Wit­ness tam­per­ing al­leged in Knight case

Record­ings sug­gest rap mogul, as­so­ciates of­fered bribes for fa­vor­able tes­ti­mony, pros­e­cu­tors say.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By James Queally and Marisa Ger­ber

Tran­scripts of recorded con­ver­sa­tions sug­gest former rap im­pre­sario Mar­ion “Suge” Knight and his de­fense at­tor­ney dis­cussed brib­ing wit­nesses to fab­ri­cate tes­ti­mony in Knight’s up­com­ing mur­der trial, pros­e­cu­tors al­leged in court records made pub­lic on Thurs­day.

Ac­cord­ing to the 22-page court fil­ing by pros­e­cu­tors, con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Knight, Long Beach at­tor­ney Matthew Fletcher and two oth­ers show the group un­der­stood “they were go­ing to as­sist the de­fen­dant in procur­ing wit­nesses for his de­fense, which in­cluded pay­ments for fab­ri­cated tes­ti­mony.”

Knight, 52, is ex­pected to stand trial next year on charges that he bar­reled his red truck into Terry Carter and Cle “Bone” Sloan in the park­ing lot of a Comp­ton burger stand in late Jan­uary 2015, fol­low­ing a dis­pute on the set of the movie “Straight Outta Comp­ton.” Carter, 55, died of his in­juries.

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, who fled the scene but later turned him­self in, is also ac­cused of rob­bery and threat­en­ing the film’s di­rec­tor, F. Gary Gray, in sep­a­rate cases.

Knight’s fi­ancee, Toi-Lin Kelly, and busi­ness part­ner, Mark Blanken­ship, were also on the phone calls, ac­cord­ing to the Los An­ge­les County court fil­ing. None of the peo­ple iden­ti­fied in the district at­tor­ney’s mo­tion have been charged in con­nec­tion with claims of wit­ness tam­per­ing.

The district at­tor­ney’s

mo­tion also noted that on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, Blanken­ship told Knight “that the wit­nesses be­ing dis­cussed would be pro­cured by ‘le­git­i­mate’ means and that they would just ‘tell the truth.’ ”

The fil­ing asked the court to con­duct its own in­quiry into whether Fletcher has a con­flict of in­ter­est in rep­re­sent­ing Knight in the threat case, in part, be­cause in­ves­ti­ga­tors have “gath­ered ev­i­dence of pos­si­ble wit­ness tam­per­ing, bribery, con­spir­acy to vi­o­late a court or­der and ob­struc­tion of jus­tice on the part of at­tor­ney Fletcher.” The lawyer is no longer the at­tor­ney of record in the mur­der case. The ev­i­dence is likely to be raised by pros­e­cu­tors dur­ing the mur­der trial, the fil­ing said.

Fletcher de­nied wrong­do­ing, telling The Times that pros­e­cu­tors had taken his words out of con­text and were try­ing to dis­credit de­fense wit­nesses be­fore they tes­ti­fied. He said any talk of money was about at­tempts to ob­tain cell­phone video shot by wit­nesses to the hi­tand-run.

“There’s cell­phone videos that were out there. That’s what I was told, that’s what I sent peo­ple out to get,” he said.

Fletcher also ex­pressed out­rage that a judge au­tho­rized in­ves­ti­ga­tors to lis­ten to his con­ver­sa­tions with a client.

“If you can’t speak to your lawyer over the phone with­out the gov­ern­ment lis­ten­ing to it, I find that fairly rep­re­hen­si­ble,” he said.

In a text mes­sage to a Times re­porter, Knight’s fi­ancee de­scribed the fil­ing as “ridicu­lous and FALSE!!” say­ing nei­ther she nor Knight spoke to wit­nesses, nor has any­one of­fered money in ex­change for fab­ri­cated tes­ti­mony. Kelly said pros­e­cu­tors were at­tempt­ing to de­stroy the in­tegrity of de­fense wit­nesses who could val­i­date Knight’s claims.

“ALL the facts and ev­i­dence of this case are on Mr. Knight’s side. There isn’t a single rea­son we would need to pay an in­di­vid­ual for in­for­ma­tion,” she wrote. “We are anx­ious to be able to present the ev­i­dence our le­gal team has gath­ered.”

Blanken­ship sent a text to The Times, say­ing Knight is en­ti­tled “to de­fend him­self and get jus­tice by seek­ing truth­ful ev­i­dence that can be eval­u­ated by a jury so that he can have a fair trial.”

In a se­ries of recorded phone calls be­gin­ning in early 2015, pros­e­cu­tors say that Knight, Fletcher, Kelly and Blanken­ship dis­cussed pay­ing wit­nesses to say they saw ei­ther the victims or oth­ers at the burger stand in pos­ses­sion of a gun, a move that would bol­ster Knight’s self-de­fense claim.

In one call, to an uniden­ti­fied woman, Knight said he needed a wit­ness to claim they saw guns on the day of the hit-and-run, ac­cord­ing to the district at­tor­ney’s fil­ing. Later that day, pros­e­cu­tors said, Knight, Fletcher and Blanken­ship were in­volved in a con­fer­ence call where the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­chang­ing cash for tes­ti­mony was dis­cussed.

“And you all went over there and you saw these guns re­moved from these two peo­ple,” Fletcher said, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors. “Yes, yes. Fine, dude, you’re done. Here’s your money.”

