A court of appeal has affirmed a Santa Barbara jury’s conviction of Jesse James Hollywood in the 2000 murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz.
Hollywood, now 32, is currently serving life in prison without parole for masterminding the homicide. Markowitz was shot to death by Hollywood’s friend, Ryan Hoyt, near Lizard’s Mouth in Santa Barbara in August 2000, three or so days after being kidnapped by Hollywood. Authorities alleged the kidnapping and subsequent murder was the result of a feud between Hollywood and Markowitz’s older brother, Ben, who owed Hollywood drug money.
Hollywood had argued that even though he participated in the original kidnapping, he was not responsible for the teen’s death. He said that the kidnapping had ended, and Markowitz was free to go at anytime. Though Hollywood brought Markowitz to Santa Barbara from the Los Angeles area, Hollywood left town not long after, leaving Markowitz with Hollywood’s friend, Jesse Rugge, and others. The teen was not bound, and played video games and smoked marijuana with a group of people, all of which Hollywood used to argue Markowitz was free to go.
A new kidnapping then occurred, Hollywood argued, when Markowitz was taken from a hotel room up to Lizard’s Mouth, where Hoyt killed Markowitz. Hollywood said he had sent Hoyt to Santa Barbara to bring Markowitz back to L.A., and that Hoyt decided to kill the teen on his own.
After a nearly two-month trial, a jury didn’t believe Hollywood’s story, and convicted him of murder, though he was spared the death penalty. And the appellate court found the jury’s decision to be defensible. There are many ways to look at the evidence, asserted Deputy Attorney General David Glassman in his argument in front of the appellate court, and “virtually all of them are incriminating.”
The tragic story drew the attention of national news media, and eventually became a major motion picture, Alpha Dog, which was released in theaters in 2006. Hollywood escaped capture for several years following the murder but was eventually tracked to Brazil, where he was arrested in 2005 and extradited back to the United States.
The appellate court took only 18 days to reach its unanimous decision. The three-judge panel could’ve taken up to 90 days to make a ruling. Their opinion was not immediately available for review.
Hoyt remains on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison, awaiting his appeal, while Hollywood is at Calipatria State Prison.
Should he choose to move forward, Hollywood’s last remaining venue for appeal is the California Supreme Court. The state’s high court hears only a small number of cases a year, and it is unlikely the panel would take up the case on appeal.
After the appellate court judges handed down their decision, Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley said, “The Jesse James Hollywood case was a tragic crime that touched this community in many ways. The decision today by the Court of Appeal is a measure of closure for the victim’s family and a validation of the conviction obtained by our office.”
Susan Markowitz, mother of Nicholas Markowitz, stated, “I really didn’t think they’d come up with any other decision … This is about Nick and I’m very grateful.”
And Hollywood’s appellate attorney, Ralph Goldsen, said he was disappointed by the loss. “I disagree with the portion of the opinion that says that there is no authority for using apparent consent as a kidnap terminating-event. I believe it is more accurate to say that there is no prior decision involving similar facts, but that the apparent consent termination of kidnapping is a logical outgrowth of prior decisions. I will be asking the California Supreme Court to consider this issue.”
“If, as the Court of Appeal suggests,” Goldsen went on, “a kidnapping can only be terminated by releasing the abducted person to a place of safety, perhaps the Legislature should amend the statute to say so. That was not the law at the time of these events … I continue to believe that the jury did not unanimously find that Hollywood intended Nick’s death, and that a properly instructed jury would have unanimously found such an intent not proven.”