Berliner Tageblatt - Jury to decide Jam Master Jay murder case

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Jury to decide Jam Master Jay murder case
Jury to decide Jam Master Jay murder case / Photo: © AFP

Jury to decide Jam Master Jay murder case

Jurors were to start deliberating Thursday over the fate of two men charged with murdering the famed Run-DMC member Jam Master Jay.

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Now in its fourth week, the trial is centered on the events of October 30, 2002, when pioneering rapper Jason "Jay" Mizell, widely known by his DJ moniker, was fatally shot in the head in his Queens studio.

He was 37 years old and a father of three.

The case has gone unsolved for more than two decades. In 2020 prosecutors charged Ronald Washington and Karl Jordan Jr., the alleged shooter, with murder while engaged in narcotics trafficking and firearms-related murder.

But in their respective closing arguments on Wednesday, defense teams said a third person, Jay Bryant, was in fact Mizell's killer.

Prosecutors accuse Bryant of letting Mizell's murderers into the musician's studio, where he was shot dead, but say Bryant was an accomplice to the larger conspiracy, rather than the shooter himself.

He will be tried separately at a later date.

Defense teams pointed out that Bryant's hat was discovered at the crime scene, and say the spotlight should be on him, not their clients.

Attorney Michael Hueston, who represents Jordan, worked to poke holes and point out inconsistencies in witness testimony, urging the jury that reasonable doubt as to Jordan and Washington's involvement in the murder remained.

"This is an attempt to make a mockery of the judicial system," said Susan Kellman, a lawyer on Washington's team. "They have no case against anybody but Jay Bryant."

But in their rebuttal prosecutors reiterated their arguments that Jordan and Washington were in fact executioners who ambushed Mizell as part of a drug dispute.

Angry after being cut out of a cocaine deal, Jordan -- the slain musician's godson -- shot a 40-caliber bullet into Mizell's head, as Washington held others in the room back at gunpoint, the prosecution says.

For years two key witnesses -- Lydia High and Uriel "Tony" Rincon, the latter of whom was shot in the leg the night of the murder -- had resisted cooperating with law enforcement, reticence both they and prosecutors ascribed to fear.

Prosecutor Mark Misorek said defense teams' efforts to transfer focus to Bryant represented "pure speculation."

"Karl Jordan Jr. shot Jason Mizell through the head and he did it while Ronald Washington did crowd control," he said.

Following closing arguments and the government's rebuttal, Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall gave the anonymous jury their instructions before sending them home for the day.

They will begin considering their verdict Thursday morning.

- Two personas -

The trial has revealed a lesser-known side of Mizell, who along with his band Run-DMC had railed against drug culture.

But prosecutors say Mizell got involved in the drug trade to support his lifestyle and those close to him, as buzz around the group's music -- hits include "It's Tricky" and "Walk This Way" -- began to fade.

He was a quiet middle man in the drug trade, and a financial fount for family and friends, in the years preceding his death, they say.

Jordan and Washington hatched their plan, according to prosecutors, after Mizell cut them out of a job.

Along with LL Cool J and Public Enemy, Run-DMC were trailblazers of new-school hip hop -- mixing rock elements, aggressive boasting and sociopolitical commentary -- and its outgrowth, golden era hip hop, which included eclectic sampling.

The seminal group were the first rappers featured on MTV, and established a new rap aesthetic incorporating street culture, a departure from the flashy, disco-inflected attire of their predecessors.

Prior to his death, Mizell was influential in New York as a cultivator of local talent, working with young rappers and co-founding a DJ academy.

Jam Master Jay's slaying followed a spate of murders within the rap community in the 1990s, including the shootings of superstars Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.