SANTA BARBARA — More than 20 people knew 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz was being held by kidnappers who eventually killed him but none of them notified police, county grand jury transcripts show.
Five people were charged with the abduction and murder of the San Fernando Valley teen-ager, who was killed Aug. 8 after being held two days in Santa Barbara. The crime allegedly was orchestrated by 20-year-old Jesse James Hollywood, who remains a fugitive.
Grand jurors, in transcripts released this week, were told that an array of people – from young men and women to Hollywood’s attorney and father – were aware of the kidnapping in the two days before Markowitz was shot. Instead of informing police, however, they chose to ignore it or urged the kidnappers to return him home.
“I mean, I just didn’t want any involvement at all,” testified Richard Hoeflinger, who was at a home where Markowitz was taken while blindfolded and bound with duct tape. “I didn’t want to know what was going on.”
In the transcripts, reviewed by the Santa Barbara News-Press, prosecutors described a sort of ongoing party at the locations Markowitz was being held. Friends of the kidnappers dropped in to smoke marijuana, take Valium and watch TV with the teen-ager they referred to as “the stolen boy.”
One girl told her mother, a local defense attorney, that she knew of a youth being held against his will.
None of those who knew of the abduction yet failed to call police will be charged, said Ron Zonen, senior deputy district attorney for the Santa Barbara County district attorney’s office.
“Simply knowing that a crime is being committed does not mean that you’re guilty of that crime ... you have to aid and abet the commission of the crime,” he told The Associated Press.
Many of them also were granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony, he said.
The abduction and killing allegedly were over a $36,000 drug debt the teen-ager’s older brother, 22-year-old Benjamin Markowitz, owed Hollywood. Both families are from the West Hills area of Los Angeles.
Hikers found Nicholas Markowitz’s body Aug. 12 in a shallow grave in Los Padres National Forest north of Santa Barbara. Authorities said he had been shot nine times.
Four people, ranging in age from 17 to 21, were arrested and have pleaded innocent to kidnapping and murder. Authorities believe Hollywood participated in the kidnapping but was not present during the killing.
Hollywood called his attorney, Stephen Hogg of Simi Valley, a few hours after the Sunday afternoon abduction, according to the transcripts.
“It appears that Jesse Hollywood consulted with an attorney and possibly learned what the penalty was for kidnapping, particularly kidnapping for extortion,” Zonen told the grand jury. ”(He) became spooked by it, and the decision was made that they weren’t going to return him, but, rather, they were going to kill him.”
Hogg called Hollywood’s parents and a family friend, John Roberts, 68, whom Hollywood regarded as an uncle.
Hogg urged them to find Hollywood and get him to return the missing youth. Roberts said he was taken aback by the seriousness of the trouble Jesse Hollywood was in.
Roberts and Jack Hollywood, Jesse Hollywood’s father, met with Jesse on the following Monday or Tuesday but were unable to persuade him to let Markowitz go or to turn himself in, Roberts testified.
Even after Markowitz was killed, it took more than a week before anyone stepped forward to talk with authorities.