It’s been nine years since 15-year-old Nick Markowitz was kidnapped by a group of young men and later shot to death in the hills above Santa Barbara. Strangers who could have done something to save Markowitz’s life are still shaken by their decision to “not get involved,” a phrase repeated by multiple witnesses throughout the trial against Jesse James Hollywood. Hollywood was not present for the actual murder, but, if convicted, he faces the death penalty for allegedly ordering the kidnapping and murder of Markowitz over a drug debt owed by Markowitz’s half-brother, Ben.
Wednesday’s trial began with testimony from Jaymi Dickensheet, who partied at Richard Hoeflinger’s Santa Barbara home on August 6, 2000. Hoeflinger testified on Tuesday with information that was inconsistent with his previous testimonies, potentially hurting the prosecution’s case. The people he partied with, however, gave more reliable testimonies in court on Wednesday.
Dickensheet said she saw Markowitz, Hollywood, and three other people enter Hoeflinger’s house and walk into the back bedroom, and recalled Hollywood seemed like he was “on a mission.” Dickensheet remembered being told by Jesse Rugge, who is serving a life sentence for his involvement in the murder and kidnapping, that the group was holding onto Markowitz until they found his brother. “He wasn’t, from what I could see, held against his will,” Dickensheet said. However, she also said she now regrets not going to the police. As a result, she said, she has suffered from night terrors for the past nine years, which she described as “very vivid, bad dreams.” Defense attorney James Blatt wondered if these dreams had affected her memory.
Witness Shauna Vasquez also partied at Hoeflinger’s house on the day of the kidnapping. She said she went into Hoeflinger’s bedroom to put on her makeup and saw that Nick Markowitz’s hands were bound together with duct tape. She remembered seeing Hollywood and Rugge sitting in the back bedroom with him, as well. “I was freaking out,” she said. However, she continued to put on her makeup and then left the bedroom. Hollywood then had a conversation alone with Vasquez in the living room.
“He told me that Nicholas’s brother owed him money and had broken windows in his house,” she said. Vasquez, her voice sounding as if she was holding back tears, said that Hollywood told her not to discuss their location in front of Markowitz. Vasquez and others then went to the barbecue as originally planned. She said they came home a few hours later and she was relieved to find Markowitz, now free of duct tape, playing video games with Rugge. Still, the prosecution asked why she didn’t go to the police in the first place, before the barbecue and before Markowitz was unbound. “I didn’t know what would happen to anyone involved,” Vasquez said.
Gabriel Ibarra, who partied with the same group and saw duct tape wrapped around Nicholas’s hands and mouth, became defensive over his decision to not call the police. He first explained that Hoeflinger associated with people who sold marijuana and that drug dealers are “bad people.” Ibarra also said that he saw a bulge under Hollywood’s shirt by his waistband, which he presumed to be a gun. Hollywood allegedly pointed at the bulge and told Ibarra to “Shut [his] fucking mouth.”
But Ibarra then left Hoeflinger’s house and went to work, and was therefore out of Hollywood’s view. Still, he didn’t call the police or call the people back at Hoeflinger’s house to warn them that Hollywood had a gun. “I didn’t want to get involved in something that could get me hurt,” Ibarra said.
As with other witnesses, defense attorney Alex Kessel tried to establish that Markowitz was free to leave on multiple occasions and that no one saw him being mistreated. “I don’t think wrapping someone up in duct tape is treating them very well,” Ibarra responded.
The trial will continue Friday at 9 a.m.
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Amy Silverstein is an Independent intern.