Jesse James Hollywood: Guilty of Murder and Kidnapping

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Santa Barbara today jury found Jesse James Hollywood guilty of first-degree murder and kidnapping for ordering the slaying of Nicholas Markowitz.

The jury concluded that Hollywood was the ringleader of a group of mostly teenage suburban drug users who, when trying to collect a $1,200 debt from Ben Markowitz, kidnapped and later killed his younger stepbrother, Nicholas. After holding the 15-year-old for a few days, Hollywood decided he didn't want to face charges related to the abduction; planning he'd never be found, Nicholas was walked into a park, shot and buried. Hollywood himself was not at the scene when the murder occurred.

If the crime sounds familiar, that's because it was the basis for the 2006 film "Alpha Dog," starring Emile Hirsch as the Hollywood-esque character and Justin Timberlake.

This was the fourth trial in the case. Each of the other defendants has been convicted; one has been released after serving time, another has been sentenced to life in prison, and the man who pulled the trigger is on death row. Hollywood evaded capture by California authorities and lived as a fugitive in Brazil for four years before his 2005 apprehension.

Some of the most compelling coverage of the trial has come from Natasha Vargas-Cooper, who grew up with Nicholas Markowitz in West Hills and has been writing about her memories and the proceedings for The Awl. From her posts there:

I grew up with Nick Markowitz. We had a three-day hand-holding affair the summer of 7th grade. He was a part of my tight circle of goofy theater kid friends who were transformed into a traumatized fraternity after his murder....

Nick was lanky, awkward, and emotional. I remember giving him several tight hugs during our friendship while he would sob because he was distraught. Nick was handsome and funny but he never fit in, though he was eager to.

As we got older, Nick became increasingly out of sorts with the dorky drama crowd. He became more shy, more conscious of the high school pecking order. His older step-brother Ben, a thug in the neighborhood, was letting Nick kick around with his group of friends more frequently. Ben’s friends were a cluster of older, small-time drug dealers. I imagine it was difficult for Nick to alternate between drinking with tattooed twenty-year-olds to staying after school so he could practice mime with a bunch of 13-year-old thespians.
So by the end of freshmen year, Nick had dropped out of drama. I felt betrayed that he chose a group of dope-slanging outsiders over us. I snubbed him when he greeted me with a huge smile...

[District Attorney] Lynn asked how much force Hollywood used when he pinned [Nick Markowitz] against a tree, while his previously-convicted accomplices William Skidmore and Jesse Rugge punched Nick in the stomach before they threw him in the van.

Hollywood explained that he had to use a significant amount of strength because “Nick is taller than me."

“Nick was taller than you. He was taller than you, Mr. Hollywood,” Lynn said...

Whatever humanizing counter-narrative Hollywood was expected to create while telling a story that we have waited to hear for nearly a decade—well, none of it materialized.

That last post was written while the trial was under way. While the narrative may not be satisfying, perhaps the verdict will be.


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