Jury selection for the murder trial of actor Robert Blake began a full month before the publicly announced date and while the court was telling news organizations that the process wouldn’t begin until next month, it was learned Thursday.
Jury selection began Monday and hundreds of prospects went through initial screening before it became publicly known that the process was under way. As late as Tuesday the Superior Court issued a statement to media advising that jury selection would begin Feb. 9.
“It was not a deliberate attempt to deceive anyone, particularly the media,” said Allan Parachini, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Superior Court. “There was some confusion that resulted, for which we apologize.”
Neither the court’s public information office nor the district attorney’s press office had been informed before jury selection began, spokespersons said.
Blake, the 70-year-old star of the old “Baretta” TV show, is accused of murdering his wife, 44-year-old Bonny Lee Bakley, on May 4, 2001. Free on bail, he could receive a life sentence if convicted.
Something was going on
Parachini said he learned Wednesday that something was going on in the case and found out that selection was under way when he went to the Van Nuys courthouse where the trial will be held.
Parachini said he believed it was done without public notice to protect prospective jurors’ identities.
“Blake has been quoted as alleging that there was the potential of several other parties who could have wanted Bonny Bakley dead,” Parachini said. “The implication is that ... those alleged parties might still be active, and we don’t want any juror to have an iota of fear that his or her safety will be in question if he or she serves on such a case.”
During trial, jurors will be identified only by three-digit numbers, he said.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers were on hand during the selection procedures. Blake spent several hours in the jury selection room Monday, court spokesman Kyle Christopherson said.
On Monday, about 200 prospective jurors were asked if it would be a hardship for them to take part in a trial that could last three to six months. A similar number were screened for hardship Thursday, and more were expected Friday.
On Thursday, 85 people who said they would be available for the trial went on to the next step, filling out questionnaires about their opinions on aspects of the case.
Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp ruled this week that the questions won’t be made public, Blake defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. said.
The jury selection process, intended to create a jury pool of 125 to 150 people, could continue until late next week, Christopherson said. Lawyers are scheduled to begin questioning prospective jurors on Feb. 17.