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Jesse James HOLLYWOOD

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "Sean Michaels"
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Drug dealer
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 8, 2000
Date of arrest: March 9, 2005 (in Brazil)
Date of birth: January 28, 1980
Victim profile: Nicholas Markowitz, 15
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Santa Barbara County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on July 14, 2009
 
 

 
 
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Jesse James Hollywood, also 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 cars.

Benjamin 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 Hollywood.

Hollywood was 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.

In January 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.

NBC's Dateline 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 drug operation.

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 exercise together.

Narcotics operation and murder

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 Graham Pressley.

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 Roberts.

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 Saquarema.

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 trial

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 Hollywood.

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 death penalty.

Conviction and sentencing

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.

Wikipedia.org


Jesse James Hollywood Sentenced to Life

Mastermind of Nicholas Markowitz Killing in 2000 Headed to Prison for Life

By Amy Silverstein - The Santa Barbara Independent

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 her decision.

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 Angeles.

It 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 hikers.

On 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.

On 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."

It 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 of California.

The 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.

Legal outcome

There have been several court cases involving criminal trials with the kidnappers and a civil lawsuit. The criminal trials include:

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 Quentin, Ca.

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.
 

 

 
 
 
 
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