Jesse James Hollywood Sentenced to Life in Prison without Parole

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Santa Barbara News Press - June 6, 2009

Defense takes aim at witness in Jesse James Hollywood trial : Attorney hints testimony follows help from Nicholas Markowitz's mother

June 6, 2009 7:14 AM

A defense attorney for alleged murder mastermind Jesse James Hollywood on Friday accused witness Graham Pressley of lying about Mr. Hollywood's involvement in the murder of Nicholas Markowitz to pay back the victim's mother for advocating for his release from prison.

Susan Markowitz, who reportedly twice attempted suicide after her son, Nicholas, 15, was murdered in the foothills of Santa Barbara in August 2000, attended both of Mr. Pressley's parole hearings and asked the parole board to release him from prison, despite the fact that he had dug the shallow grave in which her son's bullet-riddled, decomposing body was found.

"Susan Markowitz told me she hoped I learned (from the experience) and that I should lead a productive and happy life," Mr. Pressley said on the witness stand in Santa Barbara County Superior Court under cross examination by defense co-counsel Alex Kessel. That experience, as well as her apparent forgiveness of his crime, motivated him to speak as a witness against Mr. Hollywood and implicate him in the murder, Mr. Pressley said. It also motivated him, he testified, to come clean about some previous testimony, which he now admits included lies.

Mr. Kessel then asked the witness whether the real motivation for his about-face could be due to him making a deal with Mrs. Markowitz that she would testify on his behalf at his parole hearings if he would falsely testify against Mr. Hollywood. At one point, the defense attorney asked the now-married man whether he had made a deal with prosecutors to cooperate, before Superior Court Judge Brian Hill admonished him for asking an "improper question." The defense attorney also asked Mr. Pressley whether the presence of Mrs. Markowitz in the audience in the courtroom may have made him feel compelled to lie.

Mr. Pressley denied the suggestion.

During his two days of testimony, he has often portrayed himself as a reformed former drug dealer and habitual drug user who has deep remorse for his role in Nicholas' death.

Under redirect examination, prosecutor Josh Lynn, chief trial deputy of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office, asked Mr. Pressley, "Are you gonna lie because Susan Markowitz is in the audience?"

"No," Mr. Pressley said.

"Do you understand that if you lie, you could go back to prison?" Mr. Lynn continued. "How does that sound to you?"

"Horrible," he answered. "I'd been there."

Mr. Pressley, who was 17 at the time of Nicholas' murder, was tried as an adult, convicted of second-degree murder with the use of a firearm and sentenced as a juvenile. He is free after serving six years with the California Youth Authority.

Nicholas Markowitz, 15, was kidnapped near his west San Fernando Valley home on Aug. 6, 2000, allegedly over a drug debt owed to Mr. Hollywood by Nicholas' older half-brother, Ben Markowitz.

Nicholas was brought to Santa Barbara, where he spent three days partying with his captors at various private residences and the Lemon Tree Inn on upper State Street before he was shot to death on Aug. 9, 2000. His body was found Aug. 13, 2000, in a hiking area off West Camino Cielo.

Mr. Hollywood, who was 20 at the time of Nicholas' murder, is accused of first-degree murder and kidnapping, with special circumstances that could make him eligible for the death penalty. The defendant, who eluded authorities for five years before he was captured in Brazil in 2005, is accused of ordering his associates to kidnap and kill Nicholas.

In addition to Mr. Pressley, three other co-defendants have already been convicted in connection with the case. The shooter, Ryan Hoyt, sits on California's death row at San Quentin State Prison, and Jesse Rugge, who was convicted of kidnapping for ransom or extortion, was sentenced to seven years to life in prison. William Skidmore, who was in the van used to spirit Nicholas off to Santa Barbara, pleaded guilty to kidnapping and robbery and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

On the witness stand on Friday, Mr. Pressley said that several days after Nicholas' body was found, which he learned about after reading the Santa Barbara News-Press, he lied to police about his involvement in the crime and denied digging the teen's grave. As to why he lied, he replied, "I'm not sure."

Mr. Pressley told Mr. Kessel that he finally told the truth about his role during a polygraph test interview, which was played in court on Wednesday and Friday.

On the tape, Mr. Pressley said that on the day Nicholas was killed, Mr. Rugge told him to show Mr. Hoyt the hiking spot where Nicholas was shot and buried. Mr. Pressley then accompanied Mr. Hoyt, who had a gun in a duffle bag, to the hiking spot and made him dig the grave.

"He said, 'Start digging if you know what's good for you,' " Mr. Pressley recalled, adding that he believed the grave might be for him.

He then accompanied Mr. Hoyt back to the Lemon Tree, and they picked up Mr. Rugge and Nicholas. Mr. Pressley said he stayed behind while Mr. Hoyt, Mr. Rugge and Nicholas went up to the trail. He soon realized that the grave he dug was not for him and that they were going to kill the teen.

"How many shots did you hear?" the polygraph examiner asked Mr. Pressley on the tape.

"It sounded like one continuous machine gun," he said.

After Mr. Rugge and Mr. Hoyt returned to the car, the duo said to each other, "That's the first one I ever did. I didn't know it was gonna go that fast," Mr. Pressley said on the tape.

Mr. Hoyt also warned him to "be cool for your own safety," said Mr. Pressley, adding that he never tried to run from the hiking spot, which he knew well, because he was afraid Mr. Hoyt might find him later.

Mr. Pressley said on Friday that Mr. Rugge had told him that Mr. Hollywood offered him $2,000 to kill Nicholas, but Mr. Rugge assured him that it wouldn't happen.

"I had the impression that Jesse (Rugge) was asked to kill Nicholas for money," he said.

Mr. Kessel accused Mr. Pressley of blaming his client for allegedly ordering Nicholas' murder in order to absolve his own role in the crime and pass blame onto someone else.

"Isn't it true you'd implicate anyone just to save yourself?" Mr. Kessel asked him.

Mr. Pressley denied the accusation, adding that Mr. Rugge had told him that Mr. Hollywood "was violent and had guns."

After the jury left the courtroom for the day on Friday, Mr. Kessel asked Judge Hill to declare a mistrial. The defense attorney said that some of Mr. Pressley's testimony concerning his client is based on hearsay and only on his "impressions" of Mr. Hollywood.

Judge Hill denied the request, however, telling Mr. Kessel that he will have ample opportunity to cross-examine the witness, and that it's not unreasonable for Mr. Pressley's memory of all the events to be faulty, as the murder took place nearly nine years ago.

Mr. Kessel then asked Judge Hill to strike the testimony of Ben Markowitz, who is expected to testify at the trial early next week. Ben Markowitz, he said, won't make a reliable witness, as his testimony will show that he allegedly extorted money from people to pay for his drug habit.

Judge Hill denied that request as well.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. on Monday, when Mr. Pressley will again take the witness stand.


Witness barred from contacting Hollywood family

By COLBY FRAZIER -- June 10, 2009

Superior Court Judge Brian Hill yesterday barred Ben Markowitz, the older brother of a 15-yeear-old boy who was murdered in 2000, from contacting any members of defendant Jesse James Hollywood's family.

Hollywood's defense attorneys told the judge yesterday morning that Markowitz contacted the defendant's father, Jack Hollywood, on Monday while waiting to testify.

Hill urged prosecutors, who called Markowitz to the witness stand yesterday in Hollywood's capital murder trial, to keep tabs on the man.

"Markowitz can't have contact with any Hollywoods outside," the judge said.

Santa Barbara County Chief Trial Deputy Josh Lynn, the lead prosecutor, said Markowitz's intent wasn't to "pick a fight" with Jack Hollywood.

"I don't want the court to be overly concerned about his intentions," Lynn said.


Slain boy's brother takes witness stand

By COLBY FRAZIER -- June 10, 2009

Nine years after his 15-year-old little brother was shot to death in the Santa Barbara foothills, Ben Markowitz yesterday came face to face with the man who prosecutors say masterminded the boy's kidnapping and murder.

Wearing dark blue jeans, a black sport coat and white collared shirt, Ben Markowitz appeared little like the neo-Nazi, drug dealing thug he's often portrayed as.

