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Family of Slain Boy Files Suit Against 32 People

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Courts: Parents of West Hills youth who was abducted and killed last year say many knew of the kidnapping and could have intervened.

August 10, 2001|JEAN GUCCIONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year after 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz was kidnapped near his West Hills home and killed a few days later in Santa Barbara, his parents filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against 32 people, including fugitive Jesse James Hollywood, his parents and his girlfriend.

Jeffrey and Susan Markowitz also sued the Los Angeles Police Department and two of its officers for failing to properly investigate two 911 calls reporting Nicholas' abduction. The Simi Valley criminal defense attorney who allegedly advised Hollywood of the seriousness of kidnapping but did nothing to stop the crime in progress is also named.

One of the Markowitzes' attorneys, Richard G. Tarlow of Calabasas, said all of the defendants named in the suit had an opportunity to save Nicholas' life and failed to do so.

"It's pretty simple. Were they all afraid of Jesse James Hollywood?" Tarlow asked. "This was a 15-year-old boy. . . . He deserved better. His parents deserved better."

The lawsuit was filed in Santa Barbara Superior Court on Monday, the first anniversary of Nicholas' kidnapping.

Suit Claims Teen's Plight Was Ignored

In their lawsuit, Nicholas' parents contend that many others--including the four other men charged in the abduction and killing--either conspired in their son's death or could have prevented it.

Those people--all named as defendants in the suit--range from the Hollywood family friend whose van was used in the kidnapping to the owners of several sites where Nicholas was held against his will, including family homes and the Lemon Tree Inn in Santa Barbara.

The suit also says that Hollywood's parents, girlfriend and her parents all knew Nicholas had been kidnapped but did nothing to secure his safe release.

Nicholas was abducted Aug. 6, 2000, then driven to Santa Barbara, where he was held for several days at the family home of one of his alleged captors, authorities said.

Prosecutors say Hollywood ordered the other four men to kill Nicholas after learning from his lawyer that a kidnapping charge can result in a life sentence. That night, the boy was allegedly marched into the mountains and shot nine times. His body was found by hikers three days later in a shallow grave.

Authorities said they believe Nicholas was kidnapped because his half brother, Benjamin Markowitz, 23, owed Hollywood $1,200 in a drug debt and also had alerted authorities to a $35,000 insurance scam involving one of Hollywood's vehicles.

Prosecutors in Santa Barbara have charged Hollywood, Ryan James Hoyt, 21, of West Hills, James Taylor Rugge, 21, of Santa Barbara, William Skidmore, 21, of Simi Valley, and Graham Pressley, 18, of Goleta, with murder and kidnapping. All but Hollywood are in jail awaiting trial.

For a year, Hollywood has evaded authorities. In a rare move, the FBI has offered a $30,000 reward--including $10,000 from the Markowitz family--for information leading to Hollywood's arrest.

The 39-page complaint follows Nicholas' last days, from his kidnapping to his death, and lists the private homes where the boy was allegedly held captive and all the vehicles used to transport him. It names as defendants those who last saw Nicholas alive--or knew he was being held captive--but did not help rescue him.

"How could so many people have seen Nick and not done anything?" Tarlow asked.

Although some witnesses have told authorities Nicholas did not appear to be in danger, the attorney said it is unlikely that a 15-year-old boy would not show some outward signs of distress. "We know that he was bound and gagged," he said.

Lawyer's Role Is Questioned

Among the many allegations, the lawsuit says attorney Stephen Hogg was negligent because he did not contact police when he learned from Hollywood that Nicholas had been kidnapped.

"He knew something. He could have done something about it and he didn't," Tarlow said.

Hogg was unavailable for comment Thursday, but he previously has said he was ethically bound to protect his client's confidences.

According to prosecutors, Hollywood went to Hogg for legal advice and from that conversation decided to kill his hostage rather than release him.

A Santa Barbara judge has ruled that Hogg can be compelled to testify against Hollywood and his co-defendants because Hollywood waived his attorney-client privilege by telling a friend about his conversation with Hogg.

The lawsuit also charges that if two LAPD officers had properly investigated two 911 calls reporting the kidnapping, they too could have saved Nicholas' life.

The LAPD is investigating the misconduct allegation, according to Officer Jason Lee, a department spokesman. He declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing policy.

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