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.http://www.thedailysound.com/News/061009BenMarkowitzTestimony