But he didn't hold back while telling the jury who he was in 1999 and 2000, just before Nicholas Markowitz was killed, allegedly over a $1,200 drug debt owed by Ben Markowitz to the defendant, Jesse James Hollywood.

"I was a fu--ing dickhead," Ben Markowitz said after he acknowledged he was a tough guy, and was asked to define that. "I walked around with a chip on my shoulder and if you looked at me sideways, I'd kick your ass."

Prosecutors say Hollywood orchestrated the murder of Nicholas Markowitz to cover up the boy's kidnapping. If convicted he faces the death penalty.

A one-time friend of Hollywood's, Ben Markowitz outlined how he dealt drugs for the defendant, obtaining two pounds of marijuana each week, and paying for it each Friday.

Ben Markowitz said Hollywood's father, Jack Hollywood, supplied his son with marijuana.

But it wasn't Hollywood's marijuana dealing operation that sunk Ben Markowitz into debt and ultimately destroyed the duo's relationship. Rather, it was several thousand dollars worth of ecstasy.

Ben Markowitz, now 30, said he came upon the ecstasy after accompanying Hollywood to San Diego to collect a drug debt from another man. He said he offered to "help" Hollywood collect the money because the San Diego man was his friend.

The two drove to San Diego in Hollywood's black Mercedes Benz, a baseball bat and a roll of duct tape in tow, Ben Markowitz said. When the San Diego man was confronted, he mentioned knowing an ecstasy dealer.

Ben Markowitz said he quickly hatched a scheme to steal ecstasy from the dealer, which would clear the debt of his friend and make Hollywood happy.

Ben Markowitz said he and Hollywood drove to meet the drug dealer, and when he passed over the drugs, the two sped away without paying.

With his friend's debt erased, Ben Markowitz, who said the ecstasy was worth $2,000 to Hollywood but could be sold for $4,000, saw "dollar signs" and offered to take the drugs on loan and sell them. However, the drugs turned out to be bad and couldn't be sold.

As a result, Ben Markowitz said he returned to Hollywood with only $600. After borrowing $200 from his father, Ben Markowitz had paid the debt down to $1,200, but he said Hollywood wanted the remainder.

The incident with the ecstasy pills took place sometime in late 1999, Ben Markowitz said, but his intent to pay the remainder of his debt went south after Hollywood stiffed his waitress girlfriend for a restaurant bill, writing on a napkin that she could take the value of the bill off her boyfriend's tab.

Up to this point, Ben Markowitz said he believed he was Hollywood's friend.

While being questioned by Santa Barbara County Chief Trial Deputy Josh Lynn, Ben Markowitz didn't deny that after the restaurant incident he left Hollywood a telephone message and "definitely" used strong language, and "definitely" threatened him.

"I told him that he was a little fu--ing punk and that he wasn't getting a dime from me," he said.

Hollywood's friend, William Skidmore, who pleaded guilty to kidnapping in the case and was released from prison earlier this year, returned Ben Markowitz's message with threats of his own, the witness said.

Ben Markowitz said he didn't respond to the messages because he was engaged to his girlfriend and was trying to stay out of trouble.

But shortly after moving into an apartment in Northridge, Ben Markowitz said he spotted Hollywood and Ryan Hoyt (the man who shot Nicholas Markowitz and was sentenced to death) standing outside his apartment. Ben Markowitz said he kept driving, came home later, packed his bags and moved out the following day.

Up to this point Ben Markowitz said he'd restricted his threats to Hollywood, but broadened the scope to include the defendant's family after seeing the men waiting at his apartment.

I said, "I knew where he lived, I knew where his family lived and if he wanted to play that game I could, too," Ben Markowitz said.

In the days leading up to Nicholas Markowitz's kidnapping, the front window of Hollywood's home was broken out by Ben Markowitz and Hollywood's dog was poisoned, though the elder Markowitz denied harming the animal. 

When he was on good terms with Hollywood, Ben Markowitz said the two had picked Nicholas Markowitz up early from school. He said Nicholas Markowitz had been to Hollywood's home, which was a half-mile from the Markowitz household in the San Fernando Valley, on three different occasions.

Nicholas Markowitz was kidnapped on Aug. 6, 2000 while walking in a park near his parent's home. Prosecutors say Hollywood, William Skidmore and Jesse Rugge were driving in a white utility van when they spotted the boy. The three men got out, beat Nicholas Markowitz up, and then threw him into the van, according to testimony in the case. Rugge was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison.

Nicholas Markowitz had left home a short time before his kidnapping, and just had recently had a falling out with his parents over suspected drug use.

Indeed, Ben Markowitz testified that he had smoked marijuana with his little brother and given him valium pills to sell. Still, he said he urged his brother, whom he said was "aspiring" to be a "tough guy" like him, to take another path.

Asked how he felt about giving his brother drugs to sell, Ben Markowitz said: "If my brother wouldn't have been killed it would be something we'd be laughing about right now."

Shortly after seeing Hollywood in front of his apartment, Ben Markowitz said he bought a small-caliber handgun for protection. He said Hollywood had accumulated a number of guns since he'd known him, including the semi-automatic Tec-9 handgun that Hoyt used to kill Nicholas Markowitz. At one time Ben Markowitz said he held this gun.

After hearing his brother was missing, Ben Markowitz said he tried to call Hollywood, but the calls, which he said were "non-confrontational" weren't returned.

The witness said he resumed his tough-guy lifestyle shortly after his brother was killed, and served a year-long prison sentence for attempted robbery.

After his release, Ben Markowitz said he assaulted Casey Sheehan, the man whose car was used to transport Nicholas Markowitz to the Lizard's Mouth hiking area, where the boy was shot and buried in a shallow grave.

Just as Ben Markowitz started to explain why he confronted Sheehan, Hollywood's defense team objected, and court was adjourned for the day.

Natasha Adams-Young, who hung out with Nicholas Markowitz during his two-day stay in Santa Barbara, completed her testimony yesterday.

During questioning by Deputy District Attorney Hans Almgren, Adams-Young was reminded about remarks she made to police in 2000, when she apparently told authorities someone had told her that Nicholas Markowitz wouldn't be returned until his older brother paid Hollywood.

However, Adams-Young said she couldn't remember making the statement, and while being cross-examined by Hollywood's defense attorney, Alex Kessel, said she never heard anyone say Nicholas Markowitz was being held for money.

Asked if she had any guilt about Nicholas Markowitz's killing, Adams-Young, who was never charged in connection to the killing and said she grew emotional at times in the lead-up, demanding to know when the boy would go home, said she does.

"I feel bad that I couldn't do anything to stop it," she said.

Asked by Kessel if she did anything to stop it, Adams-Young said, "no."

The trial resumes in Judge Brian Hill's Dept. 14 courtroom today at 9 a.m.


Cool customer: Graham Pressley (right) didn't let several days of grueling testimony on the stand get to him. The then-teenager was implicated in the murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz, and his recent testimony has been the most significant to date against Jesse James Hollywood.


Jesse James Hollywood leaving the courthouse Friday June 6, 2009 and Ben Markowitz enters the courthouse Monday June 8, 2009


Accomplice on the Stand

Convicted--but Freed--Conspirator Testifies Against Hollywood
Thursday, June 11, 2009
By Chris Meagher (Contact), Amy Silverstein (Contact)

Cool, calm and collected, Graham Pressley -- one of three conspirators thus far convicted in the murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz -- sat on the stand for three days as he fielded questions first from prosecutor Josh Lynn and then defense counsel Alex Kessel, who is representing Jesse James Hollywood, alleged to have kidnapped and then ordered the murder of Markowitz in August 2000. Hollywood is potentially facing the death penalty if found guilty of Markowitz's kidnapping and murder.

Pressley, the most significant witness to date, recounted the events leading up to and following the murder of Markowitz almost a decade ago. He was clearly a different Pressley than the 17-year-old boy who appeared in an interview videotaped in 2000 and played in court Friday and Monday, in which he could often be seen rubbing his face and scratching his scalp. "If I've got one hand going, it's nervous," recalled a wide-eyed, soft-spoken Pressley upon viewing the tape of his younger self. "If I got both going, it's really nervous."

