohi allege that Blake asked one person, whose identity was not revealed, to hide in Blake's van in a desert area and kill Bakley in March 2001.

The same month, Blake asked a second unidentified person to kill Bakley as she sat in a parked car near Bullhead City, Ariz., the complaint states.

Gary McLarty's wife, Karen McLarty, said Wednesday that her husband was reluctant to comment on the case before checking with detectives.

"He doesn't want to be bombarded by people," she said.

McLarty, 61, who was Morrow's stunt double in the "Twilight Zone" movie, testified at that trial that he personally warned Landis that the scene should be scaled down. The three victims were killed when a helicopter crashed during the filming of a battle scene.

Ronnie Rondell, a longtime stunt coordinator who often worked with McLarty over his four-decade career in Hollywood, described him as dedicated to his craft.

"In his prime, the man was a terrific stuntman," Rondell said. "He was an all-around talent. He did horses, fights and falls. He also was one of the very best drivers in the business."

Rondell said McLarty and Hambleton worked on several episodes of "Baretta" and that Blake was friendly with all the stunt people on the show.

"There were literally more than 100 stunt people that worked on the show," Rondell said.

Hambleton, 65, is awaiting trial next month in San Bernardino County on misdemeanor charges of exhibiting a firearm and resisting a police officer in 1999 in Victorville, according to district attorney and court records. He could not be reached for comment.

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Times staff writers Anna Gorman and Michael Krikorian contributed to this report.

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