While calls be­tween Fletcher and Knight would nor­mally have been pro­tected by at­tor­ney-client priv­i­lege, a judge al­lowed in­ves­ti­ga­tors to lis­ten to record­ings if Knight called some­one who then put Fletcher on the line, thus break­ing the priv­i­lege.

In a March 13, 2015, phone call, pros­e­cu­tors al­lege, Knight told his fi­ancee that there was a wit­ness who would do what­ever is needed and say they saw a gun.

“Wit­nesses are go­ing to do what they are sup­posed to do,” Knight said, ac­cord­ing to the tran­script.

Pros­e­cu­tors said they be­lieve that Knight and Fletcher agreed “that wit­nesses would need to be paid in or­der for the de­fen­dant to ob­tain his free­dom.”

Their de­fense, pros­e­cu­tors con­tend, will prob­a­bly hinge on the idea that the victims or oth­ers were armed on the day of the crime — a the­ory pros­e­cu­tors say isn’t sup­ported by the ev­i­dence.

In one March 2015 call, Kelly told Knight that Fletcher had “put some ‘bread’ out there to get wit­nesses to come around,” seem­ingly re­fer­ring to cash, ac­cord­ing to the fil­ing. Kelly told The Times she was re­fer­ring to the pos­si­bil­ity of is­su­ing a re­ward to en­cour­age wit­nesses to come for­ward with truth­ful in­for­ma­tion.

In an­other March 2015 call, Fletcher re­ferred to pay­ing some­one “$100 an hour each.” Pros­e­cu­tors ar­gue he was re­fer­ring to wit­nesses.

The fil­ing also lays out a plan or­ches­trated by Sher­iff’s Depart­ment homi­cide in­ves­ti­ga­tors to place an in­for­mant near Knight on a trans­port bus in May 2016. Af­ter nearly 25 min­utes on the bus, the in­for­mant — who pros­e­cu­tors say was told not to ques­tion the de­fen­dant about his pend­ing crim­i­nal mat­ters — sug­gested he could be use­ful to Knight, ac­cord­ing to the fil­ing.

“I’m on my way home, blood. … Any­thing you need,” the in­for­mant said.

“You know, I’m go­ing to find you,” Knight replied, then in­struct­ing the man to con­tact his former at­tor­ney, David Ken­ner, upon his re­lease, ac­cord­ing to the fil­ing.

The next day, pros­e­cu­tors say, the in­for­mant vis­ited Fletcher’s Long Beach of­fice, picked up his busi­ness card and ex­changed texts with him. A cou­ple of hours later, Fletcher called the in­for­mant, say­ing he and Knight “grew up to­gether,” ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of the recorded May 2016 con­ver­sa­tion in­cluded in the fil­ing. At one point, Fletcher sug­gested gain­ing help­ful tes­ti­mony might cost money, ac­cord­ing to the fil­ing.

“These [ex­ple­tives] got a price, let’s get that [ex­ple­tive] price paid,” Fletcher said, ac­cord­ing to the tran­script. “I told Suge, ‘You can al­ways make some more money, you can’t make any more free­dom though.’ ”

One week later, an­other at­tor­ney, Thad­deus Culpepper, con­tacted the in­for­mant, ac­cord­ing to the fil­ing. A tran­script of their ex­change was not in­cluded in the fil­ing, but pros­e­cu­tors said Culpepper agreed to pay the in­for­mant for “his sworn tes­ti­mony that he was present at the time of the crime and [wit­nessed] ev­i­dence fa­vor­able to the de­fense,” ac­cord­ing to the fil­ing. Reached Thurs­day night, Culpepper de­clined to com­ment, say­ing he hadn’t talked to his client.

The fil­ing also ac­cuses Fletcher of play­ing a role in the leak of a key piece of ev­i­dence — sur­veil­lance video of the red truck bar­rel­ing into two men at the Comp­ton burger joint. A judge had or­dered that the video not be given to the me­dia.

Fletcher said he never had pos­ses­sion of the tape and there­fore couldn’t have leaked it.

On March 9, 2015 — the day, pros­e­cu­tors say, Fletcher be­came Knight’s at­tor­ney of record in the mur­der case — the video was pub­lished by TMZ.

Sher­iff ’s de­tec­tives got a war­rant to search Kelly’s cell­phone, and pros­e­cu­tors say they found mes­sages be­tween her and a TMZ correspondent in March 2015 ne­go­ti­at­ing a price for the video.

The fil­ing by pros­e­cu­tors said Kelly and Knight com­mu­ni­cated in code about a plan to sell the video for as much as $150,000. In the end, the TMZ correspondent and Kelly agreed to “55,” though the fil­ing doesn’t say whether that meant $55,000.

On March 9, 2015, six hours af­ter the video went live on TMZ, pros­e­cu­tors say Fletcher texted Kelly say­ing, “That went well.”

Kevork Djansezian As­so­ci­ated Press

AT­TOR­NEY Matthew Fletcher, shown in 2015 with client “Suge” Knight, de­nies any wit­nesses were bribed for fa­vor­able tes­ti­mony. Fletcher said pros­e­cu­tors had taken his words out of con­text and were try­ing to dis­credit de­fense wit­nesses be­fore they tes­ti­fied.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.