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Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Tough-guy actor Robert Blake was charged Monday with "personally and intentionally" shooting his wife to death after a dinner outing last year in a case that could bring the death penalty.

Besides murder, Blake was charged with solicitation of murder, conspiracy and the special circumstance of lying in wait. Under California law, a special circumstance gives prosecutors the option of seeking a death sentence - a decision they said has not been made in Blake's case.

Blake's bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, 46, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder what prosecutors said was a plot that began at least three months before the slaying. Among other things, Caldwell was accused of keeping a list of items needed for the hit, including duct tape, lye and shovels.

Both men pleaded innocent, saying nothing in court except when asked for their pleas.

Bonny Lee Bakley, 44, was shot to death last May as she sat in Blake's car outside a Los Angeles restaurant where the couple had just dined.

Blake, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of a detective in the 1970s TV show "Baretta," has said his wife was shot after he returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he accidentally left behind.

He was carrying weapon, he said, to protect Bakley from threats she received.

Prosecutors, however, said the 68-year-old actor fired the handgun that killed his wife.

They also say he planned the hit, asked two other people to kill Bakley and considered having her body buried in the desert. Blake allegedly checked out two remote places to kill Bakley - a tiny town outside Sequoia National Park and an Arizona community - in the weeks before the slaying next to a construction site.

In a criminal complaint, prosecutors said Blake drove Bakley to dinner at Vitello's, parking his car behind a trash bin a block away from the restaurant.

When the couple returned to the car, Bakley sat in the passenger seat. Prosecutors say Blake "lowered the windows, got out of the car" holding the keys and shot his wife twice with a 9mm handgun he later tossed in a trash bin.

Before the slaying, Blake asked two people to kill his wife and showed them a gun, the complaint said. In one case, Blake allegedly said that Caldwell "would have already dug holes for burial."

Prosecutors said the bodyguard, at Blake's request, kept a list of items for use in the murder that read: "2 shovels, small sledge, crowbar, 25 auto, 'get blank gun ready,' old rugs, duct tape, Draino, pool acid, lye, plant."

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Caldwell also allegedly accompanied Blake and Bakley on a trip in March 2001. The three visited Parker, Ariz., 240 miles east of Los Angeles, and Three Rivers, Calif., 160 miles north of the city.

On that trip, the complaint said without elaboration, "Defendant Caldwell, armed with a handgun, hid in bushes on the banks of a river and jumped out while defendant Blake and Bonny Lee Bakley were together."

Blake and Caldwell were arrested Thursday after a nearly yearlong investigation covering more than 900 items of evidence, more than 150 witnesses and police travel throughout the country.

Should the case go to trial, the defense is expected to focus on Bakley's past.

Blake married her after she gave birth to a child she initially said was fathered either by Blake or Christian Brando. DNA tests showed Blake was the father of the girl, who will turn 2 in June.

Blake's attorney has suggested there could be many suspects other than the actor because Bakley ran a mail-order business soliciting money from lonely men who answered her ads in magazines and newspapers.

Police contend that Blake had the most motive because he held Bakley in "contempt" and felt "trapped" in the marriage.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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