SANTA BARBARA — A woman who witnessed the alleged kidnapping of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz testified Tuesday that she promptly called 911 and reported the license plate number of the van used to abduct the boy.
Taking the stand in the capital murder trial of Ryan Hoyt, who is accused of shooting Nicholas to death, Pauline Ann Mahoney told the jury that she was driving through West Hills on Aug. 6, 2000, when she saw four young men kicking and punching a dark-haired teenager.
What happened next, prosecutors say, left Nicholas trapped in a white van speeding on the freeway to Santa Barbara, where he was killed two days later. The two Los Angeles police officers who responded to Mahoney's call failed to track down the van. Believing that the boy was safe, they did not file a police report.
Police Chief Bernard C. Parks has recommended discipline for Officers Brent Rygh and Donovan Lyons, alleging that they failed to conduct a thorough investigation.
"I saw one boy on the ground, up against a wall, lying down and four other men . . . hitting and kicking this boy," Mahoney testified. "It was happening as I was driving up [and it continued] until they threw him into the van."
Mahoney, who was driving home with her two young sons and another child, slowed down to memorize the license plate. About a minute later, she said, she reached her house and called 911.
In the taped call, Mahoney told the 911 operator that she had just seen "these guys beating . . . this kid." She named the street intersection, gave her name and phone number and recited the van's license plate number.
"They pushed him into the van and started driving," she said before hanging up. "Then they stopped. So they are kind of mobile. They're going to be in the neighborhood."
Three or four minutes later, she testified, she got a call from an LAPD officer. She said she told him the same thing she told the operator.
As she left the courtroom, Mahoney approached Susan Markowitz, Nicholas's mother, who was sitting in the audience. "I'm sorry," she said, her face crumpling in grief. Markowitz reached out and hugged her, crying.
Los Angeles police have said they did not connect the 911 call to the slaying or track down the van until nearly a month later, when they were contacted by Santa Barbara authorities.
The LAPD also apparently mishandled a second 911 call from another witness, who is scheduled to testify later this week.
LAPD Cmdr. Sharon Papa said Rygh and Lyons are slated for a Nov. 19 Board of Rights hearing, the LAPD's equivalent of a trial. Both officers remain on duty.
Papa refused to comment on the case, as did Lyons. Rygh could not be reached, but he previously told The Times that he had done nothing wrong and that Mahoney had told him that Nicholas had escaped from the van and walked away. Rygh said he and Lyons checked the area but could not find the boy, so they assumed he was OK.
In other testimony, several young people who had spent time with Nicholas and his alleged abductors in Santa Barbara described his treatment. At times the boy was bound with duct tape and threatened, but mostly he was free to walk around and watch television, they said. More than once, he joined in as his captors and their friends drank alcohol and smoked marijuana.
Much of the day's testimony barely mentioned Hoyt, 22, who Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Zonen said did not arrive in Santa Barbara until the night Nicholas was murdered. Zonen said Hoyt killed the boy to clear a drug debt.
Hoyt is one of five young men charged with kidnapping and killing Nicholas. He is the first to be tried, and, as the alleged gunman, is the only defendant in custody who faces the death penalty.
One of his childhood friends, Jesse James Hollywood, 21, of West Hills, also could be tried and sentenced to death. But he fled after the slaying and authorities have yet to catch him.
The three other defendants awaiting trial are Jesse Rugge of Santa Barbara and William Skidmore of Simi Valley, both 21, and Graham Pressley, 18, of Goleta. All have pleaded not guilty.