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, according to 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 “had an understanding that they were going to assist the defendant in procuring witnesses for his defense, which included payments for fabricated testimony.”
Knight’s fiance, Toi-Lin Kelly, and business partner, Mark Blankenship, were also on the phone calls, according to the Los Angeles County court filing.
Knight, 52, will stand trial next year on charges that he barreled his 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 fled the scene but later turned himself in.
Knight is also accused of robbery and threatening the film’s director, F. Gary Gray, in separate cases.
None of the people identified in the district attorney’s motion have been charged in connection with claims of witness tampering.
The filing asked the court to conduct its own inquiry into whether Fletcher has a conflict of interest in representing Knight, 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 evidence is likely to be raised by prosecutors during the trial, the filing said.
The district attorney’s motion, however, noted that on several occasions, Blankenship told Knight, his friend and business partner, “that the witnesses being discussed would be procured by ‘legitimate’ means and that they would just ‘tell the truth.’”
Calls and a text message sent to Fletcher seeking comment were not immediately returned.
In a series of recorded phone calls beginning in March 2015, 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 have bolstered Knight’s self-defense claim.
In one call, to an unidentified woman, Knight said he needed witnesses to claim they saw guns on the day of the car crash, according to the district attorney’s filing. Later that day, Knight, Fletcher and Blankenship were involved in a conference call where the possibility of exchanging cash for testimony was discussed, according to the filing.
“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.”
In a March 13, 2015, phone call, prosecutors allege, Knight could be heard telling 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 likely hinge on the idea that the victims or others were armed on the day of the crime, a theory the district attorney’s office says is not supported by the evidence.