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Prosecutor Is Removed From Murder Case

October 06, 2006|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

A state appeals court has booted a Santa Barbara County prosecutor from the case of accused killer Jesse James Hollywood because the attorney shared his investigative files with a movie director.

According to the ruling, Santa Barbara County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Zonen overstepped his bounds in cooperating with Nick Cassavetes, writer and director of "Alpha Dog," a film starring Sharon Stone, Bruce Willis and Justin Timberlake. The movie, which was shown at last year's Sundance Film Festival, deals fictionally with the slaying of a San Fernando Valley teenager after a drug deal gone sour.

Zonen, who was one of the prosecutors in the Michael Jackson child-molestation case, was on vacation Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

In the past he has said that he was relying on the film to help locate Hollywood, who was a fugitive at the time. Hollywood was apprehended in Brazil in 2005.

In its decision, the 2nd District Court said that Zonen "gets high marks for his zeal," but the three-judge panel was clear in its criticism of his methods.

"To say that Zonen went too far in his attempt to apprehend petitioner is an understatement," the ruling stated. "We are aware of no authority allowing a public prosecutor to give away, even temporarily, public property, especially when that property contains highly sensitive confidential information in a pending case."

The appeals judges denied a request by James Blatt, Hollywood's defense attorney, to throw the entire Santa Barbara County district attorney's office off the case. Blatt said he might appeal that part of the decision.

Hollywood is charged with masterminding a plot to kidnap Nicholas Markowitz, 15, of West Hills, who was killed six years ago in a remote Santa Barbara camping area. Four others have been convicted in the slaying.

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