After years of having other people – from police and prosecutors to moviemakers, journalists, friends, and enemies – tell his story, Jesse James Hollywood took the witness stand on Monday afternoon to finally give his own account of the events surrounding the taking of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz on August 6, 2000, and his cold-blooded murder just days later.
While authorities allege Hollywood kidnapped and later ordered the murder of the teenager due to a $1,200 drug debt owed by Markowitz’s older half-brother, Hollywood’s attorneys have been working to distance their client from his involvement. It is widely accepted that Hollywood was not present when his close friend Ryan Hoyt fired the weapon that killed Markowitz the night of August 8 at Lizard’s Mouth, a popular hiking spot in the mountains overlooking Santa Barbara, but most other details – including whether Hollywood ordered the killing or wanted the boy taken home – remain open for courtroom debate.
Wearing a black suit with a striped tie over a white shirt, the small-statured Hollywood was the last witness to take the stand on Monday, June 22. He spoke clearly and confidently into the microphone, answering many of his attorney James Blatt’s questions politely with “No, sir,” and “Yes, sir.”
By day’s end, Hollywood was yet to get into the details of what happened in August 2000; instead, through questioning by Blatt, he walked the jury through periods of time leading up to the events of August 2000. He told the jury he started to sell small amounts of marijuana when his family lived in Colorado, but wasn’t aware at the time his father also sold marijuana. “Growing up I always had an idea my dad was involved in illicit activities,” Hollywood said, but he said he never saw evidence of his father’s involvement. Later in life, he said, he learned his father was involved in selling low to mid-grade marijuana in a very high volume – more than 100 pounds at a time.
In high school, Hollywood said baseball was his life until he injured his shoulder and back his junior year of high school. “I was never really the same,” he said. Around that time, he said, he was selling marijuana, often by the ounce, sometimes up to two pounds at a time.
He bought a home when he was 18 years old, putting down approximately $20,000 – $15,000 he received through insurance from an accident, and $5,000 in savings from marijuana sales. He later “moved up kind of,” and began selling more marijuana – between five and seven pounds a month. He would break it down himself or give certain friends marijuana to sell on consignment, meaning they would take the drugs and sell them, paying Hollywood back as they made the money. Compared to his dad’s drug activity, Hollywood said, his market was “more what I created in the [San Fernando] Valley at that time,” which featured a higher grade pot. His father, meanwhile, sold marijuana as far away as New York, Hollywood said. At his highest point, Hollywood testified that he was making about $10,000 per month from marijuana sales, while also bringing in $1,000 more per month installing hardwood floors.
His friends were mostly from baseball, he said, and included previous witness Casey Sheehan (whose car was used by Hoyt to transport Markowitz to Lizard’s Mouth) and Hoyt. Hollywood described Hoyt as a “very close” friend who would go on vacations with his family and would take his little brother to baseball practice. “My parent’s home was like a second home for him,” Hollywood said.
Hoyt built up a debt, Hollywood said, after Hollywood bought Hoyt a cheap car for his birthday. Hoyt never registered the car in his own name, instead racking up almost $1,000 in parking tickets, which Hollywood said he had to pay himself. He also had given him a half-pound of marijuana and Hoyt “ended up blowing that as well.” Hoyt was paying off the debt by helping renovate Hollywood’s new house, putting in a new fence, new grass, and sanding down a Jacuzzi. By August 2000, his debt was down to “$100, maybe $200,” Hollywood said. “He had been working for months.”
Hoyt is one of four others to have been sentenced in connection with the crime. Hoyt, the convicted shooter, is on death row at San Quentin Prison.
With his parents sitting on one side of the courtroom, and Markowitz’s parents on the other, Hollywood was on the stand for about 30 minutes. He had yet to talk about the kidnapping and murder, though he did briefly mention a falling out with Ben Markowitz. If he is found guilty, Hollywood could face the death penalty. Under the constitution, a defendant has a right not to take the stand, and the wide majority of defendants do not.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Joshua Lynn called Hollywood a “ruthless coward” and portrayed the now-29-year-old as a well-known drug dealer in the San Fernando Valley “trying to live up to the reputation he was building.” Hollywood himself said he was a health nut who worked out everyday, was always watching what he ate, and didn’t party too frequently. “Business always came first,” he said.
Hollywood is expected to take the stand once again Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. in Department 14.