The killing of Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay went unsolved for two decades. Now, two men face trial

For two decades, the shooting of Jam Master Jay went unsolved, with witnesses remaining tight-lipped. Now, two men are going on trial, Martha McHardy reports

Monday 29 January 2024 16:35 GMT
Rap trio Run-DMC in New York on 5 April 2001. From left: Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell), DMC (Darryl McDaniels) and DJ Run (Joseph Simmons)
Rap trio Run-DMC in New York on 5 April 2001. From left: Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell), DMC (Darryl McDaniels) and DJ Run (Joseph Simmons) (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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More than 20 years after Run-DMC star Jam Master Jay’s murder, two men are finally facing trial.

Ronald Washington and Karl Jordan Jr are accused of killing the New York-based DJ in his recording studio in the city in 2002.

Prosecutors believe the musician, whose real name was Jason Mizell, was killed over a drug deal, but for two decades, the shooting went unsolved, with witnesses remaining tight-lipped.

A breakthrough in the case finally came in 2020 when two men from Mizell’s Queens neighbourhood were arrested and charged.

The two men, both of whom have pleaded not guilty, began their trial at Brooklyn federal court on 29 January.

Here is what you need to know about the case:

Who was Jam Master Jay and what happened to him?

Jam Master Jay was the DJ for the hip-hop group Run DMC, one of the best-known rap acts of the 1980s.

The group, founded by Mizell alongside rappers Joe “Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, were known for espousing an anti-drug stance in lyrics and for hits including “It’s Tricky” and a remake of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”.

Run-DMC at the 31st annual Grammy Awards in New York City in 1998
Run-DMC at the 31st annual Grammy Awards in New York City in 1998 (AP1988)

They have also been credited with bringing hip-hop into the mainstream, becoming the first rap artists to appear on MTV.

The group disbanded after Mizell’s death, which rocked the hip-hop world.

For years, the star’s death lingered as a cold case, with witnesses reluctant to speak up despite more than $60,000 in reward money being offered for information.

Prosecutors allege Mizell was shot in the head inside his recording studio in Queens, New York, in 2002 after a drug deal went wrong.

According to prosecutors, Mizell became involved in trafficking cocaine in the mid-1990s and before his murder, he had acquired 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of the drug, which Mr Washington, Mr Jordan and others were going to distribute in Maryland.

Mr Washington, however, got into a dispute with another person involved in the scheme and Mizell cut him out of the deal. He and Mr Jordan then showed up armed at the DJ’s 24/7 recording studio in Jamaica, Queens, on the evening of 30 October 2002, prosecutors allege.

Mr Washington is accused of waving a gun and ordering one person to lie on the floor, while Jordan allegedly shot Mizell in the head, prosecutors said.

Who is on trial?

Jury selection in the trial of Mr Washington, 49, and Mr Jordan, 40, began on 29 January.

Prosecutors said the two men were arrested after witnesses identified them as the assailants. They also claim Washington has made statements corroborating his involvement with law enforcement and others.

Mr Washington, who was named as a possible suspect or witness as far back as 2007, had reportedly been living on a sofa at Mizell’s home in the days before his death.

A mural for Jam Master Jay in New York
A mural for Jam Master Jay in New York (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

He was previously quoted in a Playboy article as saying he was on his way to the studio the night of the murder when he heard gunshots and saw Mr Jordan fleeing.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Mr Jordan said in court documents that his father was a “lifelong friend” of Mizell and that their families had been neighbours. They say Mr Jordan, then 18, was at his pregnant girlfriend’s home at the time of the murder and witnesses can place him there.

Both men are charged with murder while engaged in narcotics trafficking and firearm-related murder. The men face at least 20 years in prison if convicted.

A third man, named as Jay Bryant, was arrested in 2023 and will be tried separately in 2025 or 2026.

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