UNITED STATES NEWS

2 men convicted of killing Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay nearly 22 years after rap star’s death

Feb 27, 2024, 1:44 PM | Updated: 8:40 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — More than 20 years after Run-D.M.C. star Jam Master Jay was brazenly gunned down in his recording studio, two men close to him were convicted Tuesday of murder, marking a moment authorities had long awaited in one of the hip-hop world’s most elusive cases.

An anonymous Brooklyn federal jury found Karl Jordan Jr. and Ronald Washington guilty of killing the pioneering DJ in 2002 over what prosecutors characterized as revenge for a failed drug deal.

The musician, born Jason Mizell, worked the turntables in Run-D.M.C. as it helped hip-hop break into the pop music mainstream in the 1980s with such hits as “It’s Tricky” and a fresh take on Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”

Like the slayings of rap icons Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. in the late 1990s, there were no arrests for years. Authorities were deluged with tips, rumors and theories but struggled to get witnesses to open up.

“It’s no mystery why it took years to indict and arrest the defendants,” Breon Peace, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, told reporters after Tuesday’s verdict. He said key witnesses “were terrified that they would be retaliated against if they cooperated with law enforcement.”

“Their strength and resolve in testifying at this trial were a triumph of right over wrong and courage over fear,” Peace added.

Jordan, 40, was Mizell’s godson. Washington, 59, was an old friend who was bunking at the home of the DJ’s sister at the time of the shooting on Oct. 30, 2002. Both men were arrested in 2020 and pleaded not guilty.

“Y’all just killed two innocent people,” Washington yelled at jurors following the guilty verdict. Jordan’s supporters also erupted at the verdict, cursing the jury.

Defense lawyers said they asked the judge to set aside the verdict and acquit them.

“My client did not do this. And the jury heard testimony about the person who did,” one of Washington’s lawyers, Susan Kellman, told reporters.

The men’s names, or at least their nicknames, have been floated for decades in connection to the case. Authorities publicly named Washington as a suspect in 2007. He told Playboy magazine in 2003 he’d been outside the studio, heard the shots and saw “Little D” — one of Jordan’s monikers — racing out of the building.

Relatives of Mizell welcomed the verdict and lamented that his mother did not live to see it.

“I feel like I was carrying a 2,000-pound weight on my shoulders. And when that verdict came today, it lifted it off,” said Carlis Thompson, Mizell’s cousin, who wiped away tears after the verdict was read. “The wounds can start to heal now.”

Mizell had been part of Run-D.M.C.’s anti-drug message, delivered through a public service announcement and such lyrics as “we are not thugs / we don’t use drugs.” But according to prosecutors and trial testimony, he racked up debts after the group’s heyday and moonlighted as a cocaine middleman to cover his bills and habitual generosity to friends.

“He was a man who got involved in the drug game to take care of the people who depended on him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Artie McConnell said in his summation.

Prosecution witnesses testified that in Mizell’s final months, he had a plan to acquire 10 kilograms of cocaine and sell it through Jordan, Washington and a Baltimore-based dealer. But the Baltimore connection refused to work with Washington, according to testimony.

Prosecutors said Washington and Jordan went after Mizell for the sake of vengeance, greed and jealousy.

Two eyewitnesses, former studio aide Uriel Rincon and former Mizell business manager Lydia High, testified that Washington blocked the door and ordered High to lie on the floor. She said he brandished a gun.

Rincon identified Jordan as the man who approached Mizell and exchanged a friendly greeting moments before shots rang out and one bullet wounded Rincon himself. Three other people, including a teenage singer who had just stopped by the studio to tout her demo tape, testified that they were in an adjoining room and heard but didn’t see what happened.

Other witnesses testified that Washington and Jordan made incriminating statements about the Mizell killing after it happened.

Neither Washington nor Jordan testified. Their lawyers questioned key prosecution witnesses’ credibility and their memories of the long-ago shooting, noting that some initially denied they could identify the attackers or had heard who they were.

“Virtually every witness changed their testimony 180 degrees,” Kellman told the judge during legal arguments.

The witnesses said they had been overwhelmed, loath to pass along secondhand information or scared for their lives.

The trial shed limited light on a third defendant, Jay Bryant, who was charged last year after prosecutors said his DNA was found on a hat at the scene. They assert that he slipped into the studio building and let Washington and Jordan in through fire door in the back so they could avoid buzzing up.

Bryant has pleaded not guilty and is headed toward a separate trial.

Testimony suggested that he knew someone in common with his co-defendants, but there’s no indication that Bryant was close with Mizell, if indeed they ever met.

Bryant’s uncle testified that his nephew told him he shot Mizell after the DJ reached for a gun, a scenario no other witnesses described.

McConnell said Bryant was “involved, but he’s not the killer.” Prosecutors’ theory doesn’t even place Bryant in the studio, though that’s where authorities found the hat with DNA from him and other people — but not the other defendants, according to court filings.

One of Jordan’s lawyers, Michael Hueston, said in his summation that Bryant “is literally reasonable doubt.”

The verdict comes a month before the 40th anniversary of Run-D.M.C.’s self-titled debut album, which included a track titled “Jam Master Jay,” Peace noted. The song lauded Mizell as “on his way / to be the best DJ in the US of A.”

The group — also featuring Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Joseph Simmons, known as DJ Run and Rev. Run — became the first rappers with gold and platinum albums and was the first hip-hop outfit with a video in regular rotation on MTV.

While the case may complicate Mizell’s image, Syracuse University media professor J. Christopher Hamilton says it shouldn’t be blotted out.

If he was indeed involved in dealing drugs, “that doesn’t mean to say his achievements shouldn’t be lauded,” Hamilton said, arguing that acceptance from local underworld figures was a necessity for successful rappers of the ’80s and ’90s.

“You don’t get these individuals without them walking through the gauntlet of the street,” Hamilton said.

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2 men convicted of killing Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay nearly 22 years after rap star’s death