Jam Master Jay Trial Nears End as Defense Gives Closing Statements

Ronald Washington, one of the two defendants standing trial for allegedly killing Jam Master Jay, chuckled in court on Wednesday when his attorney, Susan Kellman, invoked Harry Potter in her closing arguments.

The moment came as she discussed the prosecution’s theory that Washington and the other defendant, Karl Jordan Jr., were waiting on a fire escape to enter the recording studio where the DJ, whose real name was Jason Mizell, was killed. She said it was impossible, since the two men would have been seen on surveillance video. Then she paused dramatically. “It just occurred to me,” she told the court. “It’s possible they were out there, and they borrowed Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.” Washington, who was dressed in a gray suit and had been looking on intently, chortled.

It was one of several dramatic moments on Wednesday as Kellman and Jordan’s attorney, Michael Hueston, responded to the prosecution’s summary of their case on Tuesday. Those remarks outlined the U.S. attorneys’ indictment against the two men, alleging that they killed the DJ on Oct. 30, 2002, in retaliation for Washington getting cut out of a drug deal that the DJ, whose real name was Jason Mizell, was part of. The men recruited another man, Jay Bryant, the prosecutors had said, to open the fire escape door, allowing Jordan to shoot Mizell and Washington to stand guard.

Bryant, both defense attorneys argued, was the true alleged shooter. Both lawyers focused on a blue hat containing Bryant’s DNA that police recovered at the crime scene and said that that was the only evidence linking any of the accused killers to the crime. Neither of the defendants’ DNA is on the hat. The lawyers also cited a past confession in which Bryant said he’d killed the DJ.

At one point, prosecutor Artie McConnell suggested the hat might have fallen out of Jordan’s pocket, a claim that the defense attorneys latched onto. During his remarks, Hueston nonchalantly walked in front of the court and stuck his hand in his pocket and let his own blue hat fall on the floor to show the perceived absurdity of the claim. Kellman suggested the only reason Bryant might have given Jordan the hat was to keep his pocket warm.

Hueston began the day with a nearly two-hour address that began with him quoting from George Orwell’s 1984 and displaying the equation “2+2=5” on a PowerPoint. He claimed the government had become Orwellian in its indictment and that Bryant’s role in the case alongside the hat constituted reasonable doubt. He also read back testimony from Ray Bryant, Jay’s uncle, in which Ray said Jay had said he’d shot the DJ.

He also focused on testimony and past statements from witnesses the prosecution brought forward during the trial. (Hueston did not call any witnesses during the past three weeks, instead reminding the jury that the burden was on the government.) He cited a statement from Uriel “Tony” Rincon, an eyewitness who was playing video games with Mizell the day he was shot and who took a bullet himself in the leg, claiming that he’d initially described a struggle with an unknown man who fell to the ground. That description, Hueston said, “syncs up with Jay Bryant’s confession.” (During testimony, Rincon said he clearly saw Jordan and identified him for the jury.)

Hueston latched onto McConnell’s description of Jordan on Tuesday as “the ideal assassin,” since Jordan was 18 at the time and was Mizell’s godson, making him a trustworthy person to go into the studio. He said the allegation that Jordan walked through the studio and displayed his tattoo, not wearing a mask, did not make him the ideal assassin. “Here’s my tattoo … pop,” Hueston demonstrated in a jokey way.

Hueston also laced his remarks with pop culture references; in addition to 1984, he invoked Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine to describe a taxi Jordan had ridden in and cited one of his own favorite movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, paraphrasing, “Slow down and look at life or it will pass you by.” The jury appeared to have glazed-over faces in the second hour, though Jordan looked on intently.

He closed after showing a still from news footage after the shooting that showed Jordan at the studio in a hoodie. “It’s ludicrous for him to show up at the murder scene [if he were the murderer],” Hueston said. “He didn’t know the cameras weren’t recording. He was showing his tattoo. And he shows up at the crime scene like, ‘Come and arrest me.’ He was there [at the scene] because he cares.”

Kellman used a quote from poet Sir Walter Scott — “Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive” — as a springboard to “untangle” what she said were issues with both the prosecutors’ closing and opening remarks. She pointed to discrepancies in witness statements and said some stories changed 14 years later when government investigators reevaluated the case.

In her address to the jury, Kellman said that her client, Washington, couldn’t have “recruited” Bryant to be a part of a murder since essentially his job would be to act as a door monitor, letting them in. She said there was no evidence that Washington was at the fire escape waiting to be let in. “What evidence is there? Nothing, nothing, nothing,” she said, before turning to the prosecution table and saying, “Nothing.”

She said that Washington couldn’t have been angry with Mizell for cutting him out of the alleged drug ring because it was another dealer who refused to work with him. She also referred to a witness who said that when Washington had seen Mizell earlier in the day before he was shot, Mizell had confided in him that he’d started carrying a gun because “I have a problem.” The witness said Washington replied, “If you have a problem, I have a problem, like ‘I got you, bro,’” Kellman said. This statement had occurred months after the alleged drug deal fell apart.

“Nobody kills somebody if you’re trying to help them or advocate for them,” she said, before alleging that Bryant was the shooter.

After lunch, prosecutor Mark Misorek offered a rebuttal on behalf of the government, calling the defense attorneys’ claims “pure speculation.” “If you look at the evidence, the answer is clear: Karl Jordan Jr. shot Jason Mizell in the head while Washington stood by the door,” he said. “Jay Bryant played a role but it wasn’t the same as them.” Jordan appeared stoic throughout much of Misorek’s statements but eventually picked up a book when Misorek was describing his appearance in witness testimony. Washington remained composed throughout the rebuttal.

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He closed by asking, “Who killed Jam Master Jay and why?” His answer: “Jay Bryant had a role; he opened the door. Ronald Washington had a role; he held Lydia High at gunpoint. Karl Jordan Jr. had a role; he put a bullet through Jason Mizell’s head. … It’s time to go convict him.”

Jury deliberations begin Thursday.

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