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PROSECUTOR: TEEN KEY IN BOY'S SLAYING.

Byline: Marianne McCarthy Special to the Daily News

SANTA BARBARA - A prosecutor in the retrial of a 19-year-old Goleta man charged with murdering Nicholas Markowitz said Wednesday that he will prove the defendant was a key conspirator in the August 2000 shooting death of the West Hills boy.

Jurors in his first trial acquitted Graham Pressley of kidnapping Nicholas, 15, but deadlocked on a murder charge. Prosecutors opted to retry him, although several jurors in the first trial expressed doubt he could be convicted.

But prosecutor Ron Zonen told the new jury he intends to prove Pressley was involved in the brutal killing of Nicholas, who was shot nine times and buried near a popular Santa Barbara area hiking spot called Lizard's Mouth.

``He was the one familiar with Lizard's Mouth. He'd been there many times before,'' Zonen said, adding that Pressley admitted to police he helped dig the boy's grave.

But Public Defender Michael Ganschow said Pressley participated in Nicholas' slaying because he was afraid of Jesse James Hollywood, the alleged mastermind of the slaying scheme.

``My client could have just as easily lost his life that night,'' Ganschow said. ``There were two young victims that night. Unfortunately, only one survived.''

Ganschow plans to call several character witnesses to testify that Pressley is incapable of murder.

Pressley is one of five men who prosecutors say kidnapped and murdered Nicholas because of a drug debt his older half brother owed Hollywood, who is a fugitive believed to be in Canada.

A jury has recommended the death penalty for Ryan Hoyt of West Hills, the accused triggerman, who was convicted of kidnapping and first-degree murder.

Jesse Rugge, also from West Hills, was sentenced last month to 15 years in prison for his conviction on kidnapping charges. William Skidmore of Simi Valley pleaded guilty to kidnap and robbery and is serving a five-year prison sentence.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 31, 2002
Words:313
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