At the Jesse James Hollywood trial

Natasha Vargas-Cooper, who is watching the murder trial of Jesse James Hollywood up in Santa Barbara for The Awl, grew up with killing victim Nick Markowitz in West Hills.

The trial has been so long coming that it has been three years since the movie Alpha Dog, a fictional account of the murder, was released. The numb savagery involved in the murder is the kind of stuff that any amateur sociologist could base a thesis on: the suburbs breed their own brand of wanton boys with too much money and too much time, etc. So Nick Cassavetes did just that. He cast Justin Timberlake as Jesse Rugge, the duct-taper of Hollywood’s crew. The movie was marketed to tweens as Timberlake’s gritty star-turn.

I grew up with Nick Markowitz. We had a three-day hand-holding affair the summer of 7th grade. He was a part of my tight circle of goofy theater kid friends who were transformed into a traumatized fraternity after his murder.

In the summer of 2000, Nick’s older brother Ben owed a $1,200 drug debt to Hollywood. Ben and Jesse—who had played in Little League together—were now feuding.

In a haphazard plan to exact revenge and ransom, Hollywood and his friends kidnapped Nick, who was 15.

Vargas-Cooper is the daughter of longtime L.A.-based journalist Marc Cooper.

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