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Bakley Heirs File Suit Against Blake

Court: Their attorney will ask that the civil proceedings be delayed until criminal case is ended. Actor returns to courtroom Wednesday.

April 30, 2002|JEAN GUCCIONE and ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Bonny Lee Bakley's four children filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against actor Robert Blake and his bodyguard Monday, a week after both men were charged in her slaying.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified general and punitive damages. It was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Burbank five days before the first anniversary of Bakley's death.

Blake, 68, was arrested April 18 at his daughter's Hidden Hills home and charged last week with fatally shooting Bakley, 44, his wife of six months, near a Studio City restaurant.

He is being held without bail at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.

Attorney Barry Novack, who filed the suit, said he plans to ask a judge to halt civil proceedings until the criminal case is resolved.

"We don't want to do anything to impede or impair the criminal action," he said.

If Blake is convicted of a felony, Bakley's heirs could seek punitive damages, which can greatly increase the amount of a civil judgment, Novack said. It also would make the task of proving civil liability much easier.

Bakley was killed May 4, 2001, while she sat in Blake's car near Vitello's restaurant, where the couple had just eaten.

Blake, best known for his 1970s television series "Baretta," told authorities he had returned to the restaurant to retrieve his gun, which he said he had left there by mistake, when Bakley was shot.

He pleaded not guilty last week to murder, solicitation and conspiracy. His bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, 46, of Burbank pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and was released from jail Friday, after Blake posted his $1-million bail.

Both men are scheduled to appear in a Van Nuys courtroom Wednesday to set a date for a preliminary hearing.

The six-page civil complaint alleges that Bakley's children were deprived of their mother's love, companionship, guidance, protection and inheritance.

"She was a warm, caring and loving mother," Novack said. Bakley still helped support her grown children in Tennessee, paying their rent and buying them cars, he said.

Blake's defense attorney, Harland W. Braun, said he assumed Blake would be sued, but insisted his client is innocent.

"The fact is that he didn't kill her, so there will be no basis for [the lawsuit] at the end of the day," Braun said. "At this point, there isn't anything linking him to the gun, nothing on his clothing that would link him to the shooting and there's no witnesses to the shooting."

Blake married Bakley after a paternity test showed he had fathered her child.

Braun said prosecutors plan to show that Blake tried to hire two stuntmen who worked on "Baretta" to kill her. Braun said he will attack the stuntmen's credibility.

Suing for Bakley's heirs was Blanchard E. Tual, the court-appointed administrator of Bakley's estate in Shelby County, Tenn.

Bakley's known heirs are her four children, Glenn Paul Gawron, 22; Holly Lee Gawron, 21; and Jeri Lee Lewis, 8, all of Memphis; and Rose Lenore Sophia Blake, 1, of Hidden Hills.

Rose Blake, the daughter of Bakley and Robert Blake, is being cared for by Blake's oldest daughter, Delinah, 35. She was granted temporary guardianship after their father's arrest and is seeking permanent guardianship. She said in court papers that she has cared for Rose since she was 3 months old.

The Bakley family does not plan to contest Delinah Blake's court petition for guardianship, their attorney, Cary W. Goldstein said.

As one of Bakley's heirs, Rose Blake is automatically part of the wrongful-death suit, Novack said.

Margerry Bakley, Bonny's sister, defended her family's decision to sue Blake on behalf of Bonny's children.

"It has nothing to do with myself, my brother, my mother or anyone else," she said. "We can never replace their mother, but this may ease their lives a bit, help them through life a little."

In other developments, an autopsy report, reviewed by The Times on Monday, shows that Bakley was shot once in the right shoulder and again in the right cheek at an upward angle.

The document also found gunshot residue on both of Bakley's hands, which indicates she may have tried to protect herself.

In another report, the Los Angeles County coroner's office found gunshot residue on Blake's hands and clothing, but determined it could have come from a source other than the murder weapon.

"If Mr. Blake is in the environment of firearms, i.e., handles firearms on a regular basis, then these results could be the result of that contact,"' the coroner's report said.

Another forensic report found no fingerprints on the murder weapon, magazine or cartridge.

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