He recounted being intoxicated and terrified when Ryan Hoyt, who was later convicted for shooting Markowitz to death, made Pressley direct him to Lizard's Mouth, a hiking area in the foothills above Santa Barbara, and forced Pressley to dig a shallow grave there. At that point, Pressley said, he thought the grave he was digging was his own because of what he knew about the alleged kidnapping. (The defense is attempting to show it wasn't a kidnapping, and that Markowitz was free to leave at any time.) Yet Pressley didn't think about trying to fight Hoyt or even running away, he said.

Eventually the two left and later returned, this time with Jesse Rugge -- currently serving life behind bars for murder and kidnapping -- and Markowitz. The group started walking down the trail, but when Pressley realized what was happening, he said, he could go no further. The three others continued walking ahead of him, with Markowitz leading the pack and not talking or protesting. Twenty minutes later Pressley heard a "rapid succession of gunshots." Pressley said he could have easily run but wasn't able to think rationally. Rugge and Hoyt then hurriedly ran into the car with Pressley, and Hoyt threatened to kill him if he told anyone what he had seen.

While defense co-counsel clearly flustered several previous witnesses during cross-examination and seemed to successfully discredit much of what they were saying during their testimony, Pressley never seemed to get frazzled on the stand. At times he even seemed to be under Kessel's skin.

Kessel asked if Pressley got into the car voluntarily or unwillingly, but Pressley frustrated Kessel by using neither of those words, instead insisting that he acted out of fear. Kessel also asked Pressley if he intended to hurt Markowitz, and Pressley explained that, while he didn't, he also understood that "being afraid to do something is not a defense for murder."

"Can you just answer the question?" yelled Kessel, who was stopped by Judge Brian Hill for badgering the witness.

Pressley, a fourth-generation Santa Barbaran, saw his first trial end in a hung jury. In a subsequent trial in 2002 a second jury found him guilty of second-degree murder as an adult, though he was sentenced as a minor. He was released by the California Youth Authority in 2007 at age 25.

Days prior to the murder, when Pressley and Rugge were alone, Pressley testified, Rugge said that Hollywood was "crazy" and had offered him $2,000 to kill Markowitz. Lynn asked why Pressley didn't tell the victim or any law enforcement personnel about this potential threat. Pressley responded that he made the "very selfish" decision to keep quiet because he smoked marijuana every day and "didn't want to interact with law enforcement."

Kessel alleged Pressley had to change his story when he realized people had witnessed him walking toward the scene.

Friday during cross-examination, Kessel attempted to have Pressley admit he was more than just a pawn in the murder, but Pressley retorted, "I was doing what I was told." Throughout the testimony, Pressley admitted that, in earlier trials and interrogations, he had not provided entirely accurate information. When Kessel confronted him on that point, Pressley said that he could not remember why he had lied. Initially, for instance, he told authorities he never got out of the car. But at trial he said he stopped on the trail while walking to Lizard's Mouth. Kessel alleged Pressley had to change his story when he realized people had witnessed him walking toward the scene.

Then Kessel attempted to call into question Pressley's relationship with Susan Markowitz, the victim's mother, who had attended Pressley's probation hearings and spoken in support of his release. Pressley has called her involvement in his new life a great "motivator" for his testimony in the Hollywood case. He did not deny it, explaining to Kessel, "If that's what I said, then I stand by it."

Tuesday, the deceased's half brother, Ben Markowitz, took the stand. The prosecution is attempting to show that a feud between Ben Markowitz and Hollywood led to the kidnapping. Ben Markowitz said he started dealing marijuana for Hollywood sometime in 1999. Hollywood would give him one to two pounds of marijuana, which he would sell in ounces, making enough money to pay Hollywood back and keep profit for himself.

It was a debt of $1,200 that began to come between the two, Markowitz said. It initially wasn't a huge deal, he testified, until Hollywood much later stiffed his girlfriend -- a waitress at a brewery -- on a tab and wrote on the check to take the amount owed off Markowitz's debt. From there an argument between Markowitz and Hollywood's crew escalated, with threats back and forth over the phone and Markowitz at one point breaking the windows of Hollywood's home.

"I walked around with a chip on my shoulder," he told the court. "If someone looked at me sideways, I'd kick his ass."

Clean-cut and dressed cleanly in a striped white shirt and black sports coat, he looked much different than the person he described he was back then. "I walked around with a chip on my shoulder," he told the court. "If someone looked at me sideways, I'd kick his ass." Markowitz wasn't afraid of Hollywood, and at one point threatened his family, intimidating behavior that will no doubt be used by the defense to show that, in fact, Hollywood lived in great fear of Markowitz.

It was during the time of this friendship that Markowitz said he not only saw the firearm used to kill his step-brother but even held the gun in his hand. Shown a photo of the weapon, Markowitz began to get emotional on the stand, taking a moment to keep from crying.

Susan Markowitz, Nicholas's mother and Ben's stepmother, also began crying in the audience during his testimony. His father, Jeff, though wanting to be in the courtroom, has not been allowed to sit through the proceedings because he is on the witness list.

Markowitz was expected to be cross-examined Wednesday in Department 14.


Dueling theories arise in murder trial

By COLBY FRAZIER -- June 12, 2009

Convicted murderer Graham Pressley took the witness stand in the capital murder trial of Jesse James Hollywood last week and delivered a stream of testimony that closely traced the statements he made from the witness stand during his own murder trial in 2002.

Many things, however, were different. Like the judge, for instance, who was elected days after Pressley's trial began. But for some, especially Hollywood's defense team, the most glaring difference between now and 2002 was the way prosecutors dealt with the witness.

According to media accounts of Pressley's 2002 trial, the prosecutor at that time, Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen, fiercely attacked Pressley's credibility and argued that the man was lying about his involvement in the execution-style murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz.

But over a four-day period last week, Santa Barbara County Chief Trial Deputy Josh Lynn, the prosecutor assigned to the Hollywood case, called Pressley to the stand and rarely, if ever, challenged his witness's perspective.

Once considered a liar by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office, prosecutors, at least so far, appear to be using Pressley's testimony as a key piece of the puzzle in the long-fought effort to prosecute Hollywood, the man they say orchestrated Nicholas's murder.

Far from accusing Pressley of being a liar, prosecutors, after accusations from Hollywood's attorneys that the witness was lying, repeatedly pointed out that they had implored him to tell the truth. When asked by Lynn if he was telling the truth, Pressley answered, "absolutely."

On more than one occasion during Pressley's recent testimony, Hollywood's defense attorneys, James Blatt and Alex Kessel, objected to the prosecution's seemingly new approach, saying the characterization of Pressley as a liar in one trial, and making him out as a truth teller in another, flirts "dangerously close" to a complicated legal theory known as judicial estoppel, or inconsistent theories.

While this theory could well be cited in an appeal as grounds for a mistrial, local defense attorney Joe Allen said he doubts it would get anywhere. Still, in this case, he said it raises an interesting ethical question about what prosecutors say to get a conviction in one case, and later in another.

"The government can't take one position in one case and then take the opposite position in another case where the government is basically arguing against itself and arguing that something is both true and not true," Allen said, "because the government is supposed to act with integrity and take positions they believe in and maintain them."

During Pressley's trial in October of 2002 (he was tried in July of that year but the jury couldn't settle on a verdict), the witness, then 19, said he led the shooter, Ryan Hoyt, to a hiking area off West Camino Cielo Road known as Lizard's Mouth.

Saying he feared for his life, Pressley admitted to digging the boy's makeshift grave. He said he knew Hoyt had a TEC-9 semi-automatic pistol, and when Hoyt told him to "dig if you know what's good for you," Pressley went to work. Hours later, Hoyt fired nine bullets into Nicholas's body with the TEC-9.

In his trial and Hollywood's, Pressley recalled how at the time, he believed he was digging his own grave. He also said during his trial that when he returned to the hiking area in the early morning hours of Aug. 9, 2000, he refused to accompany his friend Jesse Rugge, Hoyt and Nicholas to the grave site.

