Man boasting about killing Ronni Chasen prompted 'America's Most Wanted' to alert police
The tip that led police investigating Ronni Chasen’s shooting death to confront an ex-convict in a Hollywood apartment lobby came from an "America’s Most Wanted" viewer who had heard the man brag about involvement in the crime, the show’s host, John Walsh, said Friday.
"He said, ‘I think I know this guy. Someone has been bragging about it or talking about it and this is a dangerous guy and I’m afraid,' " Walsh said.
The man the tipster identified, Harold Martin Smith, shot himself as Beverly Hills police detectives approached him near the entrance of the Harvey Apartments on Wednesday night.
Smith, 43, had a rap sheet dating to 1992 and had spent nine years in prison for robbery. At the time of his death, he was wanted by authorities in connection with a Manhattan Beach loitering charge.
Police confirmed that the "America’s Most Wanted" tip prompted them to attempt to question Smith. The show aired a segment on the case Nov. 20, and, three days later, a man phoned the show’s hotline, Walsh said. He told an operator that he was too frightened to provide Smith’s address.
"We begged the guy to call back," Walsh said.
A week later, on Tuesday, he phoned back and said Smith was expected to visit the apartment building, where he had once lived, the next evening. "We gave it to Beverly Hills [police] right away and they rolled on it quite quickly," Walsh said.
The host said he was "hoping and praying" ballistics tests would show that Smith was involved in the fatal shooting of Chasen on Nov. 16.
"Lots of people confess to crimes they didn’t do for their 15 minutes of fame. I’m hoping this isn’t just another nut case," Walsh said.
He declined to divulge any information about the tipster, but said the man remains in telephone contact with the show. "We talked to him today and he feels he did the right thing," Walsh said.
Martin had been arrested seven times for crimes ranging from misdemeanor drug possession to felony robbery. The records suggest that 13 years ago Smith had some animus toward police. A note in the minutes of a 1997 proceeding stemming from an arrest for misdemeanor disturbing the peace and possession of drug paraphernalia reads, "Public safety hold. Threaten to kill police officer."
Smith's most serious crime, according to the records, was a 1998 robbery in Beverly Hills that resulted in a sentence of 11 years in state prison. Smith was released in 2007. In August 2009, Manhattan Beach police arrested him for prowling and marijuana possession.
He was sentenced to three years' probation and a month in county jail, but the sentence was suspended. In September after he failed to pay a $100 court fine, a judge in the Torrance courthouse revoked his probation and issued a bench warrant for his arrest.
-- Harriet Ryan and Richard Winton in Torrance