On Monday, Brooklyn federal prosecutors announced that two Queens men had been indicted in the 2002 murder of Run-DMC’s DJ Jam Master Jay. The ten-count indictment hit Ronald Washington and Karl Jordan Jr. with charges of murder while engaged in narcotics trafficking, and firearm-related murder, for fatally shooting the artist, whose real name is Jason Mizell. Jordan is also facing several additional drug distribution counts. Jordan, 36, was arrested on Sunday, August 16; Washington, 56, is presently in federal prison for a “string of gunpoint robberies” around New York City some 13 years ago. Washington, who was sentenced to 210 months behind bars for these robberies, was supposed to be released in April 2021. Prosecutors described Mizell’s grisly slaying as an “ambush and execution of a renowned musician and prominent member of the community.”
“The defendants allegedly carried out the cold-blooded murder of Jason Mizell, a brazen act that has finally caught up with them thanks to the dedicated detectives, agents and prosecutors who never gave up on this case,” acting Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme said in a statement announcing the indictment. “The charges announced today begin to provide a measure of justice to the family and friends of the victim, and make clear that the rule of law will be upheld, whether that takes days, months or decades.”
Here’s what we know about Mizell’s death and the case against Jordan and Washington now 18 years after the mainstream hip-hop pioneer’s murder.
What happened to Jam Master Jay?
According to federal prosecutors, Washington and Jordan burst into Mizell’s Jamaica, Queens, recording studio around 7:30 p.m. on October 30, 2002. Each man “brandished” a gun. Washington pointed his gun at one of the people in the studio and ordered this person to lay on the floor. Jordan went over to Mizell, pointed his gun at him, and “fired two shots at close range,” court papers claim. One shot hit Mizell in the head, killing him. The other shot hit another person in the leg, prosecutors claim.
A November 1, 2002 New York Times article provides more details on the circumstances. Mizell and the other man, identified in this report as Uriel Rincon, were playing Xbox in the studio lounge when the men busted in. The shooter, who’s now been identified as Jordan, reportedly shot Mizell at such close range that his “pistol left powder burns on the producer’s shirt.” There was a woman who sat several feet away from them at the time of this incident. In the studio’s control room, there were three more people — the studio’s co-owner, a rapper from Albany, and the woman’s friend, per the newspaper.
Why did Jordan and Washington allegedly kill Jam Master Jay?
Federal prosecutors claim that Mizell was involved in bringing “kilogram-quantities” of coke to the New York City area from 1996 to 2002. Mizell allegedly obtained some 10 kilos “on consignment” from a Midwest-based supplier in July 2002. Washington, Jordan, and “other co-conspirators” were supposed to handle distribution in Maryland. But there was a dispute between Washington and at least some of these co-conspirators, prompting Mizell to tell Washington that he was cut out of this deal. After this disagreement, Washington and Jordan plotted to kill Mizell, court papers claim
Why did it take 18 years to charge them?
DuCharme said at Monday’s press conference that “We started investigating that case a very long time ago, in the early 2000s, but there were a lot of challenges associated with bringing that case.” He did not offer more specifics on those difficulties. Court papers describe circumstances that might have made witnesses hesitant about coming forward. Prosecutors said they knew about “three separate witnesses that Jordan endeavored to silence through threats and coercion,” alleging that he had also “enlisted others to do so on his behalf.” And when Washington was implicated in a robbery case around 2007, another witness told authorities that he had tried to “intimidate the witness and prevent him/her from cooperating with law enforcement.” Without clear info about what went down that night, theories circulated for years about who was responsible.
What were some of the theories?
According to the Times article published shortly after Mizell’s murder, some cops’ theories on motive included a “music-industry feud” — but a solid answer remained “elusive.” Cops reportedly thought that Mizell’s murder might relate to a “grudge” against 50 Cent, whom Mizell had signed to his label, JMJ Records, at the time. “One of the theories is that somebody was trying to get back at 50 Cent by taking out Mizell,” a police official reportedly told the newspaper. The “In Da Club” rapper, real name Curtis Jackson, was expected to perform at Mars 2112 in Midtown the evening of Mizell’s death. Cops went there following Mizell’s murder; Jackson’s show was canceled, and cops gave him security. The same high-ranking NYPD official also reportedly said: “It could have been as simple as a bad business deal…someone who wasn’t happy with their level of success and killed him.”
So how did cops finally get Jordan and Washington?
Eyewitnesses at Mizell’s 24/7 Studio that evening identified them at some point, officials said. They also claim that Washington “has made various admissions — both to law enforcement and third parties — that corroborate his involvement in both the murder and the underlying narcotics conspiracy.” Jordan and Washington’s alleged efforts to scare witnesses and “otherwise obstruct justice” also show “consciousness of guilt evidence” that implicates them, prosecutors allege. The feds had previously alleged that Washington participated in Mizell’s killing, when he was found guilty in the 2007 robbery case. His lawyer in that case, Susan Kellman, told the Times she thought they were bringing it up to secure a more severe sentence. “I had a sense that somebody whispered something in their ear to get themselves out of trouble,” Kellman reportedly remarked of the past allegation, also saying that Washington “always” maintained he wasn’t Mizell’s murderer. “When he heard the allegation, he was laughing, he said, ‘Good one.’” Prosecutors previously said that Washington was a suspect in the 1995 shooting death of Randy Walker, who was close to Tupac, per the Associated Press. Publicly available information does not make clear when witnesses allegedly identified the men, nor the person whom Kellman thinks might have spoken to authorities.
Have Jordan and Washington said anything about the indictment?
At Jordan’s video arraignment Monday afternoon, defense attorney Michael Hueston said Jordan was entering a “plea of not guilty to all counts.” Jordan was held pending trial. Hueston did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Jordan. At Washington’s video arraignment Tuesday afternoon, defense attorney Susan Kellman entered a not-guilty plea for Washington. Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom began the proceeding by asking, “How are you today, sir?” “Not too good,” Washington replied. Right as the proceeding was about to end, Washington voiced several concerns: “Your honor, Sunday morning, when the marshals came to get me out of the prison that I was in, they woke me out of my sleep and took me out of my cell. I wasn’t given the opportunity to have my glasses,” he said. “I can’t see without them.” The judge agreed to direct the Bureau of Prisons to have Washington checked by an eye doctor, and given a new set of prescription eyeglasses.
What kind of prison time do they face?
A lot. If they’re found guilty, each man is facing a minimum of 20 years to a maximum of life in federal lockup — or even the death penalty.
How did Mizell’s family and friends react to the news?
In a statement Run DMC posted on Twitter, Mizell’s family said: “Upon hearing this news we have mixed emotions; we truly hope that these indictments are a solid step towards justice being served in the murder of Jay.”
“We realize that there are other families out there who have lingering pain who continue to wait for their own closure, and we pray that this case gives them hope,” the statement continued. “In spite of all the tragedies we’ve seen this year alone, we take comfort in our family, our faith and in time’s ability to heal all. We can only hope that this news brings awareness to the fact that Black lives do matter.”
Run-DMC’s Darryl “DMC” McDaniels said that the news brought back pain over Mizell’s murder, but also relief. “Although this latest news opens up a lot of painful memories for all of us who knew and loved Jam Master Jay, I’m relieved to hear that 2 suspects have been arrested and charged with his murder,” CNN quoted McDaniels saying. “It’s been a difficult 18 years not having him around while knowing that his murderers were not yet indicted for this heinous crime.”