known as Sean Michaels, was born January 28, 1980, in Los
Angeles, California, was at times a very wealthy teen, drug
dealer and fugitive.
He is one of
the youngest people to have ever made the FBI's ten most-wanted
fugitive list, a feat he achieved at just 20 years of age. At
the rather diminutive height of 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) and 140
pounds (64 kg), he was easily able to pass for a younger age.
With access to
a seemingly endless inventory of drugs and while working as a
drug dealer, Jesse James Hollywood acquired a fortune which
enabled him to buy a $250,000 property in the San Fernando
Valley area of Southern California and numerous exotic sports
Markowitz was a frequent customer of his, accumulating an unpaid
debt of around $1,200. Perhaps more importantly, Markowitz
threatened to reveal a $36,000 insurance scam Hollywood was
involved it. He sold a sport car for parts and reported it
stolen in an attempt to defraud his insurance agency.
On August 6,
2000, Hollywood intended to kidnap Benjamin, but was unable to
find him and instead abducted Benjamin's 15-year-old stepbrother
Nicholas Markowitz. Nicholas was unaware of the danger he was in
and spent several days socializing and partying with his
captors, even losing his virginity.
Things took a
deadly turn however when Hollywood consulted his lawyer and
found out that the penalty for kidnapping is life in prison. He
thus decided he would not be able to release Nicholas and on
August 8, 2000, in the mountains north of Goleta, California,
Nicholas was shot and killed by a group of men working for
apprehended on March 9, 2005 in Brazil. He had been teaching
English language and living on $1,200.00 a month sent by his
parents. At the time of his capture, a reward of around $50,000
was offered for information leading to his arrest. He was
extradited to the United States on a visa violation and is
currently in California awaiting trial.
2006, the movie Alpha Dog, loosely-based on his life,
premiered at the Sundance Film festival. The film stars Emile
Hirsch, (as Hollywood) Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis, Sharon
Stone, and Harry Dean Stanton. Universal Studios will release
the film in theaters late 2006 for awards consideration later
opening the film widely in early 2007.
and Fox Network's America's Most Wanted have been covering this
story extensively for the past five years.
Jesse James Hollywood
(born January 28, 1980) is a former drug dealer who kidnapped
and ordered the murder of Nicholas Markowitz and is serving a
life sentence for the murder in prison.
Childhood and adolescence
He was born to John (Jack) Hollywood and
Laurie and raised in West Hills in Los Angeles. As a child he
was involved in junior baseball league. His father moved the
family to Colorado in attempt to run a restaurant in the mid-1990s,
but returned to West Hills in 1995.
Hollywood attended El Camino Real High School
where he played baseball. During his adolescent years he started
ingesting muscle supplements and doing power lifting to help
build up his muscle mass. His coach would later describe him as
an "emotional kid" who was later expelled for erupting into a
violent fit of rage at one of his teachers near the end of his
sophomore year. He transferred to Calabasas High School where he
played on the varsity baseball team until he injured his back
and leg forcing him to give up the sport.
Investigators believe that he started selling
heroin a year before he committed the murder of Nicholas
Markowitz. He recruited his former high school friends William
Skidmore, Brian Affronti, Benjamin Markowitz and Jesse Rugge to
dispense narcotics for him and build up a profitable illicit
Ironically, he had been a close friend of
Benjamin Markowitz, playing on the same junior baseball league
and would visit the same Malibu, California gymnasium to
Narcotics operation and
Benjamin had been one of the schoolmates that
dispensed drugs for Hollywood. Jesse James started a successful
auto insurance-scam where he would report one of the many cars
that were registered to him stolen and collect the money. This
scam was later found out by Benjamin which irritated Hollywood.
