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Parents of Slain Teen Settle

The Valley

Court: West Hills couple will receive nearly $350,000 from parents of son's alleged killers and others. Boy died in 2000.

May 03, 2002|JEAN GUCCIONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Susan and Jeffrey Markowitz will be paid nearly $350,000 in settlements from the parents of their son's alleged killers and others who they say failed to save 15-year-old Nicholas' life, court documents show.

A total of 14 defendants, including the Los Angeles Police Department, contributed to the deal, according to papers filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court this week.

Nicholas was kidnapped near his West Hills home Aug. 6, 2000, and fatally shot two days later in a mountain campsite called Lizard's Mouth near Santa Barbara. Authorities alleged that fugitive Jesse James Hollywood, 22, orchestrated Nicholas' kidnapping and murder because the boy's half brother, Benjamin, 24, owed him $200.

The lawsuit alleged that the owners of the homes where Nicholas was held captive and the vehicles used to transport him were negligent for failing to help their son escape danger.

"It's a wake-up call to everybody," attorney Richard G. Tarlow said. "We have responsibilities."

In court papers, all of those settling disclaimed responsibility. Among them, longtime Hollywood family friend John Roberts will pay almost half of the total settlement, or $165,000, documents show. Roberts, 70, loaned Hollywood the van used to kidnap Nicholas.

Hollywood's parents, Jack and Laurie Hollywood, will pay $50,000, according to the proposed settlement order. The lawsuit alleged that they were aware of Nicholas' kidnapping and did not try to help him.

While Nicholas was being held hostage, Hollywood met with his father and Roberts at the Calabasas home of Hollywood's girlfriend, Michelle Lasher, the suit alleged. Under the settlement, Michelle Lasher and her parents, Douglas and Elaine Lasher, will pay $35,000, documents show.

The settlement will include $35,000 from the city of Los Angeles, documents show. The lawsuit alleged that if Los Angeles Police Officers Brent Rygh and Donovan Lyons had properly investigated two separate 911 calls reporting the kidnapping, they might have saved Nicholas' life.

Five men, including Hollywood, were charged in Santa Barbara County with Nicholas' murder. Ryan Hoyt, 22, of West Hills was sentenced to death in November. Jesse Rugge, 22, of Santa Barbara is awaiting a verdict in his murder trial. And two others, William Skidmore, 22, of Simi Valley and Graham Pressley, 18, of Goleta, are awaiting separate trials.

Brian Affronti, then a teen, was in the van used to kidnap Nicholas and will pay $17,500, according to the proposed settlement.

Two other then-teens, Natasha Adams-Young and Casey Sheehan, will pay the Markowitz's $1,700 and $1,000, respectively, for driving Nicholas and his captors from one site to another, documents show.

Another defendant, Stephen M. Hogge, has not settled. He is the Simi Valley attorney who prosecutors allege offered the legal advice that led to Hollywood's decision to have Nicholas killed. Hogge has said he was ethically bound to protect his client's confidences. Tarlow said his clients have not yet decided whether to pursue their case against Adams and Hogge.

Tarlow said he will seek a default judgment against Hollywood, an alleged drug dealer who, at 19, owned a three-bedroom house in West Hills and drove a Mercedes. Markowitz also will seek damages against Hollywood's co-defendants, Tarlow said.

Five other defendants settled earlier. Two are fighting the claims. At least four defendants, including the gun manufacturer, have been dismissed or were never served. And the case against the five criminal defendants is pending.

Insurers will pay most of the settlement, Tarlow said.

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