Friday, September 5, 2008

Judge weighs death penalty for Hollywood


A Superior Court judge denied a motion by the attorney of Jesse James Hollywood, the alleged mastermind behind the slaying of a 15-year-old boy, to rule out the death penalty as a possible sentence yesterday.
“This seems a bit premature,” Judge Brian Hill said. “We haven’t even got to the point of guilt or innocence to the charges filed.”

He said challenging the constitutionality of a potential sentence may be appropriate at some stage in Hollywood’s trial, but decided now is not the time. However, he gave Hollywood’s attorney, James Blatt, the right to bring up the issue at a later date.
Hollywood is the alleged ringleader of a group who kidnapped 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz over a drug debt owed by Markowitz’ brother. Prosecutors allege Hollywood ordered the execution and burial of the teenager in the hills above Santa Barbara in 2000.
Others involved in the slaying have been arrested, prosecuted and sentenced, but Hollywood fled the country and remained on the run until FBI agents tracked him down in Brazil in 2005.
Judge Hill said Hollywood’s trial is still four to five months away, at a minimum.
During the pretrial motion hearing in a Santa Barbara courtroom yesterday, Judge Hill addressed a series of other motions filed by Hollywood’s attorney, including a request to dismiss the trial based on insufficient evidence presented during the grand jury hearing.
Having just recently received the motion from Blatt and a response filed by the prosecution, Judge Hill said he did not have enough time to review the grand jury transcript and postponed his decision.
“That’s obviously the most significant of the motions before the court,” he said, apologizing for not being ready to discuss the issue.
Blatt said he also plans to file a “change of venue” request to have the trial relocated due to publicity around the high-profile case. “Alpha Dog,” a film dramatizing Hollywood’s alleged involvement in the killing, was released in 2006.
Hollywood’s attorney said the venue issue might be premature since no jury selection has taken place and the effect of pretrial publicity is difficult to predict. However, he asked to file the motion now in order to get the bulk of his material on the record so he can renew his request for a new venue later in the proceedings, if necessary.
Judge Hill agreed, asking Blatt and the prosecution to return on Oct. 29 to discuss the motion to dismiss and the change of venue matter.
In addition to ruling on several motions related to trial procedure, the judge also handled Blatt’s request for full disclosure of any evidence acquired by the prosecution. Judge Hill said prosecutors turned over all known materials and will continue to do so should any new evidence surface.
“If you have any information that the discovery statutes are not being complied with … you’ll bring that to my attention,” he told Blatt.
Hollywood’s attorney said he had no problem with evidence being shared at the moment, but simply wanted to state his position on the record.
He said his client made statements to the FBI agents who arrested him in Brazil that have yet to surface, adding that he doesn’t want to be surprised by them once the trial starts.
Deputy District Attorney Josh Lynn said he has no intention of springing anything on the defense and confirmed that he still has not received the FBI statements.
“We have been trying in vain to track that down,” he said. “It’s not as easy as you think.”
As the hearing drew to a close, Hollywood’s attorney stood up and made one more comment to the court regarding security, asking that “machine guns” not be on display during the trial.
Judge Hill said he hadn’t noticed any machine guns in the courtroom, but said security issues will be addressed at a later date. Hollywood had a heavily armed escort on his way into the courtroom, including at least one officer with a submachine-style gun.
“It is intimidating and can be somewhat unnerving to have officers in the courtroom with submachine guns,” Blatt said.

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