At nineteen years old, Jesse's drug operation
proved so successful that he was able to afford a three-story
white stucco home for $200,000, situated a few blocks away from
the Markowitz household. Apart from hosting barbecues, he rarely
talked to his neighbors, always having his head down and
remaining silent. His every day wardrobe consisted of blue jeans
and tank tops. He kept two pit bulls tied to an elm tree in the
backyard. Despite his thriving drug operation he had no drug
convictions, except for being charged as a minor for possession
of alcohol and resisting arrest. He supplied drugs to Ryan Hoyt,
the man who would later be convicted for the murder of Nicholas
Markowitz and co-conspirators Jesse Rugge, William Skidmore and
The feud between Benjamin Markowitz, Nicholas
Markowitz's half-brother, and Jesse James Hollywood, a mid-level
drug dealer, began over the alleged debt to Hollywood incurred
by Markowitz of $1,200. On August 6, 2000, Hollywood and several
of his gang members decided to confront Benjamin. On their way
to see him, however, they saw Nicholas Markowitz walking on the
side of the road, having run away from home. Hollywood and his
gang decided to abduct Nicholas in broad daylight in order to
hold him for ransom in lieu of Benjamin Markowitz' debt. They
chased, assaulted, and abducted Nicholas, escaping in a van. He
then returned the van to the owner--his dad's friend John
Nicholas, Hollywood, and his
gang then traveled to a motel in Santa Barbara, California,
called the Lemon Tree Inn, where they held a party. After the
party, members of Jesse's gang allowed Nicholas to believe that
he was heading home soon. Hollywood called Ryan Hoyt, a crew-member
of Jesse's gang who was also $1,200 in debt to him, to "take
care of" Nicholas, giving him a Tec-9.
Two members of the crew
decided to commit the murder in the Goleta Hills north of Santa
Barbara, California. The two dug a shallow grave and returned to
the hotel to pick up Nicholas and drive him to the mountains.
Before Hoyt headed up to Lemon Tree Inn, Hollywood borrowed a
vehicle that belonged to the mother of a friend, claiming he
needed it to help him move; he really used it, however, as
tranportation to the murder scene. Hollywood let Hoyt drive the
borrowed car and Hollywood drove his girlfriend's car to
celebrate her birthday at the Outback Steakhouse while Hoyt and
the crew killed Nick Markowitz.
Within a few days, police began arresting the
crew members based on tips.
Life as a fugitive
At the time of Hoyt's arrest, Hollywood fled
the country through Canada and went to Brazil with help from his
father Jack, godfather Richard Dispenza, and his girlfriend at
the time. Law enforcement agencies and the Markowitz family
offered a reward of $30,000 leading to Hollywood's capture,
which was later raised to $50,000. He lived on Copacabana Beach
where he assumed the identity of "Michael Costa Giroux" and
claimed to be a native of Rio de Janeiro and later on, of
In an attempt to blend in with
the countryside he took up the Portuguese language. He worked in
Brazil by putting up posters advertising a nightclub and later
landed a job by teaching private English language classes and
being a dog walker. Yet, the bulk of the money Hollywood lived
off came from a $1,200 monthly stipend funneled by his father.
While in Brazil, he met Marcia
Reis who became pregnant by Hollywood. She was close to full
term and Jesse James believed the pregnancy would protect him
from extradition to the United States as Brazilian law stated "If
you're the father of a native Brazilian, you cannot be
extradited" (See the case of Ronald Biggs); however, Jesse James
was wrong about the Brazilian laws, which had been changed since
the international controversy with Biggs. Additionally, he was
in Brazil as an illegal immigrant because he had arrived in the
country with a false passport, a fact that already would have
allowed his deportation, regardless of his fathering a child
with a native Brazilian.
United States authorities worked with
Brazilian agents and found out that Hollywood was supposed to
meet a cousin in a mall. He was arrested by Interpol agents in
Saquarema in March 2005. In August 2005 Reis gave birth to
Hollywood's son, named John Paul Hollywood-Reis.
He was profiled on America's Most Wanted from
September 2000- June 2004 and twice in 2005 after being captured.
NBC's Dateline and Fox Network's America's Most Wanted have
covered this story extensively.
While Hollywood was in Brazil, all
participants in the murder were convicted or made pleas. Hoyt is
currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison in
California, Graham Pressley was released from the California
Youth Authority Facility in 2007, and Jesse Rugge is currently
serving a life sentence in Pleasant Valley State Prison. William
Skidmore was released in April 2009 after serving 9 years behind
bars for the kidnapping.
