Harold Smith
HO  /  AP
Harold Smith, seen in this photo obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, killed himself just as police converged on him on Wednesday.
updated 12/4/2010 4:04:01 AM ET 2010-12-04T09:04:01

Whether he was a Hollywood hitman or an ex-con with a big mouth still isn't known.

One thing is certain about the man who shot himself to death when police converged on him to talk about the killing of Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen: He was an armed career criminal possibly looking at another stretch in prison, whether he had any connection to Chasen's death or not.

Documents obtained Friday by The Associated Press reveal that Harold Martin Smith, who acquaintances say had boasted of killing Chasen for money, was a convicted, two-strikes felon with a long criminal history.

Smith, 43, had most recently been released from prison in 2007 after a robbery conviction. He was discharged from parole last year and had told neighbors at the seedy Los Angeles apartment building where he lived that he would never return to prison.

He ensured that Wednesday, when Beverly Hills police detectives, armed with a search warrant, approached him in the shabby lobby of the Harvey Apartments, told him to take his hands out of his pockets and said they were there to talk about Chasen's killing.

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Smith pulled a gun from one of those pockets and shot himself in the head.

Police say it's possible Smith had no connection to the murder.

"At this time, it is unknown if this individual was involved in the Chasen homicide," Lt. Tony Lee said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times Friday.

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He referred to Smith, as a "person of interest" rather than a suspect and said undercover officers were following a tip from the Fox program "America's Most Wanted" when they approached him.

'Just decided to check out'
However, Smith likely knew he was in trouble no matter what he told police, criminal experts say.

"Here's Harold talking all this (expletive). Cops are standing there looking at him, he's thinking, I didn't kill Ronni but I'm standing here with a gun in my pocket," speculated private investigator John Nazarian, a former sheriff's deputy who has investigated homicide cases. "He's going to go back to prison, for life probably. So he just decided to check out."

A third felony conviction could have brought a life sentence for Smith under California's three-strikes law.

Damian Dovarganes  /  AP
The Harvey Apartments building is shown on Thursday.

Court records show Smith, a transient, was no stranger to Beverly Hills, where Chasen was shot to death on Nov. 20.

He was arrested for robberies in that city and neighboring West Hollywood and sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1998.

One of the victims testified in court that he grabbed her in a bear hug and demanded her purse but fled with just her portable music player and headphones when she screamed and struggled.

His criminal record dates back at least 25 years to 1985, when he was convicted of burglary in New York.

Chasen's estate worth $6.1 million
He moved to California in 1991, was arrested again for burglary and pleaded guilty. Three years later, he was charged in an Oregon robbery but it could not be immediately determined if he was convicted.

He was charged with marijuana possession and loitering last year in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and pleaded guilty to the latter charge.

A warrant for his arrest was issued after he failed to return to court in September to pay his $160 fine.

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Chasen, 64, was shot multiple times as she drove through Beverly Hills in her Mercedes from a party after attending the premiere of the movie "Burlesque."

She was promoting the film's soundtrack for an Oscar nomination.

As police continued their investigation 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 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.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Publicist’s death leaves Hollywood on edge

  1. Closed captioning of: Publicist’s death leaves Hollywood on edge

    >>> service.

    >> it has turned into a real hollywood whodunit. who murdered publicist ronni chasen . police thought they had a strong lead in the case, but the man they wanted to question killed himself when officers arrived to talk to him. now they're raising new doubts about where he fits in, if at all. nbc's george lewis with the latest twist in this murder mystery .

    >> reporter: a few days after ronni chasen was gunned down in this beverly hills neighborhood.

    >> she was rushed to the hospital, but died an hour later.

    >> reporter: a tipster called a tv show "america's most wanted" that this man, yeshex-convict harold smith . smith killed himself wednesday night as officers approached him. multiple law enforcement sources called smith a suspect, but in a press release the beverly hills police department said, quote, at this time it is unknown if this individual was involved in the chasen homicide.

    >> we've had a lot of cases where people have admitted to murder it is they didn't commit and that's where you have to be very careful and be very fact-oriented.

    >> reporter: it's been widely reported the gun the man used to kill himself was want the same weapon used in the chasen murder. beverly hills police would neither confirm nor deny those reports.

    >> chasen 's brother director/writer larry cohen offered his own theory with the murder. in an interview with the website showbiz411, he writes i'm sure it was road rage . i'm sure it was some kind of random thing.

    >> reporter: whoez who knew chasen said she was a careful driver and not likely to be a victim of road rage . was ronni chasen being threatened by someone before her death? a executor of her $6 million estate says she doesn't think so.

    >> there was no indication to me, this summer we talked a lot about a lot of things that, you know, she expected that anything like this would happen, believe me. this woman expected to live on and on.

    >> reporter: and now her violent death has hollywood on edge. george


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