Nearly two decades after the slaying of Run-DMC star Jam Master Jay, federal prosecutors said Monday they have solved one of New York City’s most enduring mysteries, charging two men from his neighborhood with murder.
The suspects were identified in court papers as Ronald Washington, 56, who is currently serving a federal prison sentence stemming from a string of robberies while on the run from police after Jay’s 2002 death, and Karl Jordan Jr, 36, who is also charged with engaging in a cocaine distribution conspiracy in 2017.
“This is a case about a murder that for nearly two decades had gone unanswered,” said Seth DuCharme, the acting US attorney, at a news conference announcing the charges. “Today, we begin to answer that question of who killed Jason Mizell, and why, and we’re confident that we can prove those charges beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Mizell, known professionally as Jam Master Jay, was a member of the 1980s hip-hop sensation Run-DMC with Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniel. Their hits included It’s Tricky, Christmas in Hollis and the Aerosmith collaboration Walk This Way.
Jay was shot once in the head with a .40-caliber bullet by a masked assailant at his studio in Hollis, Queens, where he grew up, police said then.
Police identified at least four people in the studio with Jay, including the gunmen. The city and Jay’s friends offered more than $60,000 in reward money, but witnesses refused to come forward.
Washington, who had reportedly been living on a couch at Jay’s home, was publicly named as a possible suspect or witness in 2007. He is serving a federal prison sentence stemming from a string of robberies committed while on the run after Jay’s death.
In court papers filed at the time, prosecutors alleged Washington waved a handgun around and ordered people in Jay’s Queens recording studio to lie on the ground while another man killed him, on 30 October 2002.
Washington “provided cover for his associate to shoot and kill Jason Mizell”, prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors also suggested that the hip-hop artist celebrated for his anti-drug stance was ambushed over a cocaine deal.
According to prosecutors, Jay would bring in bulk amounts of cocaine to sell retail and was killed as retribution for cutting Washington out of a plan to distribute 10kg in Maryland.
“They walked in and murdered him in cold blood,” DuCharme said.
A message seeking comment was left with a publicist for Run-DMC.
Jay’s acquaintance with Washington upset his family. Washington had been linked to the 1995 fatal shooting of Randy Walker, a close associate of the late Tupac Shakur.
At Jay’s funeral, McDaniels remembered his friend and fellow Run-DMC star as “the embodiment of hip-hop”. He was also a husband and a father of three children.
“Jam Master Jay was not a thug,” McDaniels said. “Jam Master Jay was not a gangster. Jam Master Jay was a unique individual.”
Prosecutors, though, now say Jay had been bringing cocaine into the New York area since 1996.
If convicted, Washington and Jordan each face a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison, or the death penalty. Prosecutors said in court papers that the US attorney general, William Barr, had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty.
Jordan pleaded not guilty at an arraigned held Monday by teleconference because of coronavirus-related precautions. His lawyer declined comment. Washington, who is imprisoned in Kentucky, will be arraigned later this week, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors have asked that both be jailed pending trial.