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Police: Ex-con acted alone in publicist slaying

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BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. (AP) - A Hollywood publicist was gunned down by an ex-con on a bicycle in a robbery gone awry as she drove home from a movie premiere last month, police said they believed Wednesday after reviewing ballistics tests.

The major break in the investigation came as tests linked the gun Harold Martin Smith used to commit suicide with bullets that killed Ronni Chasen.

It came a week after Smith killed himself in the lobby of a seedy apartment building as investigators acting on a tip tried to question him.

"We believe that Mr. Smith acted alone. We don't believe it was a professional hit," said Beverly Hills Police Chief David Snowden.

Chasen was shot multiple times in the chest Nov.16 as she drove through Beverly Hills while heading home after the 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 from 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."

Police said the investigation was continuing.

Chasen, 64, was an influential behind-the-scenes player in Hollywood with a long track record in promoting films such as "Driving Miss Daisy," "On Golden Pond" and the sequel to "Wall Street" and their stars for Oscars.

Detectives were led to Smith by an anonymous tip to "America's Most Wanted" by a person who might be eligible for a $125,000 reward.

Steve Katz, a co-executive producer of the TV show, said staff notified the tipster about the latest developments.

"When he heard that his tip helped resolve this case, he was very emotional," Katz said. "This is really a perfect example of how an average person can make a difference."

Police said it didn't appear that Chasen knew Smith or that any of her property had been taken. No shell casings were found at the scene, and investigators did not reveal if there was any video evidence of the attack.

Smith, 43, had a rap sheet dating back at least 25 years and 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 who had been convicted twice of burglary and most recently had been released from prison in 2007 after serving time for robbery.

Smith told neighbors at the apartment building where he shot himself that he would never return to prison. Police armed with a search warrant approached him, told him to take his hands out of his pockets and said they were there to talk to him about Chasen's killing. That's when Smith pulled a gun from one of those pockets and shot himself in the head.

One of the neighbors, Terri Gilpin, said she heard Smith boast about Chasen's killing. He talked about how he was going to be paid $10,000 and was waiting on the money, she said.

Speculation about the motive for the killing of Chasen initially included road rage, a professional hit or gang-initiation killing.

Citing preliminary results of an autopsy first reported by KTTV, The Associated Press reported Monday that Smith's gun likely did not match the one used to kill Chasen.

The TV station reported Chasen appeared to have been killed by 9 mm hollow-point bullets. Snowden later said the preliminary autopsy records were erroneous.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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