Run DMC39s Jam Master Jay was shot dead in an ambush

Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay was shot dead in an ambush motivated by “greed and revenge” during a drug deal gone bad, a court has heard – as two men, 59 and 40, stand trial for murder

Two men accused of killing Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay were driven by “greed and revenge” over a failed drug deal 20 years ago, a court has heard.

In her opening statement in federal court in Brooklyn, Assistant U.S. Attorney Miranda Gonzalez outlined the prosecution's case that Karl Jordan Jr., 40, and Ronald Washington, 59.

They are accused of murdering the 37-year-old music icon in 2002 after allegedly being denied a lucrative cocaine deal.

Both men have pleaded not guilty in one of hip-hop's most infamous unsolved murders.

The case remained unsolved for nearly two decades until Jordan and Washington arrested the suspects in 2020 with a 10-count indictment.

Jam Master Jay, aka Jason Mizell, a member of hip-hop pioneers Run-DMC, was murdered in his own studio in 2002

Gonzalez told jurors that they would hear from eyewitnesses who were in the studio that night and that the couple admitted their involvement to others.

Karl Jordan Jr., now 40, the hip-hop star's godson, is on trial for the murder of Jam Master Jay

Karl Jordan Jr., now 40, the hip-hop star's godson, is on trial for the murder of Jam Master Jay

“Each defendant was proud to have defeated Jam Master Jay and gotten away scot-free,” she said.

But Washington attorney Ezra Spilke argued the case was stuck with “tape and glue” and said prosecutors had “no idea” who killed Jay, born Jason Mizell.

“This case was about 10 seconds ago, 21 years ago,” he said. “It’s the blink of an eye, a generation ago.”

He called the prosecution's account of events “one version of many” and questioned the validity of memories going back a generation.

The men face a maximum sentence of life in prison and, if convicted, a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 20 years. The government has said it will not seek the death penalty.

The wife and children of suspected shooter Karl Jordan Jr. arrive at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn

The wife and children of suspected shooter Karl Jordan Jr. arrive at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn

Retired NYPD detective James Lusk (right) was one of the first on the scene and the first witness at Monday's trial

Retired NYPD detective James Lusk (right) was one of the first on the scene and the first witness at Monday's trial

DJ Hurricane, one of New York's leading hip-hop artists on the turntables, developed his skills alongside Run DMC in the Hollis, Queens neighborhood of New York City.  He was on the opening day of the trial

DJ Hurricane, one of New York's leading hip-hop artists on the turntables, developed his skills alongside Run DMC in the Hollis, Queens neighborhood of New York City. He was on the opening day of the trial

Darryl Pringle was in the public gallery in court on Monday.  Jam Master Jay was his mentor

Darryl Pringle was in the public gallery in court on Monday. Jam Master Jay was his mentor

The body of Jason Mizell, aka Jam Master Jay, a member of the seminal rap trio Run DMC, is removed from a recording studio where he was shot in October 2002

The body of Jason Mizell, aka Jam Master Jay, a member of the seminal rap trio Run DMC, is removed from a recording studio where he was shot in October 2002

A mural pays tribute to the late Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens

A mural pays tribute to the late Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens

Mizell worked alongside rappers Joe “Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels as the group helped shape hip-hop in the 1980s with hits like “It's Tricky” and a remake of Aerosmith's “Walk This.” Bringing Hop into the Mainstream A far cry from the best-selling 1986 album Raising Hell.

Some of their songs advocate against illegal drugs, and the group even recorded a “Just Say No!” Announcement of a public anti-drug agency in the late 1980s for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

But Gonzalez said when the spotlight faded, Mizell turned to drug trafficking, acting as a go-between for sellers and buyers across the country.

A few simple calls, she said, could earn him “hundreds of thousands” of dollars.

Mizell was 37 and a father of three when he was shot after allegedly purchasing 10 kilograms of cocaine from a Midwest dealer that Washington, Jordan and others planned to distribute in the Baltimore area.

