a federal grand jury indicted two men in the decades-long unsolved murder of JAM Master Jay, the iconic DJ of the legendary rap group Run-DMC
August 17, 2020 was, no doubt, a great day for the hip-hop community!
For any of you stuck in a cave, I’m referring to the fact that yesterday was the day a federal grand jury indicted two men in the decades-long unsolved murder of JJAM Master Jay, the iconic DJ of the legendary rap group Run-DMC.
First off, while we are quick to criticize law enforcement when things go left, let me take this time to shout out the NYPD and the ATF (kudos to the Eastern District as well) for their great work in achieving this critical first step (yes – “first step”…more on that later).
While I was pleased to learn of these indictments, I cannot say I was surprised. After watching the clock these past 15 years, I can only say that I was relieved to see that this day had finally come. Those of you who read my book will understand why I say this (For you slow-pokes out there who have yet to “cop” the book….click that Amazon button now!).
In my 2005 book “Notorious C.O.P.”, I made allusions to the two men responsible for JAM Master Jay’s death…and gave a glimpse into motives why. This was a delicate case because all the witnesses in the recording studio at the time of JAM Master Jay’s death were not only familiar with the trigger-men involved, but were also aware of their sinister reputations. This then left all such witnesses with a real and tangible fear that they too might suffer the same fate as Jay if they dare step on the stand and sing the wrong tune — or in this case, the right tune.
But back to my earlier tone of caution:
Let’s keep in mind once again that this indictment, critical as it may be, is only step one. To get a glimpse of the challenges that lie ahead, let me hit you with a little Fed Crim Procedure starter-kit:
First off, what the heck is a federal indictment in the first place?….By law, a federal indictment can only be brought (or, technically, “returned”) by a grand jury, which is a body of 16 to 23 citizens chosen from the community. The grand jury hears evidence and testimony from witnesses presented by the prosecution, and has the right to pose questions, and subpoena witnesses and documents on its own. Once the grand jury hears the evidence, it votes to indict or not indict, based on whether there is “probable cause” to believe the would-be defendant is guilty. If the grand jury votes to indict, it returns a “true bill,” signed by the foreperson of the grand jury. This is why in all federal indictments, there is a stamped or typed statement at the end of each document with the words: “a true bill.” But bear in mind the age old expression that a prosecutor can “indict a ham sandwich.” This joke stems from the very serious fact that: (1) grand jury proceedings are secret and closed to the public. The defense has no opportunity to present evidence at a grand jury proceeding, is not able to challenge the prosecution’s evidence, nor present its own possible side of the story. (2) The “probable cause” standard in-and-of-itself is one of the lowest standards in criminal law — requiring only sufficient evidence to lead a reasonable person to believe that a potential crime has been committed and that the defendant is guilty. This “sufficient evidence” standard sits in stark contrast to the “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is necessary to convict a defendant at trial (the much stricter standard is also exactly what Rapper Jay-Z famously alluded to in his classic first album’s title heading).
So what’s the moral of this whole stroll down fed criminal procedure lane?….
Well, it might simply be to stress the fact that a fed indictment and a fed conviction are two very different animals. For now, I’ll wrap a pretty bow around this landmark moment and choose to celebrate these fresh indictments, hoping that maybe they can even be a catalyst for more people in the RAP community to muster the courage to step forward regarding other unsolved murders of other artists that have been killed around the country.
At a later date, I’ll hit you with some hip-hop-cop analysis of the direct challenges which lie ahead in step two of this legal process, knowing that the Defendants will likely have a trick or two up their sleeves as the Feds try to attain that “beyond a reasonable doubt” conviction down the road.
Until such time….