Taking a page out of the O.J. Simpson legal playbook, a Santa Barbara County judge has ordered fugitive Jesse James Hollywood and two co-defendants to pay $11.2 million to the parents of a 15-year-old boy who was killed to settle a drug debt.
In an unexpected move, Superior Court Judge James W. Brown fixed punitive damages at $10 million, even though Hollywood has not been convicted in the August 2000 abduction and murder of Nicholas Markowitz.
Under California law, punitive damages are generally reserved for intentional acts, and a criminal conviction relieves the burden of proving intent.
In holding the fugitive liable, Brown cited an earlier ruling in the Simpson case.
A judge ordered Simpson to pay a multimillion-dollar verdict in a civil wrongful-death case, despite the former football star's earlier acquittal on criminal charges.
Hollywood, 23, has been at large since he was charged with murder and kidnapping two years ago. He is on the FBI's most-wanted list.
Authorities say Hollywood, an alleged drug dealer who owns a $200,000 house in West Hills, was the mastermind of the plot to kidnap Nicholas and drive him to Santa Barbara, where he was shot and buried near a remote camping area. The motive, authorities say, was revenge for the failure by the older half-brother of Nicholas to pay a $1,200 drug debt.
Attorney Richard Tarlow, who represented the Markowitz family, said the judgment is not about money or closure but about responsibility.
It also is part of a larger effort to keep Hollywood in the public eye.
"Someday, somewhere, he will be caught," Tarlow said.
Susan and Jeffrey Markowitz sued Hollywood and 31 others two years ago over their son's death. The defendants ranged from the Hollywood family friend whose van was used in the kidnapping to the owners of several homes where Nicholas was held against his will, including family homes and the Lemon Tree Inn in Santa Barbara.
The suit alleged that dozens of people who encountered Nicholas during his last days could have helped him to escape. The boy was held against his will at the Santa Barbara home of one of his teenage abductors, and had visited another teen's San Fernando Valley home in the days before he was murdered.
The West Hills couple last year settled with 14 defendants, including the Los Angeles Police Department, for nearly $350,000.
Of that, Hollywood family friend John Roberts, whose van was used in the abduction, was expected to pay $165,000, according to court documents. And Hollywood's parents, Jack and Laurie Hollywood, were expected to pay $50,000.
The judge last week awarded Susan Markowitz $684,000 for the loss of her son's love and companionship, and Jeffrey Markowitz $510,000. Brown also ordered Hollywood, Jesse Rugge and Ryan Hoyt to pay $15,000 in funeral costs.
It is very unlikely those amounts, if any of the court judgment, would be collected.
Hoyt, 24, was sentenced to death last year for shooting Nicholas. Rugge, 23, who bound Nicholas before the killing, was sentenced to life in prison but could be released on parole after seven years.
Santa Barbara prosecutors, meanwhile, are trying to stop an attorney for Hollywood from gaining access to sealed search warrants in the murder case, alleging he wants the information to help Hollywood stay under the radar of authorities.
Simi Valley attorney Stephen M. Hogg is seeking a judge's permission to copy 2-year-old search warrants in the police investigation.