In 2005, on the same day Jesse James was
arrested in Brazil, his father was arrested for manufacturing
the illicit narcotic GHB, but the charge was later thrown out in
court. Jack remained in custody on an outstanding 2002 warrant
for a marijuana-related charge, and later received 18 months in
an Arizona prison.
Court rulings and
In 2006, the movie Alpha Dog,
based on Jesse Hollywood and the kidnap and murder of Nicholas
Markowitz, premiered. During filming, Santa Barbara County
Deputy District Attorney Ronald J. Zonen provided copies of many
documents on the case and served as an unpaid consultant to the
film, citing his desire to have Hollywood captured. Zonen
prosecuted Hollywood’s co-defendants and was poised to prosecute
Hollywood. James Blatt, Hollywood's defense attorney, claimed
there was a conflict of interest, and the California Court of
Appeal for the Second District ruled on October 5, 2006 that,
based on Zonen's disclosure of the files and consultant service—he
should be recused from further involvement in prosecuting
On December 20, 2006, the California Supreme
Court granted review on the case effectively staying the order
to recuse Zonen. On May 12, 2008, the California Supreme Court
ruled that Zonen should not be recused. Nonetheless, Zonen was
replaced with Joshua Lynn, who is serving as lead prosecution
attorney. While in jail Hollywood began signing his mail as
"Alpha Dog" and had mentioned an "Alpha Dog World Tour."
After the Court review, in June 2008 his
trial date was set to begin February 19, 2009, but it was
delayed. Three months later the murder trial officially started
Friday May 15th with the defense's opening statements saying
Hollywood was not involved with the murder. In his opening
statement, Santa Barbara County Deputy Dist. Atty. Joshua Lynn
described Hollywood as "a ruthless coward."
On Monday May 18th witnesses called to the
stand were Jeff Markowitz (the victim's father), Pauline Mahoney
(who was driving with her sons when she saw a group of men
attacking Markowitz), and Brian Affonti (a one time friend of
Hollywood's who was picked up after the kidnapping). Affonti
told the jury that he knew about Hollywood's gun, a TEC-9, which
is the alleged murder weapon. Chas Salsbury, Hollywood's getaway
driver, testified at trial that following the murder "Hollywood
seemed remorseful, depressed, and at some points even suicidal."
Saulsbury continued on the fifth day with Kelly Carpenter
discussing the actions of Rugge and Pressley’s mother. The
following day had testimony from Rugge childhood friend, Richard
Hoeflinger, who spoke about what he witnessed. Subsequently,
several Santa Barbarans told the jury about events leading to
Nick Markowitz’s murder.
At the start of the second
week Michelle Lasher, Hollywood's former girlfriend, testified
that she still loved Hollywood while being emotional and was
hostile to prosecution. Lasher also admitted on the witness
stand to lying to police because she didn't want him to be
caught. The Hollywood family friend, attorney Stephen Hogg, told
the jury about "a tense conversation in the attorney's Simi
Valley backyard" where he told Jesse James "that kidnapping can
carry a life sentence." Graham Pressley's testimony about the
events followed Hogg's appearance.
Pressley testified Rugge "told
me that Jesse Hollywood offered him $2,000 to kill Nick, but [Rugge
said] that that was crazy, [Hollywood] was crazy." Pressley's
testimony, important for the prosecution, continued Friday and
early into the third week. Then Ben Markowitz was on the stand.
Then Casey Sheehan quoted Hollywood as saying that as he and his
longtime friend, Hollywood, dined at an Outback Steakhouse the
suspect told to his friend “the situation” had been taken care
of. In the following days, various medical experts and law
enforcement officials testified then the prosecution rested
their case on Wednesday of the third week.
Hollywood's defense began on the Monday of
the third week. Hollywood took the stand on the first day of the
defense denying any role in the murder and said he was angry
when Hoyt told him about the murder at a birthday party.
Hollywood recounted the kidnapping, the events that led up to it,
and discussed his life on the run. Hollywood's testimony lasted
four days with the prosecution cross-examining Hollywood about
making threats, closing bank accounts, withdrawing money, and
selling his home. Much of Hollywood' responses were denials
about previous witness testimony.
