The trial against two Queens men in the 2002 murder of Run-DMC’s DJ Jam Master Jay entered its final stage Thursday with the beginning of jury deliberations. The men, Ronald Washington and Karl Jordan Jr., were charged in August 2020 with 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 eight additional drug-distribution counts. Jordan, 40, was arrested on Sunday, August 16, 2020; Washington, 59, was in federal prison for a “string of gunpoint robberies” around New York City some 17 years ago when the indictment came down. Washington, who was sentenced to 210 months behind bars for these robberies, was supposed to be released in April 2021 had the indictment not come down. During opening statements on January 29, prosecutor Miranda Gonzalez told jurors, “It was motivated by greed and revenge.”
“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,” then–Acting Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme said in a statement at the time of their 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.”
And it has taken decades. Here’s what we know about Mizell’s death and the trial of Jordan and Washington, now 18 years after the mainstream hip-hop pioneer’s murder ahead of the verdict.
Who allegedly killed 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 lie 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, identified as Jordan, reportedly fired at 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 cocaine 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. Jordan and Mizell were neighbors. Court papers indicate that Jordan rapped.
Who testified during the three-week trial?
Prosecutors called Mizell’s longtime friend, Uriel “Tony” Rincon, to the stand as an eyewitness in the shooting. On the night of the murder, Rincon said, he and Mizell were playing Madden at the recording studio when Jordan and Washington showed up, according to the New York Post. Rincon told jurors that Jordan directly approached Mizell and gave him a “half-handshake” before opening fire. Mizell, he said, “essentially fell on him and Little D had to shake him off himself,” referring to Jordan by his nickname. A bullet struck Rincon in his left leg during the chaos. Per the Post, Rincon said that he recognized the shooter to be Jordan — Mizell’s godson — because of his facial profile and neck tattoo. Rincon told jurors that he didn’t ID Jordan as the shooter for years because he was scared for himself and his family. But in May 2017, Rincon said, he decided to tell cops, saying that Mizell’s family had a right to the truth, the Post said. “I felt that [Mizell’s] wife and children needed closure and they should know what took place.” On cross-examination, Rincon was asked about why he had lied to cops by telling them he couldn’t identify the shooter. “I was scared and I couldn’t believe what I saw,” Rincon claimed.
Another eyewitness, JMJ Records’ business manager Lydia High, also testified. High told jurors that she was reviewing documents when a person walked into the studio that evening and came up to Mizell. While she didn’t identify that person, she recalled some details about their appearance that also seemed applicable to Jordan, such as a neck tattoo, according to the Associated Press. While the person and Mizell exchanged a friendly-sounding greeting, High recalled hearing an expletive followed by gunfire. “I was — I was — I was frantic and shocked,” the AP quoted her as saying. High tied to flee but, she alleged, Washington told her to get on the floor.
Who else testified for the prosection?
Yarrah Concepcion, an aspiring singer who was at the studio that night, said she was in the control room with Mizell’s colleagues, Randy Allen and Michael Rapley, when shots rang out, per Pix11. Concepcion testified that she tried to push the window-unit AC out to flee, but then hid behind the love seat. When Concepcion came out, she recalled, Rincon was on the sofa, shouting in pain, and then she saw Mizell on the floor. “His brain stuff came out of his head. I just started dry-heaving. I almost threw up. I knew he was gone,” Concepcion reportedly said. Describing her emotional state, Concepcion said, “I was frantic.”
Another witness, Yusuf Abdur-Rahman, said that he knew Washington from his time in Brooklyn federal jail in 2011. Asked by prosecutors what Washington told him, Abdur-Rahman said, “That he had murdered Jam Master Jay,” Courthouse News reported. Another witness, Jordan’s former roommate, Cherubin Bastien, said he had confessed to the murder. Bastien said that Mizell’s murder had come up several times during conversations with Jordan. Once, Bastien recalled, Jordan said, “If I got to kill him, I’ll kill him again.” Bastien claimed that he heard Jordan tell a woman during an argument, “‘I’ll do you like him, like Master Jay,’” the New York Daily News reported.
Did the defense put on a case?
Jordan’s team decided not to call any witnesses. Washington’s team called one witness, memory expert Dr. Geoffrey Loftus, per Pix11. Loftus described how memories can change over time and be impacted when one learns things after an event. “People’s mental functioning including the ability to memorize appearance of people around them is diminished,” Courthouse News quoted Loftus as saying.
Is anyone else facing charges in the case?
Yes. On May 30, 2023, a new indictment came down charging another man, Jay Bryant, in the murder. Officials said that Bryant left behind a piece of clothing with his DNA on it at the murder scene. Bryant, 50, will not go on trial right now, however. His case was severed, meaning he won’t be tried with his co-defendants, and he will go on trial in 2026.
The Feds said that Bryant was present at the murder and entered the studio alongside Washington and Jordan. After the shooting, all three allegedly fled. Per court papers, he was “observed entering the building immediately before the shooting and an article of clothing left at the crime scene contained Bryant’s DNA.” They note that Bryant “later admitted to participating in the murder, claiming to one associate that he was in fact the shooter,” but the Feds don’t believe that he’s the gunman. Indeed, prosecutors wrote in a document: “The evidence does not support Bryant’s claim that he was the shooter, and the evidence at trial will prove that Jordan was the individual that shot Mizell.”
Why did it take 22 years to try them?
DuCharme said there were “a lot of challenges associated with bringing that case” during a press conference in August 2020. 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.” 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. As for the lag between their indictment and trial, it routinely takes years for cases to go before a jury.
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.” Police 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, whose real name is 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 in August 2020, 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, Kellman entered a not-guilty plea for Washington.
What else have the Feds said about the men?
In response to one of Jordan’s unsuccessful requests for release on bond, federal prosecutors said there was plentiful evidence against him, including his music, and claimed his defense fell flat. They also said that Jordan had dealt drugs for decades, up until his arrest.
As for the drugs, the Feds said evidence against Jordan includes “numerous photographs and videos of Jordan holding stacks of hundred-dollar bills and other denominations of money; photographs and videos of Jordan wearing and examining diamond-encrusted jewelry.” In one music video, they said, “Jordan is rapping that he has ‘100 pounds on the flip’ — a reference to reselling or ‘flipping’ a quantity of narcotics — and ‘30 in the clip’ — a reference to the amount of ammunition in a semiautomatic firearm.”
They also said there are “music-video clips where Jordan references his possession and use of firearms.”
So, what has Jordan claimed?
Jordan’s team said he has cited alibi witnesses and “DNA hit identifying another suspect” in his bond attempt. Prosecutors said, “Both witnesses have close familial and financial ties to Jordan. They both also have denied any knowledge of Jordan’s narcotics trafficking and claim to be unaware of whether he had a job or how he makes a living.” Prosecutors also claimed that Jordan tried to strong-arm others so they wouldn’t testify against him. “The government is aware of four separate witnesses that Jordan endeavored to identify and silence through threats and coercion and has enlisted others to do so on his behalf,” they wrote.
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. While the death penalty is a possible sentence in a case with these charges, Attorney General Merrick Garland in June directed Brooklyn federal prosecutors not to seek the death penalty against them.