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Jam Master Jay's Murder Trial Begins as Prosecutors Claim Killers Were Motivated by 'Greed and Revenge'

The trial against suspects Karl Jordan Jr. and Ronald Washington began after the rapper's 2002 murder

<p>Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images</p> Jam Master Jay of Run DMC in London in 2001

Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

Jam Master Jay of Run DMC in London in 2001

The trial of two men accused of killing Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay began on Monday, reports the Associated Press, NBC News and The New York Times.

Jason "Jay" Mizell, known professionally as Jam Master Jay, was shot in the head at his studio on Oct. 30, 2002, while playing video games. He was 37 at the time of his death.

More than two decades after Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay was killed, the suspects' — Mizell’s godson, Karl Jordan Jr., and his childhood friend, Ronald Washington — trial began. The defendants could face a minimum prison sentence of 20 years to a maximum sentence of life in prison. The Eastern District of New York prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty.

In 2023, a third man, Jay Bryant, was also charged in connection with the murder. He will be tried separately. All three men have pleaded not guilty. Each has separate attorneys.

The first two men were arrested in 2020. Federal prosecutors accused Jordan Jr., 40, and Washington, 59, of plotting to kill Jay after he removed Washington from a drug deal.

“It was an ambush — an execution — and you’ll learn it was motivated by greed and revenge,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Miranda Gonzalez during opening statements.

Related: Third Man Charged in Fatal 2002 Shooting of Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay

<p>Bob Berg/Getty Images</p> Darryl McDaniels (D.M.C.), Jason Mizell (Jam Master Jay) and Joseph Simmons (Run), of the American hip hop group Run-D.M.C

Bob Berg/Getty Images

Darryl McDaniels (D.M.C.), Jason Mizell (Jam Master Jay) and Joseph Simmons (Run), of the American hip hop group Run-D.M.C

Gonzalez told jurors that throughout the trial jurors would hear from eyewitnesses who were in the studio that night. Gonzalez said that the two men also confessed their involvement to others, reports the Associated Press.

Allegedly, the rapper acquired 22 lbs. (10 kilograms) of cocaine that the two murder suspects were going to distribute. Gonzalez alleges that the dealer did not want to work with Washington and as a result cut both men out of the sale and $200,000.

The prosecution said that Washington ordered one person to lie on the floor as he waved a gun around. Simultaneously, Jordan shot the rapper in the head and killed him instantly. Mizell’s friend, Uriel “Tony” Rincon, was also hit and wounded, per the Associated Press.

In a 2003 Playboy article, Washington was quoted that he heard gunshots and saw Jordan fleeing when he was on his way to the studio that night.

<p>Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images</p> Jam Master Jay in 1985 in New York, New York.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Jam Master Jay in 1985 in New York, New York.

Related: Rap's Jam Master Jay Killed in New York

The defendants’ attorneys argued on Monday that police still haven’t figured out who killed Mizell.

Jordan’s attorney, John Diaz, said that his client did not kill Mizell. “Convicting the wrong person for Mr. Mizell’s death does not fix the tragedy,” said Washington’s lawyer, Ezra Spilke, per The New York Times.

They expressed that the jury should remain skeptical of witnesses who are cooperating with authorities in exchange for leniency on their own legal troubles. Washington’s lawyers also pose the question of why none of the witnesses called the police at the time.

Ezra Spilke, Washington’s lawyer, questioned why his client would be motivated to kill the rapper who was financially supporting him.

Washington previously served jail time for crimes of armed robbery and heroin distribution. Meanwhile, Jordan — who was 18 when Mizell was killed — did not have a criminal record at the time of his 2020 arrest. However, prosecutors allege that Jordan had a role in the drug trade for years, and as a result, Jordan was charged with additional narcotics distribution counts in 2020.

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Run-DMC, who is credited with helping launch hip hop music in the 1980s, folded after Mizell’s death in 2002. At Mizell's funeral, his bandmates Joseph "Rev Run" Simmons and Darryl "DMC" McDaniels remembered him fondly.

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