Murder of Nicholas Markowitz
Nicholas Samuel Markowitz
September 19, 1984
|Died|| (aged 15)|
|Home town||West Hills, Los Angeles, California U.S.|
Nicholas Samuel “Nick” Markowitz (September 19, 1984 – August 9, 2000) was an American 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.
Kidnapping and murder
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Nick lived in West Hills, Los Angeles with his parents Jeff and Susan Markowitz. The feud between Nicholas' older half-brother Ben Markowitz and Jesse James Hollywood, a mid-level drug dealer, began over an alleged $1,200 debt owed to Hollywood by Markowitz. On August 6, 2000, Hollywood and his friends Jesse Rugge and William Skidmore decided to confront Benjamin. However, on their way to see him, they saw Nicholas walking on the side of the road, having run away from home, and decided to abduct Nicholas in order to hold him for ransom in lieu of Benjamin's debt. They chased, assaulted, and abducted Nicholas, then escaped in a van.
Hollywood and his gang then picked up Brian Affronti (another one of Hollywood's friends) and drove up to Santa Barbara, California. When Hollywood and his gang informed Nicholas of why they were holding him, he allegedly panicked. However, after they offered him drugs and alcohol he felt that he was a part of the group. Hollywood left Rugge in charge of watching Nicholas and went back to Los Angeles apparently to talk to Ben. While in Santa Barbara, Nicholas met Rugge's friends Graham Pressley, Natasha Adams-Young, and Kelly Carpenter. The group attended various house parties together; reports indicate that many witnesses — parents and teens alike — saw the group together but did not realize anything was wrong. Although up to 32 witnesses knew he had been kidnapped they did not notify the police, as Nicholas appeared to be safe and having fun.
After Hollywood told Rugge that Nicholas would be returning home, Rugge, Markowitz and several others held a going away party in the pool area of the Lemon Tree Inn. However, after learning of the legal ramifications he could face for kidnapping, Hollywood called Ryan Hoyt, another member of his gang who owed him $1200, to kill Nicholas, giving him a TEC-9 semi-automatic handgun. The decision was made to commit the murder in the Santa Ynez Mountains, close to West Camino Cielo Road, north of Goleta, California.
After the party, Hoyt, Rugge, and Pressley drove Nicholas to the mountains, and walked up a trail to a grave dug by Pressley earlier that night. Rugge bound Nicholas's hands behind his back and covered his mouth with duct tape. Hoyt then hit Nicholas in the back of the head with a shovel, knocking him into the grave, and shot him nine times with Hollywood's semi-automatic pistol. The members of the group then tried to hide the gun by placing it between the legs of Nicholas's body and covering the body with dirt and branches. However, the grave was too shallow and close to the popular Lizard's Mouth Trail. Nicholas's body was found on August 12, 2000. Ryan Hoyt, Jesse Rugge, William Skidmore, and Graham Pressley were all arrested after numerous leads to the sheriff's office following Nicholas's death. Jesse Hollywood went on the run but was eventually captured in a small town near Rio de Janeiro five years later.
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 of the murder, was charged with first-degree murder. His trial began in October 2001 and ended in 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. Currently on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, California.
- Jesse Rugge, aged 20 at the time of the murder, was charged with aiding in the kidnap and execution of Nicholas Markowitz. He was convicted of aggravated kidnapping for ransom or extortion with special circumstances in 2002 and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 7 years. Parole was denied in 2006. As of July 2, 2013, Jesse Rugge has been granted parole. On October 24, 2013, Jesse Rugge was released from prison and is now on parole, after serving 11 years in prison.
- William Skidmore, aged 20 at the time of the murder, was charged with kidnapping and robbery. In September 2002, he was sentenced to 9 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, dug the shallow grave for Nicholas. He was tried twice. In July 2002 he was acquitted of kidnapping and the jury hung, eight to four in favor of not guilty, on the murder charge. In October 2002, he was retried and convicted of second-degree murder. Pressley was incarcerated at a California Youth Authority facility until shortly before his 25th birthday in 2007. He has since been released.
- Jesse James Hollywood, aged 20 at the time of the murder, was not present at the scene of the crime but was found guilty of having ordered it. He immediately went on the run, but was arrested in Saquarema, Brazil, after five years of being on the FBI's most wanted list. In 2009, he was convicted of kidnapping and first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
- 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 and the owners of several homes where Nicholas was held against his will.
In popular culture
The feature film Alpha Dog, based on the events leading up to the murder of Nicholas Markowitz and directed by Nick Cassavetes, was released in 2006. Markowitz is portrayed as "Zack Mazursky" in the film and played by Anton Yelchin.
- "The real story behind 'Alpha Dog'". MSNBC. 2005.
- "Jesse James Hollywood, drug dealer orders murder and flees". Crime Library. p. 6.
- Guccione, Jean (August 10, 2001). "Family of Slain Boy Files Suit Against 32 People". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-01-01.
- Wilson, Tracy (November 21, 2001). "Jury Returns With Death Verdict for Killer of West Hills". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-01-01.
- Guccione, Jean (September 25, 2002). "22-Year-Old Is Sentenced to Life in Teen's Kidnap-Slaying". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
- Fox, Sue (November 11, 2001). "Kidnap Victim Could Have Fled, Witnesses Testify; Trial: Nicholas Markowitz stayed with captors because he thought he would be taken home, they say". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-01-01.
- "Hollywood's Day in Court". The Santa Barbara Independent. May 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
- Guccione, Jean (February 12, 2003). "Teen in Slaying Case Gets CYA; At ex-sheriff's urging, judge rejects adult prison for Goleta defendant convicted for his role in the death of a West Hills boy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-01-01.
- "Hollywood's Day in Court". The Santa Barbara Independent.
- "Fugitive in 2000 Slaying of Teen Found; Jesse James Hollywood, 25, reportedly is captured in Brazil". Los Angeles Times. March 10, 2005.
- "Jesse James Hollywood gets life sentence in Santa Barbara murder". Los Angeles Times. July 15, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- Guccione, Jean (August 2, 2003). "Fugitive Ordered to Pay Parents of Slain Boy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-05-30.
- Jenna Glatzer, Susan Markowitz (2010). My stolen son; The Nick Markowitz story. New York: Berkley Books. ISBN 978-0-425-23634-5.