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Jesse James Hollywood case goes to the jury

Attorneys finish their arguments in the trial over the 2000 murder of Nicholas Markowitz, 15.

July 02, 2009|Steve Chawkins

SANTA BARBARA — Nine years after the kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old West Hills boy, a jury on Wednesday was given the case against Jesse James Hollywood, the alleged mastermind behind the slaying.

The crime was the model for the 2007 movie "Alpha Dog." Defense attorneys have argued that the crime's notoriety tainted the testimony of witnesses and prejudiced the public against their client. Hollywood could receive the death penalty if convicted.

"The movie is about an animal," said attorney James Blatt, referring to the metaphorical use of the term for a wild dog who leads the pack. "Don't you think that, from a defense point of view, that dehumanizes your client?"

In the defense's final argument Wednesday, lawyers made liberal use of less flattering metaphors. One witness whose testimony was unfavorable to Hollywood was described as "a human bong" for his drug use. Another -- Graham Pressley, one of four men already convicted in the death of Nicholas Markowitz -- was called "a little weasel."

The teenager was beaten up, forced into a van near his home and driven to Santa Barbara by Hollywood and a couple of his friends. Prosecutors contend that the aim was to hold Nicholas until his older half brother Ben made good on a $1,200 drug debt to Hollywood, an admitted marijuana dealer.

Defense attorneys say that Nicholas was free to go shortly after the group arrived in Santa Barbara and that a Hollywood friend named Ryan Hoyt opted to kill the boy to win the defendant's approval.

On Wednesday, prosecutor Joshua Lynn repeated his description of Hoyt as a lackey who would do anything -- including commit murder -- for the more popular Hollywood. "What would not elevate his status would be to do it against Hollywood's orders," he said.

Hoyt has been sentenced to death. Pressley, who dug Nicholas' grave in the Santa Barbara foothills, was sentenced as a juvenile and has been released.

In his testimony, Pressley said another accomplice, Jesse Rugge, contended that Hollywood had offered him $2,000 to kill the boy, which he refused. Rugge was acquitted of murder but given a life sentence for aggravated kidnapping.

Alex Kessel, Blatt's co-counsel, contended that Pressley fabricated the conversation to earn an early parole. "He's the kind of weasel who will say or do anything to look out for No. 1," Kessel said.

After a six-week trial, the jury starts deliberating today.

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steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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