Man Who Killed Self During Probe Of Hollywood Publicist Slaying Was Ex-Con

Ronni Chasen in Los Angeles on April 14, 2010 Ronni Chasen in Los Angeles on April 14, 2010

The man who killed himself in front of police investigating publicist Ronni Chasen’s death is identified in California legal documents as an ex-con who served time for robbery.

The document obtained Friday by The Associated Press says 43-year-old Harold Martin Smith was released from prison in 2007 and discharged from parole last year.

Court documents indicate Smith had a lengthy criminal past that included arrests for felony burglary and other offenses.

Beverly Hills police have only labeled the suicide victim a person of interest in Chasen’s death. The publicist was fatally shot as she drove home from a party following a movie premiere.

Smith pleaded guilty in December 1991 to second degree burglary and was ordered to serve six months in jail and was placed on three years probation, according to court records. He also had a prior burglary conviction in 1985 in New York.

Court records show Smith was a transient and a struggling laborer trying to find work before he was arrested in 1991. He had previously lived in New York and had been in the Los Angeles area for three months at that time.

In February 1998 he was arrested by Beverly Hills police and charged with two counts of robbery. He pleaded guilty to one count and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

He was arrested by Manhattan Beach police last year for investigation of loitering and possession of marijuana. He pleaded guilty to the loitering charge and was placed on three years of probation. He was ordered to return to court this past September for failure to pay a $160 fine.

He failed to appear twice and a bench warrant was issued for him.

Smith shot himself Wednesday evening as Beverly Hills detectives approached to serve a search warrant in a dowdy Los Angeles apartment building.

Resident Terri Gilpin said he had bragged about killing Chasen and was waiting to receive $10,000 he said he was promised for the hit. Gilpin, however, said she and her husband didn’t believe him.

Someone else may have, however. The “America’s Most Wanted” TV program said on its website that after it aired a show on the Chasen killing on Nov. 20, several tips were received and the Beverly Hills police acted upon one of them. Police have not confirmed that account.

Chasen, 64, was shot multiple times last month as she drove through Beverly Hills in her Mercedes from a party after attending the premiere of the movie “Burlesque,” the soundtrack of which she was promoting for an Oscar nomination. Her car crashed into a pole south of Sunset Boulevard and residents found her wounded. She died later at a hospital.

In a separate development Friday, a judge approved a petition to appoint special administrators for Chasen’s estate, which court records show has an estimated value of $6.1 million. Attorneys for executors named in Chasen’s 1994 will were asking the judge to appoint them as administrators so that they can run her business and try to determine whether the publicist had a newer will.

Martha Smilgis, one of the co-executors, said she did not think Chasen was killed because of anything in her will. A friend of Chasen for more than 30 years, Smilgis said the veteran publicist had not expressed any fear or concern in recent conversations.

“Believe me, this woman expected to live on and on,” Smilgis said.

Smilgis, a retired journalist, expressed confidence in Beverly Hills police and their investigation. She said it was her understanding that police had already taken Chasen’s records and were reviewing them. “They’re already way ahead on her murder, I’m sure,” Smilgis said.

Asked by reporters whether she believed Smith might have killed Chasen as part of a hit scheme, Smilgis expressed doubts. “There’s something that rings a little wrong” about that scenario, she said.

Chasen’s brother, Lawrence G. Cohen, is also one of the executors of his sister’s estate, but did not appear in court.

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