In a Santa Barbara News-Press story about the trial, Pressley is quoted as saying he was "paralyzed with fear."

But Zonen vehemently argued otherwise. In his closing statements, the prosecutor, who up to that point had successfully prosecuted Hoyt and Rugge, told the jury, despite Pressley's testimony, that the "most significant act was leading Nick Markowitz to his grave."

According to the News-Press story, Zonen argued that Hoyt couldn't have possibly found his way back to the grave site in the middle of the night without Pressley's help.

"He wasn't acting like someone who was scared," Zonen is quoted as saying. "He behaved like a full-fledged member of this enterprise. He was not experiencing fear, except perhaps the fear of getting caught."

Zonen is also quoted as saying: "The reasonable explanation is that [Pressley] was escorting them up there to accomplish this crime. The unreasonable explanation is that he was an unwilling participant."

Although Pressley was tried as an adult, then Superior Court Judge William Gordon, saying he felt the defendant's involvement was less than others, sentenced the boy as a juvenile to five years in a youth detention facility. Zonen requested a sentence of 18 years to life.

The prosecution's recent handling of Pressley is so different from during his own trial, one person familiar with both cases joked that Hollywood's defense, when it came to questioning Pressley, plagiarized Zonen.

Indeed, Kessel, who peppered Pressley with questions and was warned on one occasion by Superior Court Judge Brian Hill to stop "badgering" the witness, appeared intent to pick Pressley apart. In some cases, Kessel did just as Zonen did, attempting to discredit Pressley by highlighting inconsistencies with his current testimony and things he said during early police interviews.

At one point Kessel said: "You probably watched him pull that trigger, didn't you?"

Pressley, as he's always maintained, said he wasn't present when Nicholas was killed.

For the most part, the only thing that appears to have stayed the same over the years, in reference to Pressley, is his testimony.

Due to a gag order, neither the prosecution nor the defense can speak about the case.

While it remains to be seen if the defense's inconsistent theories claim will be a factor in the future, Allen said the prosecution might well have a good reason for changing its tone with Pressley.

The most obvious, he said, is that something in the last six years since his conviction has led prosecutors to believe Pressley was and is telling the truth. This alone would be enough to justify making a U-turn, Allen said.

"Now, they may have good reason to believe that most, if not all of what Pressley is saying is true," he said, adding that if this is the case, the defense's claims of inconsistent theories won't gain traction. "It's going to make an interesting legal argument for a few minutes, but I don't know if it will go much farther than that."

Hollywood's trial resumes in Hill's Dept. 14 courtroom today at 9 a.m. If convicted, Hollywood could face the death penalty.


Markowitz Brother Spars With Defense Attorneys

Brother of Deceased Could Be Pivotal Witness in Hollywood Trial

Friday, June 12, 2009
By Amy Silverstein (Contact)

Loud, alert, and self-assured, witness Ben Markowitz fielded attacks on his character during the Jesse James Hollywood trial on Wednesday. In August 2000, the witness' 15-year old half brother Nicholas Markowitz was allegedly kidnapped by a group of people who Ben dealt drugs with. The victim partied with his captors, giving witnesses the impression that he was free to leave. However, he was murdered three days later in the foothills of Santa Barbara. The prosecution alleges that Hollywood is the mastermind of the crime, even though he was not present for the actual murder. If found guilty, Hollywood faces the death penalty.

Ben Markowitz is a key witness for the prosecution, as he provides a motive for Hollywood to order the kidnapping and murder of Nicholas. In his direct examination Tuesday, Ben Markowitz had told prosecuting attorney Joshua Lynn that he became friends with Hollywood in 1999 after buying marijuana from him. Months later, Markowitz owed Hollywood $1,200 for ecstasy pills that didn't work. After refusing to pay his debt, the friendship deteriorated. Months later, after leaving each other a series of angry voicemails, Markowitz spotted Hollywood waiting outside his home. Markowitz had never given the defendant his address, and he took his presence as a threat. He responded by purchasing a gun, moving out, and leaving Hollywood another voicemail, in which he claims to have said, "Yeah, you know where I live, but I know where you live too, motherfucker."

Markowitz Brother Spars With Defense Attorneys

Brother of Deceased Could Be Pivotal Witness in Hollywood Trial
Friday, June 12, 2009
By Amy Silverstein (Contact)
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Loud, alert, and self-assured, witness Ben Markowitz fielded attacks on his character during the Jesse James Hollywood trial on Wednesday. In August 2000, the witness' 15-year old half brother Nicholas Markowitz was allegedly kidnapped by a group of people who Ben dealt drugs with. The victim partied with his captors, giving witnesses the impression that he was free to leave. However, he was murdered three days later in the foothills of Santa Barbara. The prosecution alleges that Hollywood is the mastermind of the crime, even though he was not present for the actual murder. If found guilty, Hollywood faces the death penalty.

Ben Markowitz is a key witness for the prosecution, as he provides a motive for Hollywood to order the kidnapping and murder of Nicholas. In his direct examination Tuesday, Ben Markowitz had told prosecuting attorney Joshua Lynn that he became friends with Hollywood in 1999 after buying marijuana from him. Months later, Markowitz owed Hollywood $1,200 for ecstasy pills that didn't work. After refusing to pay his debt, the friendship deteriorated. Months later, after leaving each other a series of angry voicemails, Markowitz spotted Hollywood waiting outside his home. Markowitz had never given the defendant his address, and he took his presence as a threat. He responded by purchasing a gun, moving out, and leaving Hollywood another voicemail, in which he claims to have said, "Yeah, you know where I live, but I know where you live too, motherfucker."

This is the voicemail the defense has been referencing multiple times throughout the trial, using it to claim that Markowitz threatened the whole Hollywood family. Markowitz's account of the voicemail is not nearly as threatening as the defense previously suggested, because, according to the witness, no specific members of the Hollywood family were mentioned. In his cross-examination on Wednesday, defense attorney James Blatt did not press Markowitz about the voicemail. Instead, he attacked Markowitz's character. As a result, many of his questions were deemed irrelevant by Judge Brian Hill.

Markowitz, who said he blames himself for the murder, wore a suit to the trial and called himself different person, but was also completely shameless in revealing his criminal record to the jury, not shying away from correcting Blatt on his criminal history and gang trivia. Blatt began his cross-examination by asking the witness about a robbery he committed in December 2000. "Which time? There were two," Markowitz responded. "If you read [the police report] clearly, there's two instances." At one of them, Markowitz, who said he blames himself for his stepbrother's murder, and a friend robbed a man and a woman of their drugs at gun point. He then had the victims remove their clothes "to embarrass them," Markowitz said.

Blatt also asked Markowitz about his gang lifestyle, and if he associated with a gang called the Peckerwoods. Markowitz said that he did associate with gangs, but that the Peckerwoods are not a gang. "Can I explain what a Peckerwood is, so you know what it is?" asked the witness.

"You don't ask the questions," said Judge Hill.

Blatt even attacked the witnesses' fighting style, implying that he was a coward. "Breaking windows, isn't that a little juvenile?" he asked. Blatt was referring to a time when Markowitz said he smashed the windows at Hollywood's home, before his brother was kidnapped. "That's your idea of toughness... You didn't want to confront anybody there?" said Blatt.

"No, that's not the answer. I didn't want to go to jail," Markowitz said.

At one point, Blatt asked Markowitz about his love life. "Did you treat your girlfriend as a gentleman?" The question was immediately deemed irrelevant by Judge Hill, but Blatt continued to press the issue after Markowitz responded, "Yes."

"You sure about that?" said Blatt.

Blatt began to ask about an incident from earlier in the week, when the witness appeared at his office. Hill and Lynn immediate stepped in to stop the question. Blatt argued that he should be allowed to talk about it, because Markowitz's presence constituted intimidation.

"No it doesn't. There's no intimidation. Mr. Blatt, that's inappropriate," said Hill.

