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Jam Master Jay Trial: Recording Studio Turned to Chaos After Shooting

Immediately after Jam Master Jay was killed in 2002, the recording studio where he had been hanging out became a scene of chaos.

Randy Allen, a childhood friend of the DJ, whose legal name was Jason Mizell, gave testimony on Tuesday at the Brooklyn trial where two men stand accused of murdering Mizell. He said he was in the studio’s control room, smoking a joint and listening to an unsigned artist’s demo CD when he heard gunshots in the next room. “It didn’t [compute] in my head that that’s what [the sound] was,” he told the jury. “I stumbled into the [studio’s speaker] monitor and left the room. I was stumbling and fumbling.” He said he didn’t know how long it took him to get into the room where Mizell had been playing video games.

“I saw my sister [Lydia High] lying on the left side of the door, crying and screaming,” he said, referring to a witness who gave testimony on Monday. “I saw Tony [Rincon, who had been sitting next to Mizell] hopping on one leg, and I looked down at Jay, and he’s lying there. He was shot. There was blood coming from his head. … [Lydia] was just crying hysterically.”

Allen grabbed a gun that Mizell had brought with him and ran outside looking for the shooter. When he didn’t see anyone who could have done it, he stashed the gun on the tire of a park car and ran to a nearby NYPD precinct. He told the jury he didn’t bother to call 911 because he “didn’t want to waste time.” (He expounded on this later, saying that 911 is a dispatcher, and the gallery sounded audibly dubious of this explanation.) He told police that he’d seen his friend shot and brought them back to the studio. The cops wouldn’t let him reenter the studio while they were investigating, so he went to the bathroom in the building and sat on the floor until paramedics removed Mizell’s body.

The U.S. government has indicted three men in Mizell’s death. While this case could see Karl Jordan Jr. and Ronald Washington face a minimum of 20-year sentences if convicted, the third man, Jay Bryant, will be tried at a later date.

Prosecutors allege that Jordan pulled the trigger, killing Mizell and injuring another man, while Washington stood guard at the studio door. They claim that the defendants had been promised a role in a cocaine distribution deal with Mizell, who’d been serving as a middleman, and when Mizell cut Washington out, they conspired to kill him. Defense attorneys say their clients were not the killers and that witnesses’ testimony is inconsistent with reports they gave at the time of the shooting.

Allen told the jury that Uriel “Tony” Rincon had confided in him within days of the shooting that he believed Jordan was the shooter and that he’d seen Washington, as well. He said his sister identified Washington to him days after the shooting. “He put a gun to her and held her on the ground,” Allen said she told him.

However, he told the jury that he didn’t see either man that night. When the prosecutor asked why he hadn’t gone to the police with this information in subsequent years, he said he didn’t feel comfortable. “I couldn’t do that to my sister,” he said. “That was her story to tell. … She’s very, very emotional. It was up to her to tell it.”

In testimony, Allen, who was wearing a casual black hoodie, said that Mizell had been his best friend since childhood. They’d met in the Seventies when Allen was 11 or 12 and lived near Mizell. They attended high school together and remained close even after Mizell gained worldwide fame with Run-DMC. In 1988 and 1989, Allen was serving time in state prison for selling drugs, and Mizell visited him “very often,” Allen said, “whenever he could.”

Years later, Mizell invited Allen to work for him at JMJ Records, the DJ’s Def Jam imprint. Mizell appointed Allen vice president of the imprint but never put it in writing, Allen said, because Mizell “already had financial problems coming out of Run-DMC” and he didn’t want Allen to be responsible for any debt.

Allen told the jury he was unaware that Mizell sold drugs, but noticed that Mizell had started bringing a gun with him. “I might have looked at him weird [because of it],” Allen recalled, but he didn’t tell him to put it away. He added that he knew defendant Washington “from the neighborhood” and that Washington was among the people who would visit Mizell at the studio.

When prosecutor Artie McConnell asked Allen if he could find Washington in court, Allen nodded, smirked, and stared at Washington for a suspenseful moment before saying, “Right there in that blue shirt, glasses.” Allen said he also recognized Jordan, who was the son of a man who lived across the street from him and Mizell growing up. “Right there in the glasses, brownish shirt, turtleneck,” Allen said.

Allen told prosecutors that after the shooting, he went to Mizell’s house to see his sister and spotted Jordan’s father, who goes by “Big D,” across the street. “I said, ‘What’s up? How are we gonna deal with this?’” he recalled. He clarified his intention with the remark was in a communal sense, as in, how would the community come together to solve it, not implicating him or his family members.

Under cross-examination, Allen reaffirmed to Jordan’s attorney that he didn’t see Jordan on the night of the shooting and admitted that anyone who knew the security system could tamper with the VCR. He also restated that he didn’t want to put his sister and Rincon through police scrutiny because it “would have been confused with everything that was going on in the media” around the time of the shooting.

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Washington’s attorney, Susan Kellman, focused her questioning on the statement Allen gave police on the night of the shooting. He told authorities he heard three to six gunshots, possibly from two different guns. He also said he saw a Black male with short hair who was heavyset but seemed to be tall, going downstairs. (That description does not match Washington’s.) Allen said that his signature was on the police report but that he couldn’t recall making the claims. With these discrepancies, she asked him whether he felt his recollection of the night might have been more accurate closer to the event. He said it would be and reaffirmed that he didn’t see Washington that night.

On Tuesday, prosecutors called two more witnesses they allege had minor roles in the drug ring that included Washington: Lewis Gonzalez, who used to chauffeur Bryant to cocaine drop-offs and pickups, and Christopher Burrell, a friend of Mizell’s who toured with Run-DMC. Prosecutors focused Burrell’s testimony on trips he took to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. with Mizell and defendant Washington, including one trip in which he claimed to overhear a conversation in which Washington planned on selling cocaine for Mizell. Burrell’s testimony will continue tomorrow.

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