As members of the Santa Barbara community and beyond voice mixed reactions to the news that Jesse Rugge was granted parole and released from prison this week — Rugge was convicted of kidnapping in connection with the murder of Nicholas Markowitz in 2000 and served 11 years of a life sentence — one of his co-defendants has taken to the blogosphere to expound his opinions on that announcement, his own criminality, and a variety of other topics like alcohol and introspection.
“Fuck it, I’ll say it,” Graham Pressley wrote October 20 on his blog, Underground Santa Barbara. “I’m goddamn ecstatic. My boy is getting out. Coming home. He’ll be on parole forever…but at least he’s coming home. After, well, over a decade of pandering and speaking the truth my padre and his padre and everyone’s fucking padre wanted us to spew…I can confidently say one thing, and very loudly: FUCK THE POLICE. You retards got it wrong.” Pressley has also created a number of YouTube testimonials, but didn’t respond to multiple requests for an interview about his public statements.
“They finally met their match,” he goes on in the same post. “Sorry guys. Just couldn’t cut it, could ya? Ouch. I guess it really does make a difference…being smart and all… Of course it does. Of course it does. And of course, in Santa Barbara, it also helps to be white, skinny, pretty and, well, have stumbled upon the best public defense attorney the State of California has ever seen. Oh, and have the truth on our side…almost forgot to mention that….”
Pressley, 17 years old at the time of the murder, helped dig the shallow grave near Lizard’s Mouth where 15-year-old Markowitz was buried after being gunned down by Ryan Hoyt, who was acting under the direction of the group’s leader and small-time drug dealer, Jesse James Hollywood. Hollywood, Rugge, and another member of their gang had kidnapped Markowitz near his Los Angeles home because Markowitz’s half-brother failed to pay a $1,200 drug-money debt he owed Hollywood. The group traveled to Santa Barbara and spent time with Pressley and others at various homes and locations before Hoyt was given the order to kill the teen.
Pressley and his cohorts would be arrested shortly after hikers discovered Markowitz’s body. Pressley was tried as an adult in 2002 and was acquitted of kidnapping. When the jury couldn’t reach a verdict on his murder charge, Pressley was retried three months later and convicted of second-degree murder. He originally faced 18 years in prison but was sentenced as a juvenile after hard lobbying from his defense attorney Michael Ganschow and after former Santa Barbara County sheriff James Thomas intervened on his behalf. “I am not as assured that he would survive in an adult state facility,” Thomas wrote to Judge William Gordon at the time. Pressley, now 30, was released from a California Youth Authority facility in 2007.
Since then, Pressley — a fourth-generation Santa Barbaran whose great-grandfather Charles Pressley co-founded Old Spanish Days in 1924 — has dabbled in the South Coast wine industry, starting the tasting-and-selling business La Tour Wine Merchants in 2011. Pressley eventually moved La Tour into The Pub, but the Helena Street bar has since closed amid accusations of financial misconduct lobbed between Pressley and his partners. It’s not clear if La Tour is still operational; its website’s domain name expired earlier this month. More recently, Pressley renovated a space near the Santa Barbara Surf Museum and reportedly plans to open an after-hours, speakeasy wine bar.
In the last few years, Pressley has had multiple contacts with Santa Barbara police, but none of the incidents resulted in criminal charges. This summer, the owners of Sama Sama Kitchen on State Street called police after Pressley threatened one of their employees. The dispute, according to SBPD spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood, had to do with Pressley’s ex-wife developing a relationship with one of the restaurant’s staff members.
Harwood said a Sama Sama manager, upon hearing Pressley was on his way to the restaurant with his ex-wife at around 6:30 p.m. on June 29, stood outside the location to prevent him from entering. According to Harwood, Pressley told the manager he was going to hurt and kill the employee, but left the scene before officers arrived. Pressley detailed EdHat’s coverage of the police scanner communications in his blog this week, writing: “I think this was about my attempt to patronize a friend’s restaurant and the children who, for reasons I’d rather not publicize, were afraid of a sleight of frame, 140lb 30 year old man. Hmm indeed.”