Death Row Records founder Suge Knight should be forced to pay $81 million to the family of Terry Carter, a lawyer representing his widow and his two daughters told a Los Angeles County jury Tuesday. Knight was convicted of voluntary manslaughter when he ran over Carter with his Ford Raptor truck seven years ago after trying to meet with Dr. Dre on the set of Straight Outta Compton to discuss an alleged murder-for-hire plot.
It was the first time the lawyer, Lance Behringer, put a dollar figure on the Carter family’s loss during the nearly month-long wrongful death civil trial that reached closing arguments a week after Knight testified remotely from prison.
Knight, 57, is now serving 28 years behind bars after pleading no contest to the voluntary manslaughter of Carter under a deal that avoided a looming trial. Prosecutors initially charged Knight with murder, claiming he intentionally punched the gas and mowed down Carter in the parking lot of Tam’s Burgers on Jan. 29, 2015, amid a fight with a man named Cle “Bone” Sloan, a onetime gang member working security for Straight Outta Compton, the Dre and Ice Cube-produced movie about the rise of the rap group, N.W.A.
“Dying on the concrete floor alone at Tam’s Burgers was not a natural death. He was taken from these three women,” Behringer said, pointing to Carter’s wife, Lillian Carter, and his two daughters, Nekaya and Crystal, who were seated in the front row of the courtroom. Behringer said each woman deserves a million dollars for each of the 27 years that Carter likely would have lived had Knight not crushed him with his truck during what was supposed to be a friendly meeting to cool tensions after Knight was turned away from the Straight Outta Compton production base camp.
“Nobody’s comfortable talking about money,” Behringer said. ‘But that’s what we have to do.”
Supporters of the Carter family packed the courtroom gallery, with many wiping tears as Behringer described Terry Carter as a successful local businessman and doting husband and father who once fully remodeled Crystal’s bedroom, installing a fireplace in it, to keep her from moving out after she turned 18.
Knight’s defense lawyer, David Kenner, told jurors in his dueling closing argument that there’s no question Carter was a great man. He said Knight considered Carter a friend and was devastated by what happened. He called the incident at Tam’s Burgers “a tragic accident and a tragic loss of human life.”
Knight, 57, listened remotely to part of the closing arguments Tuesday, though his video link was not shown to jurors like it was for his live testimony. During his turn under oath on June 8, Knight referred to Tam’s as “Murder Burger” and said it was both infamous as a spot for homicides and well-known as a place for criminals to avoid due to its many cameras.
Speaking to jurors Tuesday, Behringer called the jailed former rap impresario’s testimony in the case “all over the place.” He highlighted a seemingly incriminating answer Knight gave when asked by Kenner what he was “attempting to do” when he barreled through the Tam’s parking lot, hitting Sloan and killing Carter, before exiting out the other side. Knight testified that Sloan had pointed a gun at him, so he “feared for [his] life.”
“I was going straight. I seen the guy in the front of my truck,” Knight said in the testimony that Behringer read for the jury and projected on two large screens in the courtroom. “I seen the guy in my mirror. I wanted to make sure to get this guy, and I did.” Behringer argued the testimony was a confession Knight clearly saw Carter, something Kenner later denied in his closing.
The Carter family lawyer didn’t play the surveillance video from Tam’s that was shown repeatedly during the case, but he told jurors they would have further access to it during deliberations. In the video, Knight’s truck is seen pulling into the Tam’s driveway from a nearby street after an alleged first confrontation between Knight and Sloan on a bordering street. A man identified as Sloan rushes up to the truck and begins fighting with Knight through the open driver’s side window. Knight then reverses out of the parking lot, knocking Sloan to the ground, shifts his truck into drive, hits the gas and barrels back through the burger stand’s property, running over both Sloan and Carter, killing Carter.
“At the moment in time when defendant Knight reversed and pulled out of Tam’s — at this moment in time, Bone is on the ground. Whether you believe there was a gun there or not, there was no gun being pointed at [Knight] at that time,” Behringer argued. “The gun doesn’t matter. At this point in time, there’s no threat.”
Behringer told jurors that while Knight testified last week that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress after being shot seven times at the 1Oak nightclub in 2014 and that he had been told by law enforcement that Dr. Dre, born Andre Young, paid someone to kill him, Knight also testified that he didn’t believe Dre wanted him dead and that he “never said Sloan was there to kill me.” The Carter family lawyer argued Knight’s testimony didn’t “make any sense.”
“Knight set the events in motion. Knight had the weapon with the two-ton truck. Knight should have driven away. Knight should have seen Terry. Knight did see Terry. He said it,” Behringer said. He argued a “reasonable person” would have stayed home and not visited a movie set to meet with someone after hearing that person wanted them dead. Kenner disagreed.
“It is not strange that Mr. Knight went to base camp where Dr. Dre and Ice Cube both would be in order to resolve this issue of whether or not his life was in danger,” Kenner argued. He said his client wanted to look Dr. Dre in the eye, let him know what police purportedly were saying and make clear that he didn’t believe it. Kenner then argued Knight only pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter because he was about to face trial with an unprepared lawyer and didn’t want to take the “gamble” and “die in jail.”
Kenner asked jurors to put themselves in the cab of Knight’s truck during the 30 seconds in which Sloan allegedly attacked him twice. “Imagine somebody punching you, chasing you again, punching you again, pointing a gun at you, threatening to kill you,” he said. “You have to decide, what would you have done then,” he argued.
Kenner said Knight is not “challenging the worth of Mr. Carter’s life,” only who’s liable. “With all due apologies to Ms. Carter and the Carter family, I ask that you render a verdict of not liable,” he said.
The Carter family filed the underlying lawsuit in June 2015. The original complaint named Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and NBC Universal among the defendants, claiming they all knew Knight objected to Straight Outta Compton and intended to commit violence on the movie’s sets. The family alleged the producers hired Sloan to stand up to Knight’s violence and then negligently managed him.
Dre and Ice Cube, born O’Shea Jackson, successfully fought the complaint along with NBC Universal.
“The court cannot fathom how Knight’s reckless and allegedly criminal attempt to run over Bone with his truck later in the afternoon was predictable with an ‘extraordinarily high degree of foreseeability’ such that a duty may be imposed on defendants,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brian Currey wrote in a September 2016 decision granting the parties’ demurrers. “The alleged fact that defendants ordered Bone to ‘take control of the situation’ and arrange a meeting with Carter does not make it highly foreseeable that Bone would ‘flank’ and ‘ambush’ Knight by continuing a personal fight with Knight in the presence of Bone’s associates or that Knight would attempt to recklessly and criminally attack Bone with his vehicle, or that Carter would be in any probable danger.”
While Dr. Dre’s name was invoked several times Tuesday, the music mogul was not a witness in the case. Attempts to reach his representatives Tuesday were not successful. He previously has denied the wild allegation he paid someone to kill Knight.
“Given that Dre has had zero interaction with Suge since leaving Death Row Records in 1996, we hope that Suge’s lawyer has lots of malicious prosecution insurance,” Dre’s lawyer said in a 2016 statement given when the allegation appeared in a civil court cross-complaint filed on Knight’s behalf by a lawyer Knight disavowed in his testimony last week.
Jurors on the wrongful death case started deliberating at 3 p.m. Tuesday.