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Kidnap-murder trial opens for Jesse James Hollywood [Updated]

May 15, 2009 |  1:08 pm

Hollywood160 Nine years after the slaying of a 15-year-old West Hills boy, Jesse James Hollywood on Friday faced a jury that will determine whether he is guilty in the crime that inspired the 2007 film "Alpha Dog."

Prosecutors allege that Hollywood masterminded the kidnapping and murder of Nicholas Markowitz to avenge a $1,200 drug debt owed by Markowitz's stepbrother. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

In his opening statement, Santa Barbara County Deputy Dist. Atty. Joshua Lynn described Hollywood, now 29, as "a ruthless coward.'' 

He acknowledged that Hollywood, a high school baseball player turned San Fernando Valley drug dealer, was not present when the boy was marched up to a Santa Barbara trail head, beaten on the skull with a shovel, shot nine times and buried in a shallow grave.

But he likened Hollywood to an NFL coach "barking orders on the sidelines'' and choreographing the boy's execution.

Four others have been convicted in the crime. Ryan Hoyt, an old friend of Hollywood's dating to their Little League days together, has been convicted as the shooter and sentenced to death. 

Hollywood fled and was arrested in Brazil in 2005. 

[Updated, 3:30 p.m.: In his opening statement, defense attorney James Blatt said Hollywood participated in the boy's initial kidnapping from West Hills, but he had nothing to do with the later abduction from a Santa Barbara motel and his subsequent murder.

Hoyt took that upon himself, Blatt said, disputing the prosecution's portrait of Hollywood as a cold-blooded manipulator.

"He's no angel," Blatt said. "But he's not a powerful Manson-esque individual that somehow controls his crew and gets them to do his bidding."]

"Alpha Dog'' was at the heart of court battles for several years. Blatt tried unsuccessfully to have the Santa Barbara County district attorney's office removed from the case after it came out that prosecutor Ron Zonen had shared confidential files with producer Nick Cassavetes.

The state Supreme Court, while criticizing Zonen, said he had done nothing illegal, but the office assigned the case to another prosecutor.]

-- Steve Chawkins

Photo: Jesse James Hollywood in 2005.

Credit: Associated Press