Judge rejects defence request for mistrial in Jam Master Jay murder case

8 February 2024, 20:14

Jam Master Jay
Rap Lyrics Jam Master Jay Trial. Picture: PA

But US District Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall told prosecutors that their questions to a witness had crossed the line.

Defence lawyers have sought a mistrial in the case against two men charged with the murder of hip-hop DJ Jam Master Jay, saying prosecutors improperly guided a witness.

The witness told the court that one defendant confessed to her decades ago that he killed the Run-DMC star and told her “people get what they deserve”.

US District Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall ultimately denied the mistrial, partly because the witness had made similar prior statements that could have been broached to jurors anyway.

But the judge angrily told prosecutors that their questions to the witness had crossed the line.

Jam Master Jay
The body of Jason Mizell is removed from a recording studio where he was shot and killed (Newsday/Ken Sawchuk/AP)

“There was no need whatsoever” for the queries, she said, raising her voice, while jurors were out of the room.

The heated issue threatened for roughly an hour to upend the long-awaited trial in one of the most infamous acts of violence in hip-hop history. Jam Master Jay, born Jason Mizell, was shot dead in his recording studio on October 30 2002.

A childhood friend, Ronald Washington, and the DJ’s godson Karl Jordan Jr are on trial. They have pleaded not guilty.

Washington’s former girlfriend Daynia McDonald told the court on that he called her to tell her Mizell was dead, hours after Washington had taken her to the studio to meet his celebrity friend. Stunned, she asked Washington how he knew about the DJ’s death.

“He said, ‘Because I was there’,” she said.

In a subsequent conversation, she told jurors, she asked Washington whether he had something to do with the killing, “and he basically said yes”.

Then assistant US attorney Mark Misorek asked the questions that sparked the legal fireworks: “Did he say he killed Jam Master Jay?” and “Did he say that people get what they deserve?”

Ms McDonald said yes to both.

Jam Master Jay
Run-DMC with Jam Master Jay on the left (Jim Cooper/AP)

After jurors left the room, the judge remonstrated with prosecutors over the questions. One of Washington’s lawyers, Susan Kellman, requested a mistrial, saying prosecutors had planted “a seed of prejudice” that could not be uprooted.

Assistant US attorney Artie McConnell said the government was trying to keep Ms McDonald’s answers squarely on Mizell’s killing and to ensure she did not venture into other, off-limits topics. Prosecutors had “the best of intentions”, he said.

“Your logic doesn’t follow, for me,” said the judge.

After lengthy discussion, Ms DeArcy Hall decided the trial could continue, with a caveat: she told jurors to disregard the two questions and their answers.

Mr Misorek was cleared to ask whether Washington “said anything else about Jam Master Jay’s murder”.

“Um, he just said that he killed him,” Ms McDonald replied, and that answer was allowed to stand.

Prosecutors and a witness say Jordan shot the rap star while Washington stood at the door and brandished a gun. According to the government, the attack was spurred by bad blood over a planned drug deal.

Run-DMC were known for their anti-drug stance, but prosecutors and another witness have said Mizell turned to the cocaine trade for money as the groundbreaking 1980s rap group’s career levelled off.

Lawyers for Jordan, 40, have said he was at his then-girlfriend’s home when Mizell was shot.

Lawyers for Washington, 59, have said the government is bringing a slapped-together case against a man who was relying on Jay financially, not gunning for him.

By Press Association

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