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Paul Wellman

Jesse James Hollywood Back in Santa Barbara Court

Judge Declines to Take Death Penalty Off Table Yet During Thursday Session


Amid heavy security at Santa Barbara Superior Court Thursday, Jesse James Hollywood, facing murder charges in the 2000 shooting death of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz, made his second court appearance since a California Supreme Court decision went against Hollywood and the case was remanded back to Santa Barbara.

While a motion to dismiss the case - the most significant motion in front of the court Thursday - had been made by Hollywood’s attorney, James Blatt, Judge Brian Hill hadn’t had a chance to review the motions, and continued the matter because he hadn’t received prosecutor Joshua Lynn’s response until Wednesday.

Blatt also made two motions related to striking the death penalty as a possible sentence for Hollywood, should he be convicted. But Hill ruled that it was too early to make such a decision. “This seems a bit premature,” Hill said. “We haven’t gotten to the guilt or innocence yet.”

All the other motions were rather procedural, and neither side seemed to be in disagreement with one another on them.

Blatt did indicate he intended to file a change of venue motion, though he didn’t elaborate why. Hollywood’s case has been subject to much publicity for several years, including as the basis for a film, Alpha Dog, starring Justin Timberlake, Emile Hirsch, and Bruce Willis. He is still collecting information related to why the venue should be changed and said he doesn’t have any particular location in mind.

Hollywood’s case was in front of the California Supreme Court earlier this year. Blatt tried to remove Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen - who had prosecuted four others in connection with the murder - from the case because Zonen had cooperated with Alpha Dog producers and made them privy to many of his files. But the Supreme Court, while not lauding his actions, ruled that Zonen need not be recused because of his actions. Regardless, Zonen was taken off the case, and Lynn is now prosecuting Hollywood.

Four of the five cases related to the murder of Markowitz have been resolved. Ryan Hoyt, the gunman who shot and killed the boy, was sentenced in 2003 to the death penalty. Jesse Rugge was sentenced the year before to life with parole. William Skidmore plea bargained to nine years with parole. Graham Pressley, who dug the grave for Markowitz, was sentenced as a youth in 2003, and has since been released. That leaves Hollywood, who allegedly wasn’t present at the murder, but who authorities say ordered it.

All of the involved were from the Los Angeles area. Markowitz was the younger half-brother of an associate of Hollywood and his group who authorities say owed Hollywood money. The group then kidnapped Markowitz and brought him to the Santa Barbara area, where they were visiting for the annual Fiesta celebration. He was shot, killed, and buried near Lizard’s Mouth in the Santa Barbara foothills.

The courtroom Thursday had almost as many deputies - at least eight - as it did spectators, a group that included Hollywood’s father. Observers had to go through metal detectors and had to clear the courtroom while Hollywood was brought in and out. The man, who was a fugitive for five years before being caught in Brazil and was the youngest person to ever be on the FBI’s most wanted list, had his own escort to and from the courthouse from County Jail, being transported in a white Chevrolet Suburban with two vehicles, an unmarked Suburban in front and an unmarked vehicle behind, and police motorcycles bookending the procession with lights flashing.

Hollywood will be back in front of Hill on October 29, when the judge will hear more motions from the two sides as the case heads to trial, which Hill estimated wouldn’t begin earlier than four to five months from now.



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