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Career criminal acted alone in killing publicist

This image provided by the Jackson County Sheriff's Office shows Harold Martin Smith, who killed himself just as police approached him for questioning him on Wed., Dec. 1, 2010, in connection with the slaying of Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen. In a news conference scheduled for Wednesday Dec. 8, 2010 Beverly Hills Police announced they have significant news concerning ballistic tests conducted on the gun Smith used to shoot himself. (AP Photo/Jackson County Sheriff's Office, File)

Investigators said Wednesday that they believe a Hollywood publicist was killed by the career criminal who committed suicide last week in a seedy apartment lobby as police closed in on him.

The announcement by Beverly Hills police marks a major break in an investigation that has baffled detectives for nearly month and stunned Hollywood ever since Ronni Chasen was gunned down while driving home from a movie premiere in her Mercedes in November.

Beverly Hills Police Chief David Snowden said it was a “robbery gone bad” committed by Harold Martin Smith, who has a rap sheet dating back at least 25 years. He also said the gun used by Smith to commit suicide appears to have been used to Chasen.

“We believe that Mr. Smith acted alone. We don’t believe it was a professional hit,” he said.

Chasen was shot multiple times in the chest Nov. 20 as she drove through Beverly Hills after returning home from a premiere of the movie “Burlesque.”

Sgt. Mike Publicker said investigators believe Smith, riding a bicycle, tried to rob Chasen as she waited to turn left off of Sunset Boulevard.

“This was a random act of violence, with Mr. Smith’s background, we believe that it was most likely a robbery gone bad at this time,” he said.

“Through the interviews and the information we received, that leads us to believe that he was at a desperate point in his life, and was reaching out and doing desperate measures,” Publicker said.

Police said the information leading detectives to Smith was an anonymous tip to “America‘s Most Wanted” and that person may be eligible for a $125,000 reward.

Police confirmed that no shell casings were found at the scene. They did not reveal whether there was any video evidence.

Smith, 43, had been described by police as a “person of interest” after bragging to acquaintances that he killed Chasen. Documents obtained by The Associated Press revealed Smith was a two-strike felon with a criminal history that dates back at least 25 years.

He had been convicted twice of burglary and most recently had been released from prison in 2007 after serving time for robbery.

Police stressed that their investigation is ongoing.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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