Blatt's only success with Markowitz had to do with memory. At this trial, Markowitz said that he never remembered seeing Hollywood's Tec-9 gun at Ryan Hoyt's house. Hoyt is currently on death row for shooting Nicholas Markowitz nine times with the weapon. But in a police report from August 14, 2000, Ben Markowitz had said that he did see the gun at Hoyt's house. The witness said that he was not lying at the trial, but that his memory simply failed him. His memory may be affected by drug use. Markowitz admitted that, during that time, he was taking around 12 to 15 Valium pills per day. Nonetheless, Blatt tried to force the witness to pinpoint the exact month that his feud with Hollywood began. Blatt's goal was to catch Markowitz lying about the date his father wrote a check to Hollywood. "The dates are very unclear to me, I can't express that enough. The facts are true," Markowitz said.

On Friday at 9 a.m., Lynn will continue his direct examination of Casey Sheehan. Hollywood had borrowed Sheehan's car during the time of the kidnapping.


Seems like San Quentin is starting to loom large for old Jesse James.


Hollywood's Friend on the Stand

Witness Tells of Events Surrounding Murder, Judge Deems Testimony Defense-Friendly
Sunday, June 14, 2009
By Allison M. Jones, Drew Mackie

Testimony in the murder trial of Jesse James Hollywood -- accused of orchestrating the shooting death of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz in August 2000 -- continued on Friday with testimony from Casey Sheehan, a Los Angeles-area associate of Hollywood as well as many other people whose names have popped up so far. Hollywood could face the death penalty if found responsible for Markowitz's death.

As with man other witnesses so far, memory proved to be a complicating factor for Sheehan and the lawyers who directed questions to him. Prosecutor Josh Lynn, who interrogated Sheehan first, repeatedly had to refer to previous accounts of the event surrounding the murder -- including those recording in previous testimony and interviews with investigators -- in order to jog his memory.

Sheehan had little trouble, however, identifying the three people featured in a video that Lynn played on Friday morning. The clip features Ryan Hoyt -- the member of Hollywood's clique of friends convicted of actually pulling the trigger on the gun used to kill Markowitz -- speaking directly to the camera, while the voices of Hollywood and his girlfriend, Michelle Lasher, can be heard off-camera. Before formal proceedings began Friday morning, defense lawyers James Blatt and Alex Kessel actually tried to prevent Lynn from playing the clip, on grounds that it would introduce previous crimes into court that weren't relevant to the charges on which Hollywood is being tried. Lynn maintain that the clip demonstrated for jurors the nature, degree and extent of the friendship between Hollywood and Hoyt. Judge Brian Hill eventually sided with the prosecution and explained to the jurors that they should let the video inform an understanding of the two young men's relationship only. The fact that it featured the two discussing debts owed to Hollywood and that they might use a baseball bat to help in the collection of said debts should not be factored into the jurors' overall understanding of the case.

Sheehan's testimony largely centered around events that occurred south of Santa Barbara, immediately before and after Markowitz's murder, including a meal he shared with Hollywood at an Outback Steakhouse during which Hollywood allegedly said that Markowitz had "been taken care of" and also the sudden reappearance of Sheehan's car keys after Hollywood's associates returned from Santa Barbara. (Sheehan never specifically said on Friday morning that his car was driven by Hoyt for the purposes of killing Markowitz, though Lynn seemed to imply that this was the case.)

Of apparent significance was an occasion during which Hoyt and Sheehan went shopping for clothes. Sheehan bought nothing, but Hoyt spent around $200 on several outfits and paid for them in cash -- a fact that Lynn may later pursue as evidence that Hoyt had been paid for cash, possibly by Hollywood, for shooting Markowitz. Hoyt also had money left over and said over the course of the shopping trip that a debt he had owed to Hollywood had been eliminated.

Lynn also focused on another interaction between Sheehan and Hoyt, during which the latter confessed to having taken Markowitz to a secluded area, shot him, and buried him in a ditch. Sheehan didn't believe Hoyt because, as he would go on to explain, Hoyt was "a known fabricator." (During cross-examination by Kessel later that morning, Sheehan noted two other lies Hoyt had allegedly told: that he'd picked up a modeling contract with Versace and that he was "gearing up to join the Navy Seals.")

Kessel's cross-examination of Sheehan began with the former making the latter recall the terms of his immunity plea: If he fails to tell the truth on the stand, he can once again face criminal charges. Kessel also had Sheehan state whether he felt "truth" meant what he honestly recalled or what one team of lawyers or another felt was the truth. Sheehan chose the latter.

Sheehan then explained that he and Hollywood had been friends since childhood. He described the group that included him, Hollywood, Hoyt and other people as a group of friends who may have regular smoked marijuana but was decidedly not an organized criminal outfit that collectively committed violent crime. Kessel asked Sheehan if he knew what the word "lackey" meant and if that word was an accurate description of Hoyt, especially in relation in Hollywood. Sheehan knew the word, but said it wasn't what he would have called Hoyt, seemingly chipping away at the notion that the group existed in some sort of hierarchy with Hollywood at the top.

Kessel then asked Sheehan to describe how Ben Markowitz, older brother of the deceased, fit into the group. Sheehan called the elder Markowitz "a thug" and "a bad dude," though he also admitted that he only knew of Markowitz making threats to Hollywood. Sheehan also said that he'd only ever seen Hollywood become furious about someone owing him money in relation to Markowitz's debt -- but that was only after Markowitz had allegedly threatened Hollywood's family and broken the windows of his house.

Upon being asked if he had ever owed Hollywood money as a result of buying marijuana, Sheehan said that he had, but that it never seemed to be a matter that caused Hollywood to become angry.

Following a break for lunch, the trial continued outside the presence of the jury while Kessel sought to introduce portions of a transcript from an interview of Sheehan as evidence of prior consistent and inconsistent statements made by the witness. Lynn objected saying that the form of "every single question" in the interview was a leading question and that Sheehan's statements in the transcript constitute civil hearsay. He said that he only had 20 minutes to read the transcript because he had received it right before the break but that in his reading he found "umpteen" examples of questions formed in a leading manner. After a heated discussion on the matter Hill decided that he would permit Kessel to begin to use the transcript in his cross-examination to help the witness recollect events but that if he kept introducing inadmissible statements then the cross-examination would have to continue Monday after both Judge Hill and the prosecution had time to thoroughly go through the transcript to determine admissible and inadmissible statements.

Kessel resumed his cross-examination of Sheehan after the jury was brought back into the courtroom. He established that Sheehan remembered meeting with his lawyer, Blatt and a private investigator in April of this year for an interview but that he had not read the transcript of that interview. Kessel's line of questioning then went toward establishing Hollywood's lack of involvement in the decision to kill Markowitz.

He asked about an argument that Sheehan said he heard between Hoyt and Hollywood at a barbeque after the murder in which Hollywood was angry with Hoyt. Sheehan said he overheard Hollywood telling Hoyt that "the situation" was not handled correctly and asking Hoyt why he did not do what he told him to do. Sheehan said that after the argument "it went from a party atmosphere to real tense. You could hear a pin drop." Kessel went on to ask about a conversation in which Hoyt allegedly told Sheehan that he had shot Markowitz, buried him and put a bush over his grave.

Sheehan said that Hoyt did not ever tell him that he - Hoyt - had killed Markowitz at the order of Hollywood nor did he ever imply that he did so at the order of Hollywood. Kessel asked the witness if Hoyt ever told Sheehan why he shot Markowitz. Sheehan said Hoyt mentioned something about "a debt being cleared". Kessel then asked if Sheehan ever asked Hoyt why he shot Markowitz. Sheehan said he had and Hoyt said, "to take care of the boys." Kessel asked Sheehan if he ever thought back to the argument he had overheard after Hoyt told him the aforementioned information. He replied, "not really."

During the afternoon jury break, Lynn again objected to the use of the transcript and the leading questions. He said the witness was not asked questions in the form "do you remember?" but rather "here's the answer, do you agree?" Judge Hill decided to limit the use of the transcript. He also said that the witness was adverse to the prosecution, based on Sheehan's answers, and that the defense cannot ask any more leading questions.

