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BLAKE JUROR SPEAKS OUT PROSECUTION LOST CASE, FOREMAN SAYS.

Byline: Amy Raisin Darvish Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - Thirty-eight years to the day after Thomas Nicholson arrived in California, the English native spoke for the other 11 jurists Wednesday when he delivered the verdict that acquitted actor Robert Blake of murder.

Less than 24 hours after the jury acquitted the former ``Baretta'' star of murder and conspiracy, Nicholson, 66, reflected from his Santa Clarita home on the nearly three-month trial, the prosecution's failures and the credibility of witnesses.

``I believe the prosecution lost this case,'' Nicholson said Thursday from his patio overlooking a golf course in the retirement community of Friendly Valley. ``At no point could I find any circumstantial evidence that put the gun in Robert Blake's hand. Where were the facts that put the gun in that man's hand?''

Blake was accused of shooting his wife, 44-year-old Bonny Lee Bakley, on May 4, 2001, following dinner at Vitello's restaurant in Studio City. He also faced two counts of conspiracy, one of which the judge dismissed after the jury deadlocked, 11-1 in favor of acquittal.

Jurors - the panel consisted of seven men and five women - elected Nicholson foreman soon after jury selection ended. A U.S. citizen for nearly 12 years, Nicholson served on a jury once before, for a second-degree armed robbery trial.

The husband and father of three watched the media coverage of the verdict Wednesday night and was aware that the verdict would leave many cold. But the retired tool and die maker said he is confident that, considering the evidence presented at trial, the jury's verdict was just.

``Do I think he's innocent? I'll never know,'' Nicholson said. ``Did he 'get away with it?' No. What Robert Blake got was the true justice of the law. The law says (the prosecution must) prove beyond a reasonable doubt. This jury had reasonable doubt.''

That doubt was fueled, Nicholson said, by the testimony of two prosecution witnesses, former stuntmen Gary McLarty and Ronald Hambleton - each testified that Blake solicited him to kill Bakley. The defense was able to undermine both men by suggesting their past use of cocaine and methamphetamine could have made them delusional.

``McLarty, the man was so addled with drugs, he couldn't even remember,'' he said. ``Hambleton was a different story. Hambleton is a habitual liar. He was not a very credible witness. At that point, the prosecution's case was doomed.''

Adding to the jury's reasonable doubts was the evidence presented regarding Bakley's own troubles with the law - she had a record for mail fraud and had parted men from their money with promises of sex and nude photos of herself.

``If you look at the character of Bonny Lee Bakley, she scammed a helluva lot of people, a helluva lot of men,'' Nicholson said. ``There were many people who had reason to not like her. But what we (the jury) really looked at was some woman who was brutally murdered and shot in her car.''

After three months sharing a courtroom with Blake, Nicholson said the actor - known for his animated, outspoken and sometimes rambling statements, much like the one he gave outside the courthouse following his acquittal - was very reserved throughout the trial.

``It appeared to me that he was doing what he was told - stay clam, don't make gestures or react too much,'' Nicholson said. ``Only two times did I really see any emotion from him and both of those times involved Rosie.''

Rosie, now 4, is Blake's daughter with Bakley. Blake's adult daughter adopted the little girl after his arrest.

Amy Raisin Darvish, (661) 257-5254

amy.raisin(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Friendly Valley resident Thomas Nicholson holds a copy of Thursday's Daily News. Nicholson, the jury foreman in the Robert Blake murder trial, says the prosecution lost the case by offering no evidence that put the gun in the actor's hand.

(2 -- color) - Thomas Nicholson

Jury foreman in the Robert Blake murder trial

David Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 18, 2005
Words:663
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