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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

'Hollywood' faces murder charge

By Ted Rowlands
http://www.cnn.com/

SANTA BARBARA, California (CNN) -- "Alpha Dog," a new movie starring Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis, and Sharon Stone is shot and ready to be released this spring. But it could be some time before it comes to a theater near you because the movie's main character is awaiting trial for murder.

Jesse James Hollywood is the real name of a young boy who grew up in the San Fernando Valley town of West Hills, California. He was the pitcher on his little league baseball team.

Investigators said as Hollywood and some of his friends grew up they stayed in West Hills, but instead of playing baseball they were dealing drugs, and Hollywood was the leader.

One of the young men who used to play baseball and was now dealing drugs with Hollywood was Ben Markowitz, according to investigators.

"He was one of Jesse James Hollywood's drug dealers, but Ben was truly a tough guy; Ben was a brawler. He was not someone who was going to allow a punk like Jesse James Hollywood to boss him around," said Jesse Katz, who wrote about the kids for Los Angeles magazine.

Investigators said on August 6, 2000, 20-year-old Hollywood and a couple of friends got into a van and went looking for Markowitz, planning to confront him about a $1200 drug debt. They went driving the streets of West Hills and came across Ben's younger brother, Nicholas.

"They saw the young man and decided that if they grabbed him that might force the brother to come forward," said former Santa Barbara Sheriff Jim Thomas.

Hollywood and his friends decided to drive 15-year-old Nicholas north on highway 101 to Santa Barbara. On the way, they say, the abduction almost turned into a party, according to investigators.

"They're all smoking pot in the van together, so it begins as sort of a party, slash kidnapping, slash some kind of event, so that Nick [Nicholas] isn't sure what was happening," Katz said.

With police searching for Nicholas, investigators say Hollywood, who at some point left the group to return to West Hills, started to get worried and went to see his family attorney.

According to testimony in front of a grand jury the attorney told Jesse, "You've held this kid for ransom. You've kidnapped him. You're facing life in prison."

"At that point Jesse James gets panicky, and something has to done with Nick," Katz said.

Hollywood "summons the lowest lackey of the drug crew, a guy named Ryan Hoyt who owed Jesse James hundreds of dollars in drug debts," Katz said.

According to investigators, Hollywood then asked Hoyt to kill Markowitz.

The investigators said Hoyt and two accomplices followed Hollywood's orders and brought Markowitz to a remote area in the hills above Santa Barbara, where using the gun given to him by Hollywood, Hoyt shot Markowitz nine times.

"Within the next 24 hours everybody except Jesse James Hollywood is arrested," said Katz.

Hollywood took off after the body was found, and soon he was the youngest person to make it onto the FBI's most wanted list, according to investigators.

Hoyt was convicted of first degree murder and kidnapping and was sentenced to death. His two accomplices were convicted on lesser charges.

Last year, after more than four years on the run, Hollywood was arrested in Brazil and charged with first-degree murder. He is awaiting trial in Santa Barbara.

Susan Markowitz, Nicholas' mother, has tried to kill herself several times since her son's murder, according to her husband Jeff. He told CNN his wife is not up to doing interviews.

Meanwhile, the legal system and the Hollywood studio system continue to do business on the case of Jesse James Hollywood.

Hollywood's lawyers filed a motion asking the California Supreme Court to remove Santa Barbara Prosecutor Ron Zonen for helping "Alpha Dog" producer Nick Cassavettes make his movie.

Zonen, who helped prosecute Michael Jackson, said he gave Cassavettes information about the case in an effort to find Hollywood while he was on the run.

Cassavettes said he doesn't think the movie gets in the way of Hollywood getting a fair trial. But the movie is on hold and the case against Hollywood is expected to go to trial later this year.

"We don't want to prejudice the trial. Real life is way more important than movies," said Cassavettes.

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