Mizell was in his recording studio in Hollis, the Queens borough in eastern New York City, where he and the two defendants grew up

Mizell was in his recording studio in Hollis, the Queens borough in eastern New York City, where he and the two defendants grew up

A map of the recording studio's offices shows where Mizzel's body was found

A map of the recording studio's offices shows where Mizzel's body was found

Another view of Mizzel's recording studio where the talented recording artist was murdered

Another view of Mizzel's recording studio where the talented recording artist was murdered

The interior of Mizzel's recording studio in Queens, New York

The interior of Mizzel's recording studio in Queens, New York

A gun was found outside the crime scene and is among the evidence presented to the jury

A gun was found outside the crime scene and is among the evidence presented to the jury

Evidence collected by the NYPD shows a gun and six bullets

Evidence collected by the NYPD shows a gun and six bullets

Police (pictured at the scene in 2002) identified at least four people in the studio with Mizell, including the two gunmen.  The city and Mizell's friends offered more than $60,000 as a reward, but witnesses refused to come forward and the case fell through

Police (pictured at the scene in 2002) identified at least four people in the studio with Mizell, including the two gunmen. The city and Mizell's friends offered more than $60,000 as a reward, but witnesses refused to come forward and the case fell through

But the dealer involved in the sale refused to cooperate with Washington, depriving both defendants of a potential $200,000 payday, she claimed.

Jordan, then 18, and Washington, then 38, thought they would be part of the lucrative Baltimore deal and became angry when Mizell told them they were excluded and had nothing left.

Gonzalez said Mizell appeared disturbed and was carrying a gun in the days before his death.

But on the night of October 30, 2002, he barely had time to react when the two men and an accomplice, Jay Bryant, showed up at his studio in Jamaica, Queens.

Bryant was charged last year after he was seen entering the building on the night of the murder and his DNA was recovered from the crime scene. He will face a separate trial in 2026.

In the prosecution's account of the murder, Mizell was in his recording studio in Hollis, the Queens borough of eastern New York City, where he and the two defendants grew up.

The studio was a neighborhood gathering place, prosecutors said. Mizell's manager Lydia High was there along with Mizell's friend Tony Rincon while three other people worked on the music in the closed recording suite.

Byrant, a friend of Jordan's whom Mizell did not know, entered the front door and let Washington and Jordan in through a locked emergency exit, both armed with handguns, prosecutors said.

Run-DMC (pictured in February 2002) rose to prominence as a pioneer of hip-hop in the early '80s, bringing the then underground music movement to the masses

Run-DMC (pictured in February 2002) became known as a pioneer of hip-hop in the early 1980s and introduced the then underground music movement to the masses

Mizell rose to fame in the '80s as a member of hip-hop sensation Run-DMC (pictured in 1985) with Joseph

Mizell rose to fame in the '80s as a member of hip-hop sensation Run-DMC (pictured in 1985) with Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniel. Their hits included It's Tricky, Christmas in Hollis and Run's House

Jason “Jay” Mizell, known professionally as Jam Master Jay, was shot and killed on October 30, 2002, in his recording studio in Hollis, Queens

Jason “Jay” Mizell, known professionally as Jam Master Jay, was shot and killed on October 30, 2002, in his recording studio in Hollis, Queens

Prosecutors say Washington brandished a gun and ordered a person to lie on the floor just as Mizell rose from a couch to greet his godson.

Another shot struck and wounded another man in the studio at the time, Mizell's friend Uriel “Tony” Rincon, before the killers fled, Gonzalez said.

Jordan shot him in the head with a .40-caliber bullet from a few inches away, killing him in a “brazen murder,” Gonzalez told jurors. All three defendants fled moments later.

“It was an ambush, an execution,” she said. “And you will learn that it was motivated by greed and revenge. He was murdered in his own studio by people he knew.

However, the police had difficulty closing the case as no witnesses initially came forward.

The people in the room didn't identify the killers for months afterward, even years later, Gonzalez said.

Both Rincon and High will testify, Gonzalez said, explaining why it took them so long to tell investigators the killers' identities.

The lawyers defending Washington and Jordan told the jury bluntly that the defendants did not kill Mizell.

They argued that police still haven't figured it out and urged jurors to be skeptical of witnesses who cooperate with their own legal problems in return for leniency.

Spilke, Washington's attorney, questioned why his client wanted to kill Mizell since Washington was an alcoholic, dependent on the rap star financially and was living on Mizell's sister's couch at the time.

