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Justices turn down appeal in 'Alpha Dog' case

  • Story Highlights
  • Jesse James Hollywood's lawyers say 'Alpha Dog' film publicity would demonize him
  • Prosecutor in real-life case assisted movie's producers
  • Case, and movie, involve a drug-related kidnapping and murder
  • Hollywood could receive the death penalty if convicted
  • Next Article in Crime »
By Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court is allowing a prosecutor who helped in the making of the movie "Alpha Dog" to stay on the capital case on which the film was based.

Justin Timberlake starred in "Alpha Dog," the film based on the Jesse James Hollywood case.

Justices declined Monday to get involved in an appeal from Jesse James Hollywood, the accused mastermind of a plot to kidnap and murder 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz.

Hollywood -- his real name, says his family -- says publicity over "Alpha Dog" would unfairly demonize him before potential jurors.

The movie was released last year. Hollywood and his lawyers argue the power of popular films to influence the minds of the general public makes their upcoming defense all but impossible.

Hollywood is charged with heading a Southern California drug ring, and ordering the murder of Markowitz in August 2000. The boy's older half-brother reportedly owed Hollywood a $1,200 drug debt.

Hollywood faces the death penalty if convicted.

The justices' refusal to intervene now means Hollywood's criminal trial can begin early next year as scheduled.

While police were investigating Markowitz's murder and building their a case against Hollywood and his accomplices, the suspect fled the country. He was found five years later in Saquarema, Brazil, and extradited to the United States in 2005. He is now 28 years old.

During this time, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Ron Zonen was contacted by movie producers, and he agreed to turn over to them probation reports, police files and other "sensitive" information on the case. He was also an unpaid consultant to the film. Zonen defended his actions, saying he was trying to help publicize the international manhunt for Hollywood.

The movie starred Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, Justin Timberlake and actor Emile Hirsch in the role modeled on Hollywood. The fictionalized plot deals with a young drug dealer (named Johnny Truelove in the film), with a circle of friends, one of whom commits murder on Johnny's orders.

In real life, four of Hollywood's associates have already been convicted in the case, including triggerman Ryan Holt, who sits on California's death row.

The state's highest court ruled earlier this year that Zonen can remain on the case, but it criticized some of his actions.

"This is not to say that Zonen can or should escape censure," wrote Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar. "We find his acknowledged actions in turning over his case files without so much as an attempt to screen them for confidential information highly inappropriate and disturbing."

Hollywood's attorneys said that Zonen was unethical and that publicity from the movie tainted the jury pool. In addition to Zonen, they want the entire district attorney's staff removed from the case. "What we're saying is, when you do something like that, that's a conflict of interest," lead attorney James Blatt said. "You shouldn't be on the case."

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