Facing a murder charge in the Sept. 7, 1996 shooting death of Tupac Shakur, former California street gang boss Duane Davis received a little good news during his brief arraignment Thursday in a Las Vegas Courtroom.
The State won’t seek the death penalty for what authorities are calling Davis’ role as “shot-caller” in a drive-by shooting a block off the Las Vegas Strip that mortally wounded the 25-year-old Shakur and also wounded Death Row Records godfather Marion “Suge” Knight.
Davis, 60, is charged with first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon with a gang enhancement, which gave prosecutors the opportunity to press for the death penalty. He is the last living suspect in a homicide case that has frustrated investigators in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for nearly three decades.
Standing at the defense table in handcuffs and chains before District Judge Tierra Jones, Davis entered a plea of not guilty and was assigned special public defenders Charles Cano and Robert Arroyo after failing to reach a financial arrangement with defense attorney Ross Goodman.
But Judge Jones had a question for prosecutors Marc DiGiacomo and Binu Palal.
“Are you guys going to death review?”
“No, your honor,” came the reply.
Davis appeared confused and asked, “Excuse me?”
“Yes, Mr. Davis?” the judge replied, before politely explaining, “In every first-degree murder case, I have to ask the State if they are going to a committee to try to seek the death penalty. I just asked them that and they said no.”
Davis waived his right to a trial in 60 days. Jones set a status check-in for Nov. 7, when a trial date is expected to be made.
Davis, former leader of the South Side Crips in Compton, Calif., allegedly passed the murder weapon, a .40-caliber handgun, to his nephew and suspected triggerman Orlando Anderson. Police called the shooting a retaliation for an earlier beating Anderson suffered at the hands of Shakur, Knight and others immediately following the heavyweight boxing match between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon at the MGM Grand Hotel on the Strip. Hotel surveillance video captured Anderson being punched and kicked.
Riding in the passenger seat of a black BMW driven by Knight, Shakur was shot multiple times by an assailant firing from the backseat of a white Cadillac after it pulled next to the vehicle. Shakur died six days later at a Las Vegas hospital.
The rapper’s death came months after the release of his fourth solo album All Eyez on Me, which went on to sell more than 5 million copies. Shakur was nominated for six Grammy Awards and remains a musical and cultural influence decades after his death.
Questioned but never charged in the murder case, Anderson died two years later in a gang-related shootout at a Compton car wash. Two other men suspected of riding in the white Cadillac getaway car that evening — driver Terry Brown and Deandrae “Big Dre” Smith — also died without ever being charged. Smith died of complications from obesity in 2004, and Brown was murdered at a Compton marijuana dispensary in 2015.
Now in prison following an unrelated manslaughter conviction, Knight suffered a head wound from flying bullet fragments when he was behind the wheel of the car Shakur was in when the shooting occurred. Despite that proximity to the assailants, and the fact he has maintained an affiliation with the Crips-rival Mob Piru gang, Knight has refused to cooperate with the murder investigation.
Las Vegas police say the lengthy investigation of Shakur’s murder was invigorated in 2018 due to Davis’ own admissions of his participation. The case returned to the news in July of this year after Las Vegas Metro served a search warrant at the Davis home in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb, seeking evidence in the case. Among the returns: a tub of documents, photos, news clippings, a copy of the Davis memoir, and several .40-caliber cartridges.
At a press conference following the arrest, Metro homicide Lieutenant Jason Johansson told reporters that Davis wasn’t the shooting suspect, but was the leader of “this group of individuals that committed this crime.”
Following a hearing in late October, Davis’s then-attorney Goodman told reporters he believed the case had many defenses, lacked physical evidence and credible witnesses, and that admissions Davis made in a controversial proffer agreement to Los Angeles police and repeated in a 2019 memoir Compton Street Legend were arguably inadmissible.
After winning an early round in the court of public opinion on behalf of Davis outside the actual courtroom, Goodman withdrew from the case. But near the end of Thursday’s arraignment and before being returned to detention, Davis intimated that he was still considering bringing Goodman onboard. A 27-year criminal defense veteran, Goodman is a son of legendary Las Vegas mob attorney-turned-mayor Oscar Goodman.
Contacted Thursday, Goodman expressed support for Davis and said he had met with the defendant that morning and attended the arraignment as a friend of the court.
Goodman sat in the back of the courtroom not far from another interested party in a case drawing international press attention, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.
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