Sheehan later left the stand until Monday, making way for David Barber, a senior criminologist at the Department of Justice. He went to the crime scene at Lizard's Mouth after the body was to do bullet trajectory construction. His testimony centered around the Tec DC-9 that was found with the body of Markowitz. Barber explained that normally that type of gun is semi-automatic and falls under California's definition of an assault weapon. He said that this particular Tec DC-9 had been modified to be fully automatic - that is with each pull of the trigger, multiple shots are fired as opposed to one shot like semi-automatic guns.

Barber said he never test shot the weapon at the crime scene because it was not a controlled environment to do so.

Testimony continues Monday at 8:45 a.m. in Department 14.


Hollywood's childhood friend testifies

By COLBY FRAZIER -- June 16, 2009

One of Jesse James Hollywood's childhood friends testified yesterday that the defendant told him he beat up a boy, threw him into a van and took him to Santa Barbara.

The witness, Casey Sheehan, who was on the witness stand last Thursday and Friday, said Hollywood divulged this information the day after 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz was kidnapped from a street near his home in the San Fernando Valley on Aug. 6, 2000.

On the evening of Aug. 8, just hours before Nicholas was led to a remote area in the Santa Barbara foothills, bound at the hands with duct tape and executed with a TEC-9 machine pistol, Sheehan said Hollywood told him over dinner at the Outback Steakhouse that the situation with Nick, "Had been taken care of."

Sheehan, who was soft-spoken during his testimony, said he wasn't overly concerned that Hollywood's statement meant Nicholas had been killed, and little else was said.

Sheehan's apparent lack of questioning when it came to dealing with Hollywood was a theme throughout his testimony.

Prior to going to dinner on Aug. 8, Sheehan said Hollywood and his girlfriend showed up at his apartment. After having some beers, he said Hollywood asked to borrow his Honda sedan.

Sheehan, who played baseball with Hollywood as a child and later dealt drugs for him, handed over the keys. He said he thought Hollywood needed the car to move some things out of his house.

But when Hollywood returned a short time later, he didn't have the car. Sheehan didn't see the vehicle until he returned home from work the following afternoon.

Prosecutors say Hollywood lent the car to Ryan Hoyt, who drove to Santa Barbara and executed Nicholas to make good on a drug debt.

When Sheehan walked into his home, Hollywood, his girlfriend, Michelle Lasher, and Hoyt were there.

He said Hoyt was inside and a duffel bag that Hollywood used to hold his gun stash was on the table.

Santa Barbara County Chief Trial Deputy Josh Lynn, the prosecutor, spent much of the morning impeaching Sheehan's testimony from previous days, when he told prosecutors one thing, and changed his story for the defense.

One of the discrepancies in Sheehan's testimony last week dealt with the bag of guns, and whether he actually saw any weapons, or just the bag that Hollywood used to store the guns.

During questioning by the prosecution, Sheehan said he saw three of Hollywood's guns. For the defense, he said he just saw the bag.

Asked again by Lynn about the guns, Sheehan, who was granted immunity for his testimony -- a luxury that prevents a witness from being charged for incriminating statements but not for perjury -- admitted to seeing them.

Citing Sheehan's favorable stance toward the defense, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill said outside the presence of the jury that he planned to designate Sheehan an "adverse" witness to the prosecution. Hill said he based this distinction on the man's close relationship with Hollywood, Hollywood's family and his unwillingness to answer questions from the prosecutions.

Sheehan was also good friends with Hoyt, who was sentenced to the death penalty for his involvement in the murder.

On Aug. 9, Sheehan said he went shopping with Hoyt, who had an unusual amount of cash. Multiple witnesses have said Hoyt, in order to work off numerous debts to Hollywood, said he picked up after the defendant's dog and did a number of other chores around the house.

Sheehan said he got the impression that Hoyt's debt-free status was connected to whatever happened to Nicholas.

But it wasn't until the next day, at Hoyt's birthday party, that Sheehan got wind of what happened to the boy. He said Hoyt "started to look worried" about something, and came clean, saying, "We f--ked up." The defense suggested that by "we," Hoyt was referring to himself and Jesse Rugge, who accompanied Hoyt and Nicholas to the grave site, not Hollywood.

After discovering Nicholas had been killed, Sheehan said he confronted Hollywood because, "I wanted to know if it was true."

According to Sheehan, Hollywood said: "Don't worry about it."

During cross-examination by Alex Kessel, Hollywood's defense attorney, Sheehan said neither Hoyt, nor anyone else ever said Nicholas was killed at the direction of Hollywood.

Also testifying yesterday was Lisa Hemman, a crime scene investigator for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, who helped unbury Nicholas's body on Aug. 12. She also took photographs and fingerprints at the crime scene.

She said a pool of blood was visible in the dirt, and the victim's hip was jutting out from the shallow grave.

When the body was unburied she said Nicholas's hands were duct taped together behind his back and his face was also duct taped.

Despite pointed objections from the defense, the jury was shown several pictures of the crime scene. In explaining his objection, Hollywood's other attorney, James Blatt, said the pictures would only be prejudicial to his client, because in this case, the defense isn't disputing the murder, how it occurred, or by whom, as is customary in many other cases.

But Hill allowed some of the less graphic photos to be shown.

When Nicholas's body was removed from the grave site, near the Lizard's Mouth hiking area off West Camino Cielo Road, Hemman said the gun that was used to kill the boy was found.

Nicholas was shot nine times, and Hemman, relying on the photographs, said it appeared the victim was shot twice in the head, once in the neck, and several times in the upper torso.

The prosecution also called Marilyn Harris, a fraud investigator for JPMorgan Chase & Co., to the stand.

Harris testified about six account closure checks that were written to Hollywood on Aug. 8, 2000, which totaled $25,250. One check was for $5,250 and the other five were for $4,000 each.

Harris said three of the checks were cashed. Two checks, totaling roughly $9,290, went to the purchase of a new Lincoln, while a $4,000 check was simply cashed, she said.

Because the transactions occurred more than seven years ago, Harris said there's no way of knowing how many accounts Hollywood had, or if any of them were closed, though the checks indicated at least one account had been closed.

While seemingly lacking any evidence to support his theory, Kessel questioned Harris about money market accounts. Using a hypothetical, Kessel wondered if a customer with such an account wanted to withdraw an amount of money, say for a car, which would drop the account below the minimum deposit limit, if it would be customary for that person to withdraw the entire amount.

Harris said she thought so, though she didn't know if Hollywood ever had such an account with Chase, which at the time of Hollywood's transactions was Washington Mutual.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. today in Hill's Dept. 14 courtroom. If convicted, Hollywood faces the death penalty.


Sheehan Testimony Continues

Prosecution Works to Impeach Hollywood's Friend

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
By Matt Kettmann

The trial of Jesse James Hollywood, who's accused of masterminding the August 2000 murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz, continued on Monday morning much like it had gone on Friday with the testimony of Casey Sheehan. Sheehan, a longtime friend to Hollywood as well as to convicted triggerman Ryan Hoyt (who's now on death row), covered much of the same ground as he did on Friday, with both the prosecution and defense attorneys focusing on his version of events around the time of the murder.

After some discussions between the judge and attorneys outside the presence of the jury -- including a brief, unexplained mention of a letter apparently sent by someone in the Hollywood camp that may amount to perjury -- the morning began with the cross-examination of Sheehan by defense attorney Alex Kessel. Sheehan again answered questions about what he had heard Hoyt and Hollywood say after the murder occurred, mainly that Hoyt said he "fucked up", that he and Jesse Rugge (who was also convicted in the kidnapping) had a "very heated" argument, and that Hollywood had asked Hoyt why he didn't handle the situation as instructed. Kessel, who's intent is to disconnect Hollywood from the killing, got Sheehan to admit that Hoyt was not blaming Hollywood for the problem, but rather blaming himself.

