HOLLIS, Queens (WABC) -- The trial has begun for two men charged with the murder of Jason Mizell -- better known as Run DMC's Jam Master Jay -- more than 20 years after the trailblazing DJ was shot in his New York City recording studio.
Both men were close to the trailblazing DJ, but were driven by "greed and revenge" over a failed drug deal when they ambushed him at his recording studio more than 20 years ago, prosecutors argued as the men's trial began Monday.
In opening statements in Brooklyn federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Miranda Gonzalez laid out the prosecution's case that Karl Jordan Jr., the hip-hop star's godson, and Ronald Washington, a childhood friend, killed the 37-year-old in 2002 after they were cut out of a lucrative cocaine deal. Both men have pleaded not guilty.
Authorities say a third suspect will be tried separately next year.
Over the last two decades, $60,000 in rewards was offered and tips were investigated, but prosecutors say it wasn't until the last five years that the case took crucial strides. They interviewed new people, got witnesses to cooperate, and more ballistic tests were done.
Jordan and Washington were arrested in 2020 and Gonzalez told jurors that they would hear from eyewitnesses who were in the studio that night, and that the pair confessed their involvement to others.
Washington's lawyer Ezra Spilke, however, argued the case was held together with "tape and glue" and declared that prosecutors have "no clue" who killed Mizell.
Run-DMC espoused an anti-drug stance in lyrics and PSAs, but prosecutors allege Mizell became involved in trafficking cocaine in the mid 1990s. Prior to his murder, they say he had acquired 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of the drug, which Washington, Jordan and others were going to distribute in Maryland.
Washington, however, got into a dispute with another person involved in the scheme and Mizell cut him out of the deal, prosecutors say. He and Jordan then showed up armed at the DJ's 24/7 recording studio in Jamaica, Queens, on the evening of Oct. 30, 2002, prosecutors allege.
Inside, Washington is accused of waving a gun and ordering one person to lie on the floor, while Jordan allegedly shot Mizell in the head.
Lawyers for Jordan and Washington argued that the police still haven't figured it out, and they urged jurors to be skeptical of witnesses who are cooperating in exchange for leniency on their own legal troubles.
Spilke, Washington's lawyer, questioned why his client would want to kill Mizell since Washington was an alcoholic, relied on the rap star financially and was living on Mizell's sister's couch at the time.
"Why bite the hand that feeds?" Spilke said. "Why kill the one man that was helping you?"
Jordan's lawyer John Diaz, meanwhile, said his client wasn't even at the studio that night. His attorneys have said in court documents that Jordan, then 18, was at his pregnant girlfriend's home at the time of Mizell's death and that witnesses can place him there.
The DJ was 37 at the time of his death.
Mizell worked the turntables alongside rappers Joe "Run" Simmons and Darryl "DMC" McDaniels as the group helped bring hip-hop into the mainstream in the 1980s with hits like "It's Tricky" and a remake of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way."
They became the first rappers with gold and platinum albums, a Rolling Stone cover, and a video on MTV.
If convicted, Washington and Jordan Jr. face at least 20 years in prison. The government has said it would not seek the death penalty.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)