Actor Robert Blake has been found not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2001 killing of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.

Jurors, who reached their verdict on the eighth day of deliberations yesterday (16MAR05), also found the 71-year-old former BARETTA star not guilty of one count of soliciting someone else to kill his spouse.

But the panel deadlocked on a second solicitation of murder charge in the case, and the judge declared a hung jury, effectively dismissing that charge.

The actor heaved a deep sigh of relief, bowed his head and embraced his lawyer as the verdict was read. He later rubbed his eyes as if wiping away tears and lay his head on the defense table.

Blake, who faced a possible sentence of life in prison had he been convicted of murder, was accused of shooting Bakley to death in May 2001 in a car outside a Los Angeles restaurant where they had just dined.

The actor has steadfastly maintained his innocence in the death of his wife, who had been described by both sides in the case as a career con artist.

The actor has said his wife of just six months was a victim of her own chequered past - gunned down by an unknown assailant who emerged from the shadows at the moment Blake left her alone to retrieve a handgun he carried for their protection but had forgotten at the restaurant.

The .38-calibre revolver was not used to kill Bakley, and no eyewitnesses, blood or DNA evidence linked Blake to the crime.

The couple's child, ROSIE, now aged four, is being raised by Blake's adult daughter.

17/03/2005 03:03