“Why bite the hand that feeds you?” asked Spilke. “Why kill the person you depend on?”

He said there was no forensic evidence linking Washington to the murder, only “aging memories.”

“Mizell was a beloved artist, but condemning the wrong person … does not resolve the tragedy,” Spilke said. “It just adds one more thing.”

In a Playboy article published a year after the murder, Washington was quoted as saying that he was on his way to the studio the night of the murder when he heard gunshots and saw Jordan fleeing.

Washington's lawyers also questioned Monday why none of the people who had Mizell at the time of his death bothered to call police.

Instead, Randy Allen, a friend and business associate who was among those present at the studio, went directly to a nearby police station to report the shooting, they said.

Jordan's lawyer John Diaz, meanwhile, said his client wasn't even in the studio that night.

His lawyers have said in court papers that Jordan, then 18, was at his pregnant girlfriend's house at the time of Mizell's death and that witnesses could place him there.

Mizell was once shot in the head with a .40-caliber bullet by a masked assailant at his studio (officers at Studio 2002) in Hollis, where he grew up, police said at the time

Mizell was once shot in the head with a .40-caliber bullet by a masked assailant at his studio (officers at Studio 2002) in Hollis, where he grew up, police said at the time

In the picture, police can be seen in front of the recording studio where Mizell was shot in October 2002

In the picture, police can be seen in front of the recording studio where Mizell was shot in October 2002

Diaz said investigators built a flimsy case and ended up with the wrong men. “You have no idea who did it,” he said.

Jordan was first mentioned as a possible suspect in the murder in 2007 when he was on trial for a series of armed robberies, although he insisted he had nothing to do with them.

Jordan also faces gun and cocaine possession charges in the trial, although he has pleaded not guilty.

Although he has no adult criminal record, prosecutors allege he remains involved in the drug trade and say they have footage of him selling cocaine to an undercover officer.

The trial will be decided by an anonymous jury in federal court in Brooklyn and continues Tuesday.

On Monday, the jury heard from three police officers, including crime scene investigators who collected evidence and retired detective James Lusk, who was among the first on the scene.

The trial is expected to last four weeks.

In this 1988 photo, rap group Run DMC poses at the 31st Annual Grammy Awards in New York City.  From left: Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and the late Jason Mizell “Jam Master Jay.”

In this 1988 photo, rap group Run DMC poses at the 31st Annual Grammy Awards in New York City. From left: Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and the late Jason Mizell “Jam Master Jay.”

Mourners gather at the entrance to Allen Cathedral in Queens for Mizell's funeral on November 5, 2002

Mourners gather at the entrance to Allen Cathedral in Queens for Mizell's funeral on November 5, 2002

James Charles Daniels mourns over a fence that served as a makeshift memorial to pioneer rapper Jam Master Jay near a recording studio in Queens

James Charles Daniels mourns over a fence that served as a makeshift memorial to pioneer rapper Jam Master Jay near a recording studio in Queens

An Adidas sneaker with a message of condolence stands on the street in front of the music studio in the Queens district where former Run DMC member Jason Mizell was shot

An Adidas sneaker with a message of condolence stands on the street in front of the music studio in the Queens district where former Run DMC member Jason Mizell was shot

"Run DMC JMJ Way" is a tribute to the late Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC in Hollis, Queens

“Run DMC JMJ Way” is a tribute to the late Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC in Hollis, Queens

Along with LL Cool J and Public Enemy, Run-DMC pioneered new-school hip-hop—a blend of rock elements, aggressive swagger, and sociopolitical commentary—and its evolution, Golden Era hip-hop, which incorporated eclectic sampling.

The pioneering group was the first female rapper to be featured on MTV and established a new rap aesthetic that incorporated street culture, a departure from the flashy, disco-style clothing of their predecessors.

Her single “My Adidas” from her hit album “Raising Hell” led to an endorsement deal with the brand, establishing today's inextricable connection between hip-hop culture and sneakers.

And the “Walk This Way” remake of the same album was even more successful than the original 1970s hit.

Before his death, Mizell gained great influence in New York as a promoter of local talent, worked with young rappers and co-founded a DJ academy.

Jam Master Jay's murder followed a series of murders within the rap community in the 1990s, including the shootings of superstars Tupac Shakur and The Notorious BIG