[Updated] Just after 2 p.m. on Wednesday, the sentence was read: life in prison. Jesse James Hollywood, his family, the family of slain Nicholas Markowitz, and the jurors showed little emotion as the ordeal finally came to an end. It had taken jurors fewer than two days to decide the fate of the 29-year-old, whom they had last week deemed guilty of first degree murder for his role in the shooting death of Markowitz. In just minutes of the courtroom assembling for the reading of the sentence, Judge Brian Hill thanked jurors for their two months of service, as did defense counsel Alex Kessel. The trial had ended.
Hollywood ultimately proved less culpable than Ryan Hoyt, an associate who pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Markowitz near Lizard’s Mouth and who was sentenced in 2000 to death row. The sentence marks another milestone in Hollywood’s story, which began with him kidnapping Markowitz from Los Angeles in August 2000, spanned Hollywood’s years of living as a fugitive in Brazil, spawned the movie Alpha Dog from the events of the crime, and finally returned to Santa Barbara with Hollywood’s arrest in 2005.
As the trial entered its final days, jurors heard of a starkly different side of the defendent. Hollywood’s family members took the stand, rejecting the notion that he ordered Markowitz to be killed and speaking instead about Hollywood as a caring, compassionate person.
It wasn’t only family members who spoke in Hollywood’s defense, however. Laura Hanan, a nurse at Santa Barbara County Jail, testified that Hollywood was different from other inmates; not only was he never hostile or aggressive, but he would also strike up conversations with her about his love for his family, his love of animals, and his pride in his son in Brazil, who was conceived while Hollywood was a fugitive and whom Hollywood has never met. “He’d say to me, ‘Laura, you don’t look well. You okay?’” Hanan said. “I saw a friend to me, who was actively concerned about me.”
These testimonies were considered against those of Markowitz’s family. Ben Markowitz-Nicholas’s older brother, whose $1,200 drug debt to Hollywood and ensuing feud prompted Hollywood to kidnap the 15-year-old and drive him up to Santa Barbara-testified that the crime weighed heavily on him. “He trusted me, and looked up to me like my son does now,” he said of his late brother. “It’s just then I was such a piece of shit that I didn’t respect that.” Susan Markowitz, the victim’s mother, smiled politely throughout her testimony and apologized for having any answers that might seem strange. “I had to detach to survive,” she explained. “I’ve separated myself. I don’t have the joys that I used to.”
The sentencing phase of Hollywood’s trial also has been marked by some controversy, as defense attorneys made a motion for a mistrial for alleged juror misconduct. Lead defense attorney James Blatt began Tuesday’s proceedings by reporting that the defendant’s father, Jack Hollywood, had been approached by someone who claimed to be married to a juror. Blatt said the juror had not been able to sleep since another juror made a joke about witness Casey Sheehan, who is an electrician, electrocuting Hollywood. The joke made another juror uncomfortable. Judge Hill ruled that the joke, while crass, did not indicate that the juror had acted unfairly when she made her decision.
Later, Bailiff Matt Banks took the stand so the court could evaluate the conduct of another juror. Banks recalled that after jurors reached their guilty verdict, one asked to see the gun that Hoyt used to shoot Markowitz. Banks unlocked the gun and allowed “nine or 10” jurors to hold it. During that time, one juror spoke of having a concealed weapons permit in Arizona. “It all clicked that this was improper,” Banks said. Hill agreed to hold a separate hearing on the matter because Blatt said he did not remember any of the jurors admitting to having a concealed weapons permit.