On the re-direct examination, prosecutor Josh Lynn used multiple old transcripts to help Sheehan recollect his earlier testimony and statements in previous trials, Grand Jury investigations, and detective interviews. Treating Sheehan, who negotiated an immunity deal years ago in return for his testimony, as an adverse witness, Lynn's job was to link Hollywood to the crime using Sheehan's observations. Things became occasionally heated when Lynn would question Sheehan's previously inconsistent responses, but they seemed more like differences of interpretation as compared to outright lies. Lynn asked whether it was hard to testify against a former friend, and Sheehan acknowledged as much, but said that it has not affected his testimony. If it had, Sheehan, who has two large shamrock tattoos on his neck beneath both his ears, would be likely facing jail time for violating his end of the immunity deal.

Specifically, Lynn's questioning covered much of what had been hit upon Friday: the $200 spent at the skate shop by Hoyt buying clothes, which apparently came as post-killing payment; the comments made by Hoyt and Hollywood after the murder that showed their close relationship; the debts owed by Hoyt to Hollywood, which were cleared after the murder; and the dinner at the Outback Steakhouse when Hollywood got word that "the situation" had been taken care of. Sheehan again explained that Hollywood had spent the night at his house on August 8, and was there the morning of August 9 when he left for work. That's significant to the prosecution's case because a phone call was made from Sheehan's house on August 9 to Jesse Rugge, a connection that would further show Hollywood's involvement in the murder.

Lynn also probed the hierarchy of the Hollywood-Hoyt relationship, and Sheehan testified that Hoyt was often made fun of by Hollywood and friends. "I think Hoyt got a lot more crap than everybody else did," said Sheehan, who also admitted that Hoyt had to do chores, such as painting a fence and picking up dog poop, for Hollywood to pay off debts. The testimony also delved into the big blue hockey bag that Hollywood used to hold his many guns, which ranged from a 9mm to a shotgun.

After another round of questioning by Kessel, Sheehan was finished by about 11 a.m., clearing the way for a forensic investigator to take the stand and discuss the gravesite. In the afternoon, various law enforcement, bank and telephone company witnesses took the stand.


Prosecution Rests in Hollywood Case

Final Testimony Includes Discussion of Escape to Brazil and Grisly Details of Victim's Body

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
By Amy Silverstein

On Tuesday at the Jesse James Hollywood trial, the prosecution briefly introduced evidence that Hollywood fled to Brazil following the murder of Nicholas Markowitz. During his four-and-a-half year stay in Brazil, Hollywood apparently impregnated a local woman, but he was arrested and brought back to the U.S. before the birth. Outside the presence of the jury, Judge Brian Hill told the prosecution that these and other details of Hollywood's life in Brazil are irrelevant to the case and cannot be used as evidence.

Despite that setback, the prosecution carried forth with the end of their case on Tuesday, which alleges that Hollywood gave Ryan Hoyt the order to murder the 15-year-old Markowitz on August 9, 2000. Hollywood was not present for the shooting in Santa Barbara, but numerous testimonies suggest that he and three other people kidnapped the victim together on August 6, 2000. Hollywood is charged with masterminding the kidnapping and murder because of a feud with Markowitz's older half-brother, Ben, at the time. If he's found guilty, Hollywood faces the death penalty.

During the course of the trial, the prosecution has shown that after the murder Hollywood fled from his home in the Los Angeles area to Colorado. In Colorado, he showed up at the home of Chas Saulsbury, a childhood friend who testified at the beginning of the trial. Saulsbury had said that he agreed to drive Hollywood to Las Vegas and then back to the Los Angeles area, where he dropped the defendant off at a friend's house. Four-and-a-half years later, Hollywood was back in Los Angeles, this time in the custody of police. Lt. Ronald Legault testified Tuesday that he picked Hollywood up at a Los Angeles airport in 2005, on a return flight home from Brazil following his capture.

Dr. Robert Anthony, who performed on autopsy on the victim, also took the stand on Tuesday. The victim's mother Susan Markowitz quietly cried in the audience while Anthony gave an extremely detailed, technical account of the victim's anatomy. Anthony described the effect that each of the nine bullet wounds had on Markowitz's body. Anthony said that alcohol and marijuana were detected in Markowitz's liver, and that his hands were duct taped behind his back during the shooting. Graham Pressley, who dug Markowitz's grave, is the only witness who was convicted for crimes related to the case to testify in Hollywood's trial.

The prosecution is now finished with presenting witnesses, and the defense is scheduled to bring in their own on Monday. Defense attorney James Blatt initially said that he has no obligation to provide the prosecution with his witness list, angering prosecuting attorney Joshua Lynn. "I don't like to be sandbagged like that," Lynn complained. "I have emailed Mr. Blatt faithfully every single day." Hill agreed that the case would proceed in a quicker and more orderly fashion if the defense prepared a witness list ahead of time. More witness and evidence matters will be discussed tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., outside the presence of the jury. On Monday at 9 a.m., the jury will hear from witnesses called by the defense.


A different article...

Prosecution rests in Hollywood murder trial

By COLBY FRAZIER -- June 17, 2009

After hearing from a flurry of witnesses over the last two days, the prosecution in the Jesse James Hollywood capital murder trial rested its case yesterday in Superior Court.

The prosecution's case ended nearly a month to the day after Hollywood's long-awaited trial began on May 15.

Rounding out witnesses for the prosecution was Scott Perry, the general manager at the Lemon Tree Inn on upper State Street, where the victim, Nicholas Markowitz, partied with some of his kidnappers before being driven to the Lizard's Mouth hiking area, where he was shot to death.

To the naked eye, it didn't appear Perry's testimony was especially crucial. Deputy District Attorney Hans Almgren asked him about the check-in procedure at the hotel, wondering if it was common practice to obtain a photocopy of a person's identification.

Jesse Rugge, who was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Nicholas, checked in at the hotel, and indeed, a photo copy of his driver's license was obtained.

Almgren briefly asked the witness about phone calls made from the hotel, but only if calls were made, not when or to whom.

Hollywood's defense attorney, Alex Kessel, was more probing. Perry told Kessel 16 phone calls were made between 6:01 p.m. and 9:55 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2008, just hours before Nicholas was killed. The hotel manager also said Rugge paid $152 in cash for the hotel room. If any noise complaints or other problems with the party were documented, Perry said he didn't know of it.

The prosecution also called Dr. Robert Anthony, a forensic pathologist with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Coroners Bureau, to testify about the victim's autopsy.

Though Anthony didn't conduct the autopsy, he said it appeared to be in check with standard procedures.

With a diagram showing where each of the nine bullet holes entered and exited Nicholas's body as a prop, Anthony said any number of the wounds could have killed the boy, who appeared to have been healthy.

"He could have died from A, he could have died from I, he could have died from B," Anthony said.

Nicholas was shot with a semi-automatic TEC-9 machine pistol. A weapons expert with the California Department of Justice said the assault weapon had been altered to be fully automatic.

The shooter, Ryan Hoyt, is in San Quentin State Prison awaiting the death penalty.

Prosecutors allege Hollywood, a small-time marijuana dealer in the San Fernando Valley, ordered Hoyt to kill Nicholas, who was kidnapped by Hollywood and two other men on Aug. 6, 2000. Hollywood has pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnapping charges.

For two days, Nicholas partied with his kidnappers. During the majority of this time, however, Hollywood was in the Los Angeles area.

Around 5 p.m. on Aug. 8, Rugge rented a room at the Lemon Tree, threw a party, and according to witness testimony, asked everyone to leave because someone was coming to get Nicholas and take him home.

Instead, Hoyt arrived at the hotel room, and a short time later, he left with Graham Pressley, who at the time was a 17-year-old from Goleta.

While on the witness stand, Pressley, who was convicted of second-degree murder for his involvement and was sentenced as a juvenile to five years in prison, said he guided Hoyt to the Lizard's Mouth area. Pressley, knowing Hoyt had a gun, dug a shallow grave.

The two returned to the hotel where they picked up Nicholas and Rugge, and drove back to the grave site. On the hike up, Pressley said from the witness stand that when he realized what was going to occur, he refused to accompany the group.

Nicholas was walked to the grave site, his eyes and nose were duct taped, as were his hands, and Hoyt unleashed a hail of bullets. The two men then buried the boy, whose partly decomposed body was found by hikers three days later.

Hollywood's attorneys had some success establishing their theory of the case through prosecution witnesses.