The last witness the defense called was
District Attorney investigator Paul Kimes, questioned by co-counsel
Alex Kessel about phone records. Closing arguments began on
Tuesday and Wednesday of the fourth week, and the case went to
the jury. During closing statements, the defense said
Hollywood's associates lied while the prosecution called
Hollywood "a child killer." The jury considered three different
charges with penalties ranging from 8 years in prison to the
On July 8, 2009, following
three days of deliberation, the jury reached a verdict. The jury
found him guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder with
special circumstances for which he can face the death penalty.
On Monday July 13 the jury began the penalty phase of the trial.
The mothers for the defendant and the victim took the stand.
Additionally, brothers of the defendant and the victim testified
and closing arguments began during the second day of the penalty
phase. The jury sentenced Hollywood to life in prison, which
means he avoided the death penalty, but will spend the rest of
his life in a California prison.
Jesse James Hollywood
Sentenced to Life
Mastermind of Nicholas Markowitz Killing in
2000 Headed to Prison for Life
By Amy Silverstein - The Santa Barbara
July 15, 2009
Just after 2 p.m. on Wednesday, the sentence
was read: life in prison. Jesse James Hollywood, his family, the
family of slain Nicholas Markowitz, and the jurors showed little
emotion as the ordeal finally came to an end. It had taken
jurors fewer than two days to decide the fate of the 29-year-old,
whom they had last week deemed guilty of first degree murder for
his role in the shooting death of Markowitz. In just minutes of
the courtroom assembling for the reading of the sentence, Judge
Brian Hill thanked jurors for their two months of service, as
did defense counsel Alex Kessel. The trial had ended.
Hollywood ultimately proved less culpable
than Ryan Hoyt, an associate who pulled the trigger on the gun
that killed Markowitz near Lizard’s Mouth and who was sentenced
in 2000 to death row. The sentence marks another milestone in
Hollywood’s story, which began with him kidnapping Markowitz
from Los Angeles in August 2000, spanned Hollywood’s years of
living as a fugitive in Brazil, spawned the movie Alpha Dog
from the events of the crime, and finally returned to Santa
Barbara with Hollywood’s arrest in 2005.
As the trial entered its final days, jurors
heard of a starkly different side of the defendent. Hollywood’s
family members took the stand, rejecting the notion that he
ordered Markowitz to be killed and speaking instead about
Hollywood as a caring, compassionate person.
It wasn’t only family members who spoke in
Hollywood’s defense, however. Laura Hanan, a nurse at Santa
Barbara County Jail, testified that Hollywood was different from
other inmates; not only was he never hostile or aggressive, but
he would also strike up conversations with her about his love
for his family, his love of animals, and his pride in his son in
Brazil, who was conceived while Hollywood was a fugitive and
whom Hollywood has never met. “He’d say to me, ‘Laura, you don’t
look well. You okay?’” Hanan said. “I saw a friend to me, who
was actively concerned about me."
These testimonies were
considered against those of Markowitz’s family. Ben Markowitz —Nicholas’s
older brother, whose $1,200 drug debt to Hollywood and ensuing
feud prompted Hollywood to kidnap the 15-year-old and drive him
up to Santa Barbara — testified that the crime weighed heavily
on him. “He trusted me, and looked up to me like my son does now,”
he said of his late brother. “It’s just then I was such a piece
of shit that I didn’t respect that.” Susan Markowitz, the
victim’s mother, smiled politely throughout her testimony and
apologized for having any answers that might seem strange. “I
had to detach to survive,” she explained. “I’ve separated myself.
I don’t have the joys that I used to.”
The sentencing phase of Hollywood’s trial
also has been marked by some controversy, as defense attorneys
made a motion for a mistrial for alleged juror misconduct. Lead
defense attorney James Blatt began Tuesday’s proceedings by
reporting that the defendant’s father, Jack Hollywood, had been
approached by someone who claimed to be married to a juror.
Blatt said the juror had not been able to sleep since another
juror made a joke about witness Casey Sheehan, who is an
electrician, electrocuting Hollywood. The joke made another
juror uncomfortable. Judge Hill ruled that the joke, while crass,
did not indicate that the juror had acted unfairly when she made
Later, Bailiff Matt Banks took the stand so
the court could evaluate the conduct of another juror. Banks
recalled that after jurors reached their guilty verdict, one
asked to see the gun that Hoyt used to shoot Markowitz. Banks
unlocked the gun and allowed “nine or 10” jurors to hold it.
