SANTA BARBARA — A jury found a 22-year-old man guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday for the killing of a 15-year-old boy who was kidnapped in Los Angeles and shot because of his half brother’s unpaid drug debt.
Ryan Hoyt, one of a group of young men facing charges in the Aug. 8, 2000, slaying of Nicholas Markowitz, was convicted after little more than a day’s deliberation by the jury.
Hoyt sat, barely moving, as the verdict was read. Markowitz’s mother, Susan Markowitz, clutched a leather jacket that had belonged to her only son.
The sentencing phase of the trial will begin Monday. Hoyt faces the death penalty or life without parole.
The probe of the abduction and murder revealed bizarre circumstances and led to an FBI manhunt for alleged ringleader Jesse James Hollywood, who remains a fugitive.
According to prosecutors, Markowitz was abducted off a San Fernando Valley street on Aug. 6, 2000. He then spent two days partying with his captors in Santa Barbara, drinking, smoking pot, meeting girls and swimming in a hotel pool.
Apparently convinced he was in no danger, he never tried to get away, and even told one girl his abduction would be a story to tell. No one who saw him called police.
Prosecutors say Hollywood decided to get rid of the boy after he checked with his attorney and found out that the penalty for aggravated kidnapping was life in prison.
Hoyt was ordered to carry out the killing to pay off his own $1,200 drug debt, according to prosecutors. Markowitz was marched into Los Padres National Forest, shot nine times and buried. His body was found four days later.
During the trial, jurors saw a videotape in which Hoyt confessed to investigators he killed Markowitz. During the trial, Hoyt said he had lied during the interview because he wanted to protect the other people involved.
Three other defendants, Jesse Rugge of Santa Barbara, William Skidmore of Simi Valley and Graham Pressley of Goleta, await trial. All have pleaded innocent.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen said he would seek to try Pressley and Rugge together, perhaps as early as February. The cases would be heard in the same courtroom, but with separate juries.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department has been holding an inquiry into a complaint that two officers failed to investigate the kidnapping properly.
The officers were operating on information from dispatchers who coded information from 911 calls as an assault, but not as a kidnapping. The officers testified Monday that a witness told them the victim had escaped and they concluded the incident had been a fistfight among teen-agers. The officers, however, missed a second radio call and misidentified a street. The dispatchers were disciplined with three-day suspensions.