Gary Susman
March 16, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

After nine days of jury deliberation — and nearly four years of legal maneuvering — the Robert Blake case ended Wednesday with the Baretta star’s acquittal in the May 2001 shooting death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. According to wire service reports, the 71-year-old actor heaved a sigh of relief, bowed his head, and wept upon hearing the verdict.

Blake had been married to Bakley, the 44-year-old mother of his daughter Rosie, for just six months when she was found dead in their car, parked not far from the Studio City restaurant where they’d just had dinner. Blake had said he’d returned to the restaurant to retrieve the gun he kept for protection while his wife waited in the car. It took nearly a year for a police investigation to lead to Blake’s arrest. He spent several months in jail before he was finally granted bail and released.

During the trial, the prosecution contended that Blake felt that Bakley, who had a history as a con artist, had trapped him into marriage by becoming pregnant, and that he considered her an unfit parent for Rosie. Prosecutors argued that Blake had killed Bakley himself after failing in his attempts to enlist some stuntmen acquaintances in a murder plot. The defense argued that Bakley’s past frauds had created a number of enemies who might have killed her, that Blake could not be tied to the murder weapon (found in a nearby Dumpster), and that no eyewitnesses, blood evidence, or DNA linked him to the crime. Blake’s attorneys also painted the stuntmen as unreliable witnesses with drug pasts.

The jurors agreed that Blake was not guilty of the charge of first-degree murder or a charge of soliciting someone else to kill Bakley, though they deadlocked on a second solicitation charge. The judge declared a hung jury on the latter charge, effectively dismissing it. Had he been convicted, Blake could have faced life in prison.

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