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Man Sought in Kidnap, Assault of Ex-Girlfriend

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Police are looking for a former USC football player who they say kidnaped and beat his ex-girlfriend a day after he was freed on bail on a previous charge of assaulting her.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Jeff Maree, 25, who has not been seen since he released Laura Zovitch, 20, in front of a Torrance restaurant May 8, said Manhattan Beach Police Detective Fred McKewen.

Maree abducted Zovitch at gunpoint May 7 in Manhattan Beach and drove her to Tijuana before releasing her the next day, McKewen said. Along the way, police said, Maree punched Zovitch so hard that she lost both of her front teeth.

Zovitch ended her relationship of more than two years with Maree several months ago because of his alleged abusive behavior, McKewen said.

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Zovitch spent the night of May 6 with a friend in Manhattan Beach after learning that a South Bay Municipal Court judge had lowered Maree’s bail and that he had been released from jail.

When Zovitch left the friend’s house at 7:30 a.m., she found Maree crouched in the back seat of her car with a pistol, McKewen said.

Maree forced Zovitch into her car before switching to his own car a few blocks away, McKewen said.

Zovitch later told detectives that she suggested that the two drive to Tijuana because she thought that when they crossed into Mexico she would be able to alert border guards.

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But the guards merely waved Maree and Zovitch across the border. After several hours in Tijuana--during which a dentist pulled Zovitch’s dangling front teeth--the Redondo Beach woman was able to convince Maree that he would be in less trouble with the police if he let her go, McKewen said.

Zovitch was let free on Hawthorne Boulevard in Torrance.

In April, Maree was charged with assault and battery for an alleged March 11 encounter with Zovitch at the apartment the couple once shared on Catalina Avenue in Redondo Beach.

Maree, a reserve defensive back at USC from 1985 to 1987, came to the apartment at 8:30 that night and the two argued, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Diana Teran. The 5-10, 185-pound athlete hit Zovitch several times, badly bruising her face and arms, Teran said.

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When Maree learned that charges had been filed in that case, he voluntarily returned from a vacation at his parents’ home in New Jersey and surrendered at South Bay Municipal Court, said his attorney, J. Michael Flanagan.

Maree’s bail was initially set at $22,000, but on April 23 Flanagan asked South Bay Municipal Judge Thomas P. Allen Jr. to release his client on his own recognizance. Flanagan said that Maree had shown his good faith by riding a bus for five days from New Jersey to turn himself in.

But prosecutor Teran asked the judge not to alter the bail until a report was prepared by the county Probation Department on Maree’s suitability for release.

Allen refused to order the report, instead setting Maree’s bail at $2,500.

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Allen said Wednesday that he had lowered the bail because Flanagan made a good case that Maree would return to court. The judge said he could not comment further because the case is still pending.

Maree posted the reduced bail and was released from the men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles on May 6, the day before the second alleged attack on Zovitch.

Flanagan said he has no idea where Maree is or whether he will appear for his preliminary hearing in the first battery case, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

In 1987, while he was still enrolled at USC, Maree was arrested for allegedly kidnaping another girlfriend. The victim in that case was released unharmed after Maree drove her from El Monte to Pasadena.

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Maree pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of false imprisonment in that case and was sentenced to three years probation.


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