During that time, one juror spoke of having a concealed weapons
permit in Arizona. “It all clicked that this was improper,”
Banks said. Hill agreed to hold a separate hearing on the matter
because Blatt said he did not remember any of the jurors
admitting to having a concealed weapons permit.
Jesse James Hollywood, fugitive in August 2000 kidnap-murder
of teenager, arrested in Brazil
March 10, 2005
Richard Garcia, FBI Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in
Los Angeles and Jim Anderson, Santa Barbara County Sheriff,
announced today the capture of Jesse James Hollywood, 25, of
Canoga Park for his role in the August 2000, execution-style
murder of Nicholas Markowitz, a 15 year-old resident of Los
is alleged that on August 6, 2000, Hollywood and his accomplices
set out to kidnap Nicholas Markowitz’ brother in retaliation for
an alleged debt he owed. When they were unable to locate his
brother, they forced Nicholas into a van and transported him to
a residence in Los Angeles. On August 9, 2000, after being
transported to Santa Barbara, California, Nicholas was taken to
a rural area north of Goleta, California. There, he was bound,
gagged, and shot. His body was later found in a shallow grave by
8/15/00, Hollywood was charged with one count of murder in Santa
Barbara County, California. After it was determined that
Hollywood had fled the state of California, a federal warrant
charging Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution was filed in U.S.
District Court in Santa Barbara, California.
Hollywood has remained a fugitive since he left the
jurisdiction; however, four individuals have been convicted in
connection with the 2000 kidnap-murder of Nicholas Markowitz.
Tuesday, March 8 th, the Brazilian Federal Police, acting on
information obtained by American authorities, detained Jesse
James Hollywood at a location in Brazil where he was residing
with a companion, approximately one hour from Rio de Janeiro.
Hollywood, who was using false identification, was arrested by
Brazilian authorities based on a violation of the Brazilian
immigration policy and deported. Hollywood was turned over to
the custody of Agents of the FBI and deputies with the Santa
Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and brought back to Los
Angeles on the morning of March 10 th.
Assistant Director Richard T. Garcia stated, “I’m most grateful
to the Brazilian authorities for their invaluable assistance to
the FBI and our partners in Santa Barbara during this
international cooperative effort in which an individual hiding
in their country whose been accused of the worst kind of crime -
the murder of an innocent child - was successfully apprehended.”
Sheriff Jim Anderson stated, "The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s
Department has been working tirelessly since the discovery of
this heinous crime to bring those responsible to justice. Our
commitment to the victims of this crime has remained a priority
throughout this investigation. This case has remained open, with
resources dedicated to locating Jesse James Hollywood. I would
also like to thank all of the other agencies involved in this
investigation, including the FBI and the California Department
of Justice SBRNET task force. In addition to these agencies, a
special thanks to the Brazilian authorities for their efforts in
apprehending this dangerous felon."
is anticipated that the government will dismiss the federal UFAP
warrant and Hollywood will be held in the custody of the Santa
Barbara Sheriff’s Department to await prosecution by the state
multi-year, joint fugitive investigation and arrest was
conducted by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, the
California of Justice SBRNET Task Force, the Santa Barbara
Probation Department and the FBI. The arrest was conducted with
the considerable assistance of the Brazilian Federal Police,
Brazilian Immigration authorities and the FBI’s Legal Attache in
Rio de Janeiro.
Murder of Nicholas Markowitz
Nicholas Samuel Markowitz (September 19, 1984–August 9,
2000) was a U.S teenager who was kidnapped and murdered at the
age of 15 after a feud over drug money between his half-brother
Benjamin Markowitz and Jesse James Hollywood. Nicholas Markowitz
lived in the West Hills, Los Angeles, California area with his
mother, Susan, and father, Jeff.
Kidnapping and murder
The feud between Benjamin Markowitz, Nicholas' half-brother, and
Jesse James Hollywood, a mid-level drug dealer, began over the
alleged debt to Hollywood incurred by Markowitz of $1,200.
