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Alleged Plot to Kill Wife Unfolds

A stuntman and the ex-girlfriend of Robert Blake's handyman testify about requests.

January 27, 2005|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Setting the stage for key testimony, a retired Hollywood stuntman told jurors Wednesday that he put Robert Blake in touch with two colleagues who later alleged the actor tried to hire them to kill his wife.

Roy "Snuffy" Harrison, who performed stunts for more than 30 years, testified at Blake's murder trial in Van Nuys that the actor never asked him to do anything illegal.

But he said that Blake asked for telephone numbers for stuntmen Gary McLarty and Ronald Hambleton, who was told by Harrison that "the buzzard" wanted him to call, referring to Blake.

The stuntmen are expected to give key testimony about Blake's alleged solicitations for murder. They could take the stand as early as next week.

Hambleton, 69, testified at the preliminary hearing that Blake asked him to "snuff" Bonny Lee Bakley, but did not discuss a price tag. McLarty, 63, testified that Blake told him he had devised four scenarios for "popping" his wife, including one similar to the actual crime. He said he refused Blake's offer of $10,000 to kill her.

Blake, 71, is charged with fatally shooting Bakley, 44, after they had dined at a Studio City restaurant on May 4, 2001.

In an attempt to discredit Hambleton and McLarty, defense lawyer M. Gerald Schwartzbach has said the two men were chronic drug abusers with impaired memories.

Jurors also heard Wednesday from an ex-girlfriend of Blake's handyman, Earle S. Caldwell, who prosecutors once alleged plotted with Blake to kill Bakley. Lisa Beth Johnson told jurors that a week before the killing, she received an unusual call at work from Caldwell, telling her he was going out of town.

Caldwell told her "he had to leave town, I couldn't ask any questions and he was going to San Francisco."

The day after Bakley's death, Caldwell called again asking Johnson to remove items from his Burbank apartment including a computer, personal papers and other items, explaining he expected police to search his apartment.

Prosecutors contend Caldwell was part of a plot to kill Bakley and bury her body in the desert. They cite a list -- including two shovels, a crowbar, old rugs, duct tape and swimming pool acid -- found in Caldwell's Jeep after the killing.

Caldwell was arrested in April 2002 and charged with conspiring with Blake to kill Bakley. Blake paid Caldwell's $1-million bail and bankrolled his defense.

But Superior Court Judge Darlene E. Schempp dismissed the conspiracy counts in October 2003, saying evidence presented by prosecutors "carries very little weight" toward proving Blake and Caldwell acted in concert.

In a pretrial hearing, Caldwell invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions.

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