Jam Master Jay Murder Verdict: Jury Finds Two Men Guilty in Run-DMC Star’s 2002 Killing

A federal jury in Brooklyn on Tuesday (Feb. 27) found two New York City men guilty in the 2002 murder of Run-DMC‘s Jam Master Jay, setting the stage for potential decades-long prison sentences.

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Following a three-week trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts against both Karl Jordan, Jr., 40, and Ronald Washington, 59, who were charged in 2020 with the rap pioneer’s long-unsolved killing in Queens.

The convictions came after prosecutors called more than 30 witnesses to the stand to prove their case, in which they accused Jordan and Washington of killing the rapper as payback after he cut them out of a cocaine deal. The defense called just one witness of their own: an expert on memory.

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“This case is not complicated,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Artie McConnell said during his closing arguments last week. “It’s about greed, it’s about money, it’s about jealousy.”

Following Tuesday’s conviction, Jordan and Washington each face a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. They will be able to challenge the verdict, first to the judge and then to a federal appeals court, but such appeals face long odds.

Attorneys for both defendants and the prosecution did not immediately return requests for comment on the verdict.

Run-DMC, a trio consisting of Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, is widely credited as one of the most influential early acts in hip-hop history. The trio’s 1985 release, King of Rock, was hip-hop’s first platinum album, and the group’s 1986 cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Jay’s shocking killing, on Oct. 30, 2002, had long been one of hip-hop’s famous cold cases, joining the unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. Though witnesses were in the room when the murder happened and police generated a number of leads, no charges were filed until August 2020, when prosecutors finally unveiled the case against Washington and Jordan.

Over the three-week trial, prosecutors told jurors that Jay had turned to the drug trade as Run-DMC’s popularity had waned. They argued that Washington, a childhood friend, and Jordan, Jay’s godson and neighbor, had helped Jay sell the drugs, but eventually plotted his murder after he allegedly cut them out of a deal.

Jurors heard testimony from two alleged eyewitnesses, Uriel “Tony” Rincon and Lydia High, who say they were in the studio on the night of the shooting. Rincon identified both men and named Jordan as the shooter; High identified Washington and said he had been joined by an unknown shooter. Both said they had withheld such information from investigators for years for fear of retaliation.

As is common in criminal cases, neither Washington nor Jordan testified in their own defense. Their attorneys called only an expert witness to testify on human memory, who told the jury that memories can fade and change over time and can be affected by stress.

The jury began deliberating on Thursday (Feb. 22) before being dismissed for a three-day weekend. They initially resumed deliberations on Monday (Feb. 26), but then were ordered to restart from scratch after a juror was excused because they claimed they could not be impartial.

Sentencing and post-trial motions will take place in future proceedings. Jay Bryant, a third man allegedly involved in the killing who prosecutors charged with murder last May, will have a separate trial later this year.

Beyond Tuesday’s guilty verdict, the case over Jay’s killing could have a lasting effect on the law.

In a ruling near the beginning of the trial, the federal judge overseeing the case ruled that prosecutors could not cite violent rap lyrics written by Jordan as evidence against him. Warning that “music artists should be free to create without fear that their lyrics could be unfairly used against them,” the judge said such materials should only be used as evidence if they have a clear and direct connection to the crime at issue in the case.

The ruling came amid a broader debate over the use of rap lyrics in criminal trials, a controversial practice that has drawn backlash from the music industry and efforts by lawmakers to stop it. A high-profile gang trial in Atlanta, in which prosecutors are using Young Thug’s lyrics against him, has drawn particular scrutiny to the issue.

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