On August 6, 2000, Hollywood, Jesse Rugge,
and William Skidmore decided to confront Benjamin. On their way
to see him, however, they saw Nicholas Markowitz walking on the
side of the road, having run away from home. Hollywood and his
gang decided to abduct Nicholas in broad daylight in order to
hold him for ransom in lieu of Benjamin Markowitz' debt. They
chased, assaulted, and abducted Nicholas, escaping in a van.
When Hollywood and his gang informed Nicholas
of why they were holding him, he allegedly panicked at first.
However, after Hollywood offered Nicholas drugs and alcohol, he
felt that he was a part of the group. Hollywood and his gang
then picked up Brian Affronti (another one of Hollywood's
friends) then they drove their van up to Santa Barbara,
California and traveled to various house parties. Reports
indicate that many witnesses—parents and teens alike—saw the
group together but didn't realize anything was going wrong.
Although up to 42 witnesses knew he had been kidnapped (even
calling him "Stolen Boy") they didn't notify police, as Nicholas
appeared to be safe and having fun.
Nicholas, Hollywood and his gang then
traveled to a motel in Santa Barbara, California called the
Lemon Tree Inn. While at the Inn the gang held another party in
the pool area of the Inn. Nicholas had befriended a 19-year-old
girl at the party. After the party, members of Jesse's gang
allowed Nicholas to believe that he was heading home soon.
Hollywood called Ryan Hoyt, a crew-member of Jesse's gang who
was $1,200 in debt to him., to "take care of" Nicholas, giving
him a Tec-9. Two members of the crew, Ryan Hoyt and Graham
Pressley decided to commit the murder in the Goleta Hills north
of Santa Barbara, California.
Hoyt and Jesse Rugge bound Nicholas' hands
behind his back with duct tape and put tape over his mouth as
well. Hoyt then knocked Nicholas into the grave by hitting him
over the back of the head with the shovel used to dig the
shallow grave. Hoyt shot Nicholas 9 times with the Tec-9. The
members of the gang then tried to hide the gun by placing it
between the legs of Nicholas' body and then covering the body
with dirt and branches. The grave, however, was too shallow and
close to a popular trail, and Nicholas' body was soon found on
August 12, 2000. Ryan Hoyt, Jesse Rugge, William Skidmore, and
Graham Pressley were all arrested following numerous leads to
the sheriff's office following the death of Nicholas Markowitz.
There have been several court cases involving criminal trials
with the kidnappers and a civil lawsuit. The criminal trials
Ryan Hoyt, aged 21 at the
time, was charged with 1st degree murder. His trial began
October 2001 and ended November, 2001. He was convicted on
November 21, 2001. The "penalty" phase of his trial began
November 2001 and he was sentenced to death on December 9, 2001.
He is currently on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison, San
Jesse Rugge, aged 20 at the time of the murder, was
charged with aiding in the kidnap and execution of Nicholas
Markowitz. Rugge was the portrayed in Alpha Dog as being the one
who bound Nicholas' hands together and put tape over his mouth
moments before the execution. He was convicted in 2002 and was
sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Parole was denied in 2006.
William Skidmore, aged 20 at the time of the murder, was
charged with kidnapping and robbery. In September 2002, he was
sentenced to nine years in a state prison as part of a plea
bargain. Skidmore was released in April 2009.
Graham Pressley, aged 17 at the time of the murder. He
was tried twice. In July 2002 he was acquitted of kidnapping and
the jury hung on the murder charge. In October 2002 he was
convicted of second degree murder. Pressley was the member of
the gang that dug the shallow grave for Nicholas. Pressley was
incarcerated at a California Youth Authority facility until he
turned the age of 25 in 2007. He has since been released.
Jesse James Hollywood, aged 20 at the time of the murder,
was not present at the murder, but ordered it. He immediately
skipped town, but was arrested five years later in Saquarema,
Brazil with his pregnant girlfriend Marcia Reis. In 2009, he was
convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping and sentenced to
life in prison.
In addition to the criminal cases, the Markowitz family won a
$11.2 million civil lawsuit in 2003 against the kidnappers and
killers as well as secondary people including the family friend
whose van was used in the kidnapping, the owners of several
homes where Nicholas was held against his will, and the Lemon
Tree Inn in Santa Barbara.