Jam Master Jay killing: Two men found guilty of murder of Run-DMC star

Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay’s godson Karl Jordan Jr and childhood friend Ronald Washington were convicted of killing the DJ, nearly 22 years after rap star’s death.

More than 20 years after Run-D.M.C. star Jam Master Jay was gunned down in his recording studio, two men close to him have been convicted 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 Jam Master Jay’s godson Karl Jordan Jr. and childhood friend 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 new take on Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way.’

“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 the verdict on Tuesday (27 February). 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 30 October 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.”

Carlis Thompson, cousin of Run-DMC star Jam Master Jay, speaks to media outside the United States Eastern District Courthouse – Tuesday 27 February 2024Peter K. Afriyie/ AP

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 US 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.

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.

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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