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Murder Suspect Testifies His Confession Was a Lie

Court: The accused killer of a 15-year-old West Hills boy says he had tried to protect others.

November 09, 2001|SUE FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA BARBARA — Contradicting statements he made to detectives, Ryan Hoyt took the stand Thursday and repeatedly denied that he machine-gunned a 15-year-old West Hills boy to death last year.

"I did not kill Nicholas Markowitz," said Hoyt, 22, who faces capital murder charges. "I have never pulled a trigger in my life."

After his arrest in August 2000, Hoyt told Santa Barbara County sheriff's detectives that he killed Markowitz. When they asked whether he had bound the victim with duct tape, Hoyt replied: "The only thing I did was kill him."

Jurors watched that videotaped interview earlier this week in Santa Barbara County Superior Court. But Thursday, Hoyt said he had lied during the interrogation.

His only role in the alleged kidnapping that left Markowitz dead, he told the jury, was to deliver a duffel bag to a Santa Barbara friend the night of the killing. Prosecutors contend that the bag held the automatic 9-millimeter gun that he used to shoot Markowitz. Hoyt claimed he did not know what was in the bag.

"I assumed it was marijuana," he told the jury, after testifying that he had been using and selling the drug. He said he did not learn of Markowitz's death until about a week later. At that time, he added, "things started to click."

"I felt guilty [about] it," Hoyt said, "because whether I knew it or not, I brought the means to this kid's end up to Santa Barbara."

Defense attorneys have portrayed their client as a bumbling misfit from a broken home, an outcast who sought acceptance from a band of drug-dealing friends even as they mocked him. The group's leader, Jesse Hollywood, supplied marijuana to the others and collected money from their sales later, according to several witnesses.

In addition to Hoyt and Hollywood, prosecutors have charged three other young men with kidnapping and killing Markowitz in a botched scheme to collect money owed by the boy's older half-brother. Jesse Rugge of Santa Barbara and William Skidmore of Simi Valley, both 21, and 18-year-old Graham Pressley of Goleta have all pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

Hollywood, 21, who allegedly ordered the killing, is a fugitive.

Often glancing at the jury, Hoyt testified that he did not remember his interview with detectives. Asked by his attorney why he told them he had killed Markowitz, he said: "You know, I've been sitting and thinking about that for the past year. The only thing I can think would be to protect Jesse Hollywood and those involved."

The defense also played a taped Aug. 17, 2000, telephone call between Hoyt, who had just been arrested, and his distraught mother, Victoria Hoyt:

"You didn't do this, right, Ryan?" she asked.

"Right," he replied.

At other points, Hoyt's mother began yelling and cursing, ordering her son to stop protecting his friends and to tell police what he knew.

"Turn Jesse Hollywood in now!" she shouted. "Now! You talk now! You tell the guard you want to talk to the detectives now!"

"Mom, calm down," Hoyt said, adding that he was at his grandmother's house in West Hills at the time of the killing. "The thing is, I need Grandma to say that I was at home."

Testifying for four hours, Hoyt gave a detailed account of his decade-long friendship with Hollywood and slow evolution from pot-smoking high school dropout to small-time drug dealer. By the fall of 1999, he said, he had started peddling marijuana for Hollywood.

"It was a chance for me to make a quick buck," Hoyt said. But his deals dwindled within a few months, and he fell into debt. "It got to a point where I wound up smoking more than I actually sold."

By January 2000, Hoyt said, he owed Hollywood $1,200. Over the next seven months, he said, he became "an errand boy" to try to retire the debt--painting fences, cleaning up beer bottles and landscaping Hollywood's yard. Hollywood was a taskmaster, hounding Hoyt to pay up and adding interest to the debt. By August--the month Markowitz was killed--Hoyt said, he still owed Hollywood $200.

Dressed in a beige suit, Hoyt spoke calmly, testifying that he drove to Santa Barbara at Hollywood's request on Aug. 8, 2000, the night Markowitz died. Hollywood had asked him to bring a duffel bag to Rugge. The trip was to be Hoyt's final chore, he testified.

Hoyt said he met Rugge at the Lemon Tree Inn on State Street, where authorities say Markowitz was held before he was killed. He said Rugge and a teenager he later learned was Graham Pressley were alone in the hotel room. He denied seeing Markowitz there.

Late that night, by Hoyt's account, Rugge borrowed his car and left with Pressley for a couple of hours. Hoyt said he hung out at the hotel, drinking whiskey and watching television. He said Rugge and Pressley returned about 2:30 a.m.

But prosecutors say Hoyt joined the others in taking Markowitz into the hills, and that the defendant shot him nine times.

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