Police believe that Harold Smith killed Ronni Chasen in a random act of violence — most likely a desperate "robbery gone bad" — after a preliminary ballistics test indicated a match between the gun that he used to shoot himself and the murder weapon.
Investigators are still working to determine whether anyone else was involved, but believe at this time that Smith acted alone, riding on a bicycle, said Sgt. Mike Publicker, the detective in charge of the investigation at a 3 p.m. news conference in Beverly Hills.
"He was at a desperate point in his life and was reaching out for desperate measures," Publicker said.
Smith shot himself in the head a week ago Wednesday as BHPD detectives approached him at a seedy Hollywood transient hotel, where he apparently had bragged to fellow residents that he was responsible for Chasen's death and was about to come into some money. Investigators were acting on a tip from "America's Most Wanted" viewer, police said.
The gun went to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's ballistics lab on Wednesday of last week — the day Smith shot himself — BHPD Chief Dave Snowden told TheWrap, "and we got back the results at 11 o'clock this morning. … It's still preliminary, but it looks like a match."
The Los Angeles Police Department, which is still investigating Smith's suicide shooting a week ago Wednesday, is still holding Smith's bicycle.
A final ballistics report could take up to several weeks, a law enforcement official told TheWrap this afternoon. "These things take time," the official said. "It ain't CSI," the official said.
According to court documents, Smith (pictured in mug shot at right; photo from TMZ) had a long history of criminal behavior including burglary and drug possession in California and in New York state.
Police issued the following statement moments after the news conference:
On Wednesday, December 1, 2010, Beverly Hills Detectives transported evidence from the Chasen homicide investigation to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Scientific Services Bureau/Firearms Section for initial analysis.
That afternoon, following up on a tip received from “America’s Most Wanted,” Beverly Hills Detectives responded to the Harvey Apartments in the 5600 block of Santa Monica Boulevard, in the City of Los Angeles. The person of interest, “Harold Martin Smith,” returned to the location, and once inside was contacted by Beverly Hills Police personnel. It was at this time Mr. Smith drew his weapon and took his own life. Mr. Smith sustained a single self inflicted gunshot wound to the head and expired at the scene.
On Thursday, December 2, 2010, Beverly Hills Police detectives requested the release of the weapon used in the commission of this suicide to be turned over to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Scientific Services Bureau/Firearms Section. This request was granted and a ballistic comparison was begun between the evidence recovered from the Chasen homicide investigation.
The Beverly Hills Police Department has been notified by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Scientific Services Bureau/Firearms Section that they have a preliminary ballistics result. The weapon used by our person of interest, “Harold Martin Smith” to commit suicide does preliminarily match the evidence from the Chasen homicide investigation. This is a preliminary match at this time with a completed analysis review and report expected within the next two weeks.
This is one of many aspects being investigated by the Beverly Hills detectives attempting to solve this heinous crime.
Any additional information can be provided to the 24 hour detective hotline at 310-288-2656.
The Police Department will provide the media with immediate updates as new developments occur.
Do the guns match?
According to the LA Times, ballistics report results say the gun that killed Ronni Chasen on Nov. 16 matches the one "person of interest” Harold Martin Smith fatally used on himself on Dec. 1
The Beverly Hills Police Department has scheduled a press conference on their investigation into the killing of Ronni Chasen at 3 p.m. PST. “The Press Conference,” said the BHPD, “is to provide an update on the Ronni Chasen Murder.”
The Watch Commander at the BHPD told TheWrap Wednesday afternoon, after reports of the gun match started to circulate, that he had no more information on the case.
Tuesday the BHPD sent out a statement saying that they have sought the assistance of the lab of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department’s Scientific Services Bureau/Firearms Section to determine if the gun Smith used was the same one used to shoot Chasen.
For most of the three weeks since the Hollywood publicist was gunned down on Nov. 16, the BHPD have been fairly tight lipped about the case. Lt. Tony Lee addressed the media on the night of Dec. 1 after Smith shot himself at a transient Hollywood hotel as police tried to serve a search warrant on him.
Ronni Chasen was shot five times with 9mm hollow-point bullets, with three wounds to the chest and two wounds to her right shoulder, according to a leaked coroner’s report, on Nov. 16. The attack took place on Whittier Dr., just south of Sunset Blvd. in Beverly Hills at around 12:30 a.m. as the 64-year old publicist was making her way home from the “Burlesque” premiere after-party at the W Hotel in Hollywood.
Check back to TheWrap for more once the press conference begins.