Jam Master Jay Murder Trial Ends in Conviction for Run-DMC DJ’s Godson and Childhood Pal

Ron Galella
Ron Galella

A federal jury in Brooklyn has found two men guilty of the murder of Jam Master Jay, the trailblazing hip-hop artist and a member of the legendary trio Run-DMC who was gunned down in his recording studio in October 2002. The verdict on Tuesday brings to an end a three-week trial but not the case as a whole, with at least one more defendant still set to be tried.

Ronald Washington, a childhood friend of Jay’s, and Karl Jordan Jr., the rapper’s godson, were convicted of murder while engaged in narcotics trafficking and firearm-related murder, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York announced. Jordan was also found guilty of eight other counts of narcotics distribution.

“Y’all just killed two innocent people,” Washington yelled at the jury following the verdict, according to the Associated Press.

Prosecutors declined to seek the death penalty against Washington and Jordan, who now face minimum sentences of 20 years to life in prison.

More than three dozen witnesses were called by the prosecution over the course of the trial, which kicked off on Jan. 29, with prosecutor Miranda Gonzalez telling the court that Jay’s murder had been “motivated by greed and revenge.”

Federal prosecutors argued that Washington and Jordan killed Jay, real name Jason Mizell, after being boxed out of a 10-kilogram cocaine deal that might have otherwise netted them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Investigators believe that the two men entered Mizell’s studio around 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 30, 2002, having been let in by a third man, Jay Bryant. Ordering Mizell to lie on the floor, Jordan “put a 40-caliber bullet in his head, killing him in an instant,” Gonzalez said.

“It’s about greed. It’s about money. It’s about jealousy,” prosecutor Artie McConnell reiterated during closing arguments, according to CNN. “And it’s about the actions of two men, Karl Jordan Jr. and Ronald Washington, that the evidence proves are killers.”

Jordan’s attorneys did not call any witnesses, while Washington’s summoned just one, a retired professor and “human perception and memory expert,” according to WPIX, who attempted to cast doubt on the government witnesses’ recollections.

The defense’s main argument centered around the idea that another person has been behind the trigger that evening in Queens—Bryant, whose DNA was found on a scrap of clothing at the scene.

“They know who killed Jam Master Jay. They know it was Jay Bryant,” Washington’s attorney, Susan Kellman, argued in closing. “They have no case against anybody except Jay Bryant.”

The government does not believe Bryant to have been the triggerman in Mizell’s murder. But he was charged last May—nearly two years after Washington and Jordan—with murder while engaged in narcotics trafficking and firearm-related murder. He has pleaded not guilty.

In October, he successfully fought to have his trial severed, with his lawyers arguing that their defense strategy conflicted irreconcilably with that of his co-defendants.

Despite McConnell’s closing assertion that the case was “not complicated,” it took 17 years for any arrests to be made. When the criminal indictment was unsealed in 2020, acting U.S. Attorney Sean DuCharme explained that there had been “a lot of challenges associated with bringing that case,” but did not elaborate further. Prosecutors have since suggested in court filings that many witnesses were reluctant or afraid to come forward with evidence.

Washington was first named as a suspect in the case in 2007, when he went on trial for a series of separate armed robberies. Convicted and sentenced to 210 months behind bars for the robbery spree, he had been set to be released in spring 2021 when the murder charges were handed down. He denied any connection to Mizell’s slaying.

Mizell was 37 when he was fatally shot. The DJ formed Run-DMC alongside MCs Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Joseph “Run” Simmons in 1983. The first rap group to get a video on MTV, go platinum with their 1986 album Raising Hell, and top the charts with an Aerosmith collaboration titled “Walk This Way,” Run-DMC is credited with paving the way for hip-hop to enter the mainstream.

But as the group’s notoriety waned in the following decade, Mizell became involved in narcotics trafficking. Ralph Mullgrav, a witness for the prosecution, testified in early February that Mizell wasn’t a dealer, but shifted drugs “here or there” to “make ends meet,” according to the Associated Press.

“He was a man who got involved in the drug game to take care of the people who depended on him,” McConnell said in closing.

The deal that would eventually lead to Mizell’s death came out of a 10-kilo load of cocaine he acquired from a Midwestern supplier, with the plan being for Washington, Jordan, and others to distribute it around Maryland. It fell apart after Mullgrav refused to work with Washington, the former said at trial.

McDaniels and Simmons announced the dissolution of Run-DMC within days of Mizell’s death, though they have performed together intermittently in the years since.

“It’s been a difficult 18 years not having him around while knowing that his murderers were not yet indicted for this heinous crime,” they said in a statement after news of Washington and Jordan’s arrests broke, adding that they hoped Jay could “finally Rest in Peace.”

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