‘Suge’ Knight pleads not guilty

For­mer rap im­pre­sario is charged with threat­en­ing “Straight Outta Comp­ton” di­rec­tor.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Marisa Ger­ber

For­mer rap im­pre­sario Mar­ion “Suge” Knight en­tered a Los Angeles court­room Thurs­day just as he has about once a month for the last two years, wear­ing jail scrubs and fac­ing se­ri­ous crim­i­nal charges.

He smiled at his fam­ily in the au­di­ence, in­clud­ing his son, who wore a Tshirt that read “Free Suge.”

But Knight — who is charged with mur­der and rob­bery in sep­a­rate cases — doesn’t ap­pear to be walk­ing free any time soon.

His lat­est ap­pear­ance was to plead not guilty in a third crim­i­nal case, one that ac­cuses him of threat­en­ing death or great bod­ily in­jury to the man who di­rected “Straight Outta Comp­ton.”

The hit film chron­i­cled the rise of the sem­i­nal rap group N.W.A and in­cluded an un­flat­ter­ing por­trayal of Knight’s role in the city’s rap move­ment of the 1980s and ’90s. Af­ter the fall of N.W.A, Knight co-founded Death Row Records with one of the group’s found­ing mem­bers, Dr. Dre.

A grand jury in­dict­ment ac­cuses Knight, 52, of threat­en­ing death or bod­ily in­jury against di­rec­tor F. Gary Gray on Aug. 8, 2014.

The threat, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, “was so un­equiv­o­cal, un­con­di­tional, im­me­di­ate and spe­cific as to con­vey to Felix Gary Gray a grav­ity of pur­pose and an im­me­di­ate prospect of ex­e­cu­tion.” The vic­tim, the in­dict­ment reads, ex­pe­ri­enced “sus­tained fear” for his safety and the safety of his fam­ily.

Knight’s at­tor­ney, Matthew Fletcher, told re­porters af­ter the hear­ing that he

had yet to re­view ma­te­ri­als in the case but thinks the threat charge stems from a text mes­sage sent to Gray.

Fletcher re­called the mes­sage, ac­knowl­edg­ing he was para­phras­ing, as say­ing: “You have fam­ily. I have fam­ily. We all need to eat. God bless you.” Fletcher also said he thinks the text came from a phone that did not be­long to his client.

Asked at a news con­fer­ence about claims that Knight was frus­trated over his por­trayal in the movie, Toi-Lin Kelly, his fi­ancee, shook her head.

“He’s never even seen the movie,” she said. “It was more about his like­ness was be­ing used with­out be­ing com­pen­sated for it.”

Kelly added that she’s been with Knight for more than 12 years and that he “doesn’t send threat­en­ing texts.”

In the movie, Knight — played by ac­tor R. Mar­cos Tay­lor — is por­trayed as a pow­er­ful and of­ten men­ac­ing fig­ure. Dur­ing a scene in­side a record­ing stu­dio, Knight threat­ens rap­per Eazy-E and then watches as two men beat him up. In an­other scene, Knight re­peat­edly pis­tol-whips a man for tak­ing his park­ing spot.

The new charge is the lat­est in a long his­tory of le­gal trou­bles for Knight, who also faces mur­der and at­tempted mur­der charges in con­nec­tion with a dis­pute dur­ing the film­ing of a com­mer­cial for “Straight Outta Comp­ton” months af­ter the al­leged threat.

In that case, Knight is ac­cused of bar­rel­ing his red truck into two men in the park­ing lot of a Comp­ton burger stand in late Jan­uary 2015, killing 55-year-old Terry Carter and in­jur­ing Cle “Bone” Sloan. Footage from a se­cu­rity cam­era shows Knight — who has pleaded not guilty and says he acted in self-de­fense — plow­ing his truck into the men. Knight fled the scene but later turned him­self in.

Knight, who was out on bail at the time of the fa­tal hit-and-run, is also charged in a sep­a­rate rob­bery case.

The Death Row Records co-founder was at the wheel of a BMW in Las Ve­gas in 1996 when a white Cadil­lac pulled up be­side him and some­one in it shot rap­per Tu­pac Shakur, who was seated in the pas­sen­ger seat. The killing re­mains un­solved.

In 1997, a judge, who said there was a “dan­ger el­e­ment” to Knight, sen­tenced him to nine years in pri­son for vi­o­lat­ing the terms of his pro­ba­tion stem­ming from an as­sault case. He was re­leased in 2001 but re­turned to jail two years later for vi­o­lat­ing pa­role when he hit a park­ing lot at­ten­dant.

Since his 2015 ar­rest, the for­mer rap mogul has strug­gled with health prob­lems be­hind bars that his at­tor­neys say date to 2014, when he was shot at a West Hol­ly­wood night­club.

Brian van der Brug Los Angeles Times

MAR­ION “SUGE” KNIGHT ap­pears in court Thurs­day in L.A. on a charge of threat­en­ing death or great harm to the di­rec­tor of “Straight Outta Comp­ton.” He faces mur­der and rob­bery charges in sep­a­rate cases.

Brian van der Brug Los Angeles Times

THE AL­LEGED THREAT that Mar­ion “Suge” Knight, above, made against “Straight Outta Comp­ton” di­rec­tor F. Gary Gray, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, “was so un­equiv­o­cal, un­con­di­tional, im­me­di­ate and spe­cific as to con­vey ... an im­me­di­ate prospect of ex­e­cu­tion.”

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