In 2001, legendary actor Robert Blake became known for more than his roles in “In Cold Blood”and “Baretta.” He became the star suspect in a Los Angeles murder investigation that captivated the nation when he was arrested for the murder of his second wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. Blake was eventually acquitted and the murder was never solved. Now 18 years after the murder, Blake speaks to “20/20,” shedding new light on the case and reflecting on his past, storied acting career, relationship with Bonny and life now. “20/20” airs Friday, Jan. 11 (9:00 – 11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC.
“20/20” features new interviews with key players in the case, including Thomas Mesereau, legendary Los Angeles defense attorney who represented Blake; actors Elliott Gould and Gavin MacLeod, Blake’s Hollywood contemporaries; Margerry Bakley, Bonny’s sister; Eric Dubin, Bakley family lawyer and Bobby Stefanow, friend of Bonny’s. The documentary dives into footage from the ABC News archives, including the memorable jailhouse interview with Blake and ABC News anchor Barbara Walters, seen by more than 12 million viewers. The documentary also takes a closer look at Bonny and her romantic pursuit of numerous famous men, including Jerry Lee Lewis and Christian Brando, son of actor Marlon Brando.
On May 4, 2001, Bonny and Blake had dinner at Vitello’s in Studio City, California. After returning to their car, which was parked around the corner from the restaurant, Blake claims he realized he accidentally left his gun behind in the restaurant. While he went to retrieve it, Bonny remained in the car. When Blake returned, he says he found her shot in the head. Blake was immediately a suspect and after an almost year-long investigation, he was arrested and charged with her murder after two retired stuntmen claimed that Blake had attempted to hire them as hit men to kill his wife.
The gun that killed Bonny could not be traced, and there was no gunshot residue found on Blake’s hands following the murder. The prosecution tried to argue that Blake conspired to kill Bonny because he was angry at her and didn’t want her in their child’s life. In 2005, Blake was found not guilty. Bonny’s children filed a civil suit against Blake, in which he was found liable for her wrongful death and was ordered to pay them $30 million, which was later cut in half by an appeals court and then settled for an undisclosed amount.
The Blake documentary is part of eight weeks of two-hour “20/20” programming featuring brand-new interviews with key players in some of the biggest newsmaker stories in recent American history. Each documentary takes a look at these cases through a modern lens, challenges original perceptions and sheds new light on each story.
“20/20” is anchored by David Muir and Amy Robach. David Sloan is senior executive producer.