Jam Master Jay Trial: Prosecution Delivers Closing Arguments

The trial for two men accused of killing Run-DMC’s pioneering DJ in 2002 began its denouement in court on Tuesday as the prosecution made its closing arguments. In summarizing the government’s case over two hours, prosecutor Artie McConnell decried the “brutality,” “arrogance,” and “audacity” of the murder of Jam Master Jay.

Since Jan. 29, a jury has heard testimony from 35 U.S. government witnesses to argue that defendant Karl Jordan Jr. fatally shot the DJ, whose real name was Jason Mizell, at a Jamaica, Queens recording studio while defendant Ronald Washington stood guard. The motive, an indictment said, was that Mizell, who had taken to distributing drugs after Run-DMC‘s popularity faded, cut Washington out of a deal in Baltimore; prosecutors alleged they murdered him in retaliation. Each defendant faces a minimum of 20 years in prison if convicted. (A third man, Jay Bryant, who was included on the indictment, will be tried at a later date.)

Both defendants said on Tuesday that they would not take the stand as witnesses themselves. Jordan’s team offered no witnesses in his defense while Washington’s presented only one, an expert on memory. Without the jury present, one of Washington’s lawyers, Ezra Spilke, spoke on behalf of both defendants asking for an acquittal. The defense is expected to give their closing arguments on Wednesday.

McConnell reiterated how witnesses in the case included eyewitnesses, law enforcement, experts, co-conspirators, and drug dealers. “It’s about greed, money, and jealousy,” he said. “It’s the actions of two men, Karl Jordan Jr. and Ronald Washington, that the evidence has proven are the killers.” He also described them as Mizell’s “executioners.”

He recounted the timeline of Oct. 30, 2002, the day Mizell was shot and killed. Referring to a mosaic of witness testimony, he described how Mizell and his friend, Uriel “Tony” Rincon, were playing video games at a recording studio in Jamaica, Queens at about 7 p.m.

McConnell alleged that Bryant entered the building directly behind a woman who worked for Mizell’s JMJ records and went to the back to let in the defendants, who shot and killed Mizell. He claimed that the defendants planned the shooting, knowing how the studio was set up with cameras facing only certain directions; they did not know, he said, that the security cameras were not recording. “Karl Jordan enters the studio first,” McConnell said. “He was noticed and recognized by Tony. … After a brief greeting, Karl Jordan Jr. pulls out a semiautomatic, 40-caliber pistol and fires away.” The shots were “inches away” from Mizell.

McConnell next shifted his focus to the motive, which he said was the narcotics conspiracy. He recounted the testimony of one witness, Eric “Shake” James, who alleged Jordan and Washington were part of Mizell’s drug conspiracy, which was to move 10 kilograms of coke in Baltimore. Because a dealer named Ralph Mullgrav refused to work with Washington, McConnell said Washington and Jordan wanted revenge. He alleged that by killing Mizell, they hoped to be part of the drug conspiracy.

In another part of his closing remarks, he claimed that the defense would focus on inconsistencies in the eyewitnesses’ statements. He believed, however, that they lied to the police because they were scared, which they’d also said themselves under oath. But while on the stand for this trial, McConnell said the witnesses had no reason to lie. “If they were [both] mistaken, what are they chances they’d be making the same mistake [in identifying the two same defendants as the shooters]?” he speculated.

He also reiterated statements that the defendants made that allegedly implicated themselves. Among other claims, he recounted how Washington, at one point, popped his head in a local barbershop and asked them to say he’d been there all day to establish an alibi for himself. Another man, Cherubin Bastien, had given testimony saying that Jordan had threatened a woman that he’d “do her like he did Jay.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, this ends here in this courtroom with your verdict,” he said at the end of his statements. “The world knew him as Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC, but before that he was Jason Mizell, father, son … He was a good man, a generous man, a liked man, a still missed man. There were people who cared about him. … Twenty years is a long time to wait for justice. Twenty years is long enough. Don’t let this go on another minute, and find Karl Jordan Jr. and Ronald Washington guilty as charged, because they are guilty.” Throughout the statements, both defendants looked on, following the prosecutor’s every word.

Memory was also the focus of discussion earlier on Tuesday. Washington’s team brought forward an expert witness, Dr. Geoffrey Loftus, an emeritus professor at the University of Washington in Seattle who specialized in human perception. Loftus, who when asked if he was going to be paid to give testimony said, “I hope so, yeah,” used an easel to diagram how memory works for the jury.

Spilke, on behalf of Washington, hoped Dr. Loftus would show the jury how “post-event information” – things like newspaper articles, documentaries, and hearsay – could affect and alter the way people remember traumatic events. But Judge LaShann DeAarcy Hall excluded questions about the government’s witnesses, especially eyewitnesses to the killing, since the defense attorneys did not specifically ask them where or when they’d seen any interviews with other witnesses about Mizell’s killing.

Dr. Loftus’ subsequent testimony was broad, but he asserted that post-event information could lead witnesses to lose the ability to distinguish between what they remember firsthand and what they encountered after the fact. He added that some post-event information could be dubious (reliable or unreliable) and that factors that could diminish a witness’ recollection include the duration of an event (in the case of the shooting, allegedly about 10 seconds), whether the witness was paying attention to “what’s important,” and a high degree of stress.

In the defense’s favor, he said that 10 seconds might not be long enough for a witness — seemingly referring to High but without naming her — to recognize someone holding a gun to her head, since she would be under stress. Under cross examination, though, prosecutor Miranda Gonzalez used her husband as an example and asked whether Dr. Loftus believes she’d be able to recognize her husband pointing a gun at her in good lighting, inside, and within five feet of her. He said yes. (High, who claimed that Washington pointed a gun at her and told her to “get down,” testified that she’d known Washington since childhood.)

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Defendants Jordan, who wore a maroon vest, and Washington, in a gray suit, looked on with interest throughout questioning.

Closing arguments will continue Wednesday, with U.S. attorneys providing a rebuttal before the jury deliberates on a verdict.

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