While Nicholas was kidnapped over a drug debt owed to Hollywood by his older brother, Ben Markowitz, Hoyt, too, was in debt to Hollywood.

In order to work off his debt, witnesses said Hoyt did work around Hollywood's home, which he owned. The chores included cleaning up after the defendant's pit bull. Witnesses said Hoyt was the butt of jokes, and would often disappear for periods of time, returning with wild stories.

In his opening statements, Hollywood's lead attorney, James Blatt, said Hoyt, looking to gain acceptance from his friends, took matters into his own hands and killed the boy.

At Hoyt's birthday party on Aug. 10, 2000, Blatt said witnesses saw Hollywood get into a heated argument with Hoyt. Hollywood's girlfriend, Michelle Lasher, and the defendant's childhood friend, Casey Sheehan, each testified about this fight.

Lasher said she heard Hollywood ask Hoyt if he was "crazy."

Any number of things may have been said during the fight, but it appears the defense believes Hoyt said he murdered Nicholas, and Hollywood was upset.

Blatt, in his opening statements, and Lasher from the stand, both said Hollywood reacted badly to whatever was said during the fight. Lasher said her boyfriend was in such distress, a blood vessel popped in his eye.

It's also possible that Hoyt told Hollywood the murder weapon, which belonged to Hollywood, was left at the grave site.

The defense will start calling witnesses on Monday. At 1:30 p.m. today, the two sides will discuss the defense witness list and a number of other legal matters.

Although there was talk that Rugge would take the stand at some point, it has not yet occurred. Due to a gag order, neither side can speak to media.


New witness surfaces in Hollywood murder trial

By COLBY FRAZIER -- June 18, 2009

A potential key witness took the stand yesterday in the Jesse James Hollywood capital murder trial and recounted for the first time how the defendant told him just hours before a 15-year-old boy was executed, allegedly at the behest of defendant, that the boy was going to be taken home.

The witness, Jerry Hollywood, is Jesse Hollywood's real estate agent and 70-year-old second cousin.

Jerry Hollywood, who was apparently never contacted by prosecutors in this case, or authorities, other than the FBI during their hunt for the defendant, unearthed the crucial conversation between he and is cousin earlier this month.

Due to the late nature of the statement, which Jesse Hollywood's attorney James Blatt hopes to get before the jury, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill held an evidentiary hearing outside the presence of the jury.

Jerry Hollywood took the stand just as he would have if the jury was there, and was questioned by both sides.

The bulk of Jerry Hollywood's statements merely corroborated what is already known: that around the same time Jesse Hollywood kidnapped Nicholas Markowitz on Aug. 6, 2000, he was moving out of his West Hills home because of threats he was receiving from the victim's older brother, Ben Markowitz.

In preparation for his move, Jerry Hollywood said his cousin contacted him in late July of 2000 to express interest in selling his home and purchasing a condominium on the beach in Malibu.

Jerry Hollywood said he remembered telling the defendant he'd see how much his home was worth, and what he could expect to pay for property in Malibu.

On Aug. 8, 2000, the day before Nicholas was escorted to Lizard's Mouth, a popular hiking area in the Santa Barbara foothills, bound at the hands with duct tape, and shot nine times with Jesse Hollywood's semi-automatic TEC-9 machine pistol, the defendant visited the home of Jerry Hollywood.

He said Jesse Hollywood signed a number of papers giving him permission to list the house for sale. But at some point, he said the defendant told him the problem that had prompted him to decide to move had "escalated," and, "That he and his friends had taken a boy somewhere. He was concerned about it and he was going to go see his attorney."

Although Jerry Hollywood said he wasn't particularly close with his cousin, or his father Jack, who would be his first cousin, he got the impression from Jesse Hollywood that something wasn't right.

From the stand yesterday, Jerry Hollywood said he tried getting in contact with Jack Hollywood, who he discovered was on vacation in northern California. Eventually, he touched bases with the man and told him he should contact his son.

In the meantime, according to evidence produced during the trial, including statements from Jesse Hollywood's attorney, the defendant did indeed contact the lawyer.

At 10:21 p.m. on Aug. 8, just a few hours before Nicholas was killed, phone records show Jesse Hollywood called Jerry Hollywood.

According to Jerry Hollywood, the defendant simply wanted to make sure he knew he could list the home.

Jerry Hollywood said he asked Jesse Hollywood if everything was all right?

"He said yes and someone was going to take [Nicholas] home. He'd talked to his attorney."

If this was the end of the story, Hill said he probably would allow the jury to hear it.

However, during cross examination by Santa Barbara County Chief Trial Deputy Josh Lynn, the prosecutor, Jerry Hollywood explained how it came to be that these statements were jolted from his memory.

A week or so ago, he explained that he was contacted by Blatt's investigator, who has been criticized by the prosecution in recent days for asking leading questions, or for lack of a better term, putting words into witness's mouths during interviews.

Jerry Hollywood said the investigator called him early in the morning, so early he was awakened by the call. He said he told the investigator about his conversations with the defendant. But a couple of days later, after reviewing the investigator's written report of what was said, Jerry Hollywood indicated their were inaccuracies.

Asked about what the inaccuracies were, the witness said: "He said Jesse was over at my house and he was really nervous and upset."

Jerry Hollywood said he didn't recall his cousin being like that, adding that he appeared anxious to get the house sold.

Because of the inaccuracies in the investigator's statements, Jerry Hollywood said he wrote his own account of what transpired on Aug. 8.

However, Lynn wondered if Blatt's investigator had to remind Jerry Hollywood about the details of his past conversation.

"[The investigator] was kind of trying to help me recall," Jerry Hollywood said.

Hill, using some of his most pointed questions yet to determine if the witness's testimony was truthful, asked Jerry Hollywood to recall the conversation with the investigator.

Beyond a few minor details, Jerry Hollywood said he could remember little. Hill then asked the man if he remembered receiving the investigator's interpretation of the interview only a week ago.

Jerry Hollywood said he did, and that he "must have read it once or twice." Hill asked if where he read it, if it was by the fax machine, or in another room, but the witness couldn't recall.

Although Jerry Hollywood saved the real estate papers that Jesse Hollywood signed nine years ago, he said he couldn't recall where the investigator's statement was at this home, or if he'd saved it.

Because of Jerry Hollywood's apparent lack of memory when it came to recent events, but crystal-clear recollection about events that occurred nearly a decade ago, Hill said he has reservations about allowing the jury hear Jerry Hollywood testify.

"He had some problems in terms of memory with what happened a week ago, much less nine years ago," Hill said. "I don't find that Mr. [Jerry] Hollywood has a very clear recollection of the events of August 2000."

To Blatt, Hill said: "I have a concern about the way in which [your investigator] conducted this investigation and provided this information to this witness."

Hill said he was inclined to not allow Jerry Hollywood's testimony for now, but won't officially rule until the defense begins calling witnesses on Monday.

Even if Jerry Hollywood's statement about Jesse Hollywood saying the boy was going home isn't allowed, Blatt could still call him as a witness to corroborate other witness testimony.

A number of other matters were taken up outside the presence of the jury yesterday, including the possibility of having celebrity witnesses like Justin Timberlake and film director Nick Cassavetes take the stand.

Cassavetes directed the film, "Alpha Dog," which is based upon the events surrounding Nicholas's kidnapping and murder.

Blatt said he wanted to call Cassavetes and possibly Timberlake to illustrate that some of the witnesses who were called by the prosecution participated in the film, and perhaps more importantly, that they were interviewed by the filmmaker and actors, who likely based their questions upon facts of the case gleaned from use of the District Attorney's case files.

Prior to the making of the film, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen gave the director many of his case files. As a result, the film follows closely with much of the witness testimony heard so far.

Zonen's cooperation with filmmakers drew the ire of Blatt, who alleged prosecutor misconduct and took his fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with the District Attorney.

Nevertheless, Zonen was removed from the case. Blatt said he promised he wouldn't attack the District Attorney's Office or Zonen if he were allowed to call the filmmaker and other celebrities.

Hill said he would rule Blatt's request when the trial resumes on Monday at 8:30 a.m.

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