Citing monitored telephone conversations between Marion "Suge" Knight and one of his defense attorneys, prosecutors alleged in court documents released today that the one-time rap mogul tried to pay off potential witnesses in his pending murder case with the lawyer's assistance.
Knight appeared in a downtown courtroom Thursday for a pretrial hearing in a separate case alleging that he made criminal threats against the director of the film "Straight Outta Compton." That hearing was postponed to Sept. 11.
But prosecutors asked in a motion filed Wednesday that the court investigate a possible conflict of interest between Knight and his defense attorney in the threats case, Matthew Fletcher, and consider appointing a special advisory counsel.
Fletcher, who previously represented Knight in the murder case, has denied any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors allege that Fletcher was involved in an effort by Knight to sell a video of the 2015 killing of Terry Carter and assisted his client in trying to bribe potential witnesses. The motion details text messages sent by Knight's fiance, Toi-Lin Kelly, negotiating with the celebrity-news website TMZ and apparently agreeing to sell the video for $55,000.
A TMZ reporter spoke directly to Knight in what prosecutors said was a conversation about the video using coded references. The video was protected by a court order and was released the same day Fletcher became Knight's attorney of record in the murder case, according to prosecutors.
Fletcher was later replaced by another defense attorney, one in a series of at least six different lawyers involved in the murder case.
"The People bring to the Court's attention that 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 motion alleges.
Knight is charged with murder, attempted murder and hit-and-run for using a pickup truck to allegedly run down Carter and Cle "Bone" Sloan in the parking lot of Tam's Burgers in the 1200 block of West Rosecrans Avenue on Jan. 29, 2015. Sloan survived his injuries.
The allegations against Fletcher could lead to criminal charges against him, and compromise his ability to defend Knight in the criminal threats case, according to prosecutors.
"Evidence of Fletcher's potential criminal conduct, including his effort to assist in the sale of the video along with his efforts to bribe witnesses, suborn perjury, etc., will no doubt surface in the murder case," prosecutors contend in the motion. "This evidence would be admissible to explain any change in a witness' statement and to evidence consciousness of guilt on the part of the defendant. Once that information comes to light, the fact that law enforcement has previously scrutinized Fletcher's behavior will no doubt weigh on his mind while representing the defendant in the instant case," the motion argued in part.
Calls made by Knight from jail were recorded under a court order. Although the order did not allow monitoring of private discussions between Knight and his attorney, it states that if Knight calls a third party and that person adds the defense attorney via conference call, "then defendant has broken the applicable attorney-client privilege, and the People are free to monitor the call."
A recording of a March 2015 call between Knight, his friend and business partner Mark Blankenship and Fletcher lays out what prosecutors allege is Knight planning to bribe witnesses.
"I'll pay anything ... if we can get these three, this is heaven to me, if we can get the two or three versions from the bikers on tape and we can get ... we're done. It's going home time," Knight says, according to the motion. "Right? That's a fair (expletive) investment, you know, 20, 25 thousand dollars to pay to these (expletives) to get home?"
Prosecutors said Knight's plan was to have the witnesses testify that the victims had guns at Tam's, bolstering a self-defense claim.
Fletcher was not immediately available for comment, but he told the New York Daily News before the hearing, "I've never paid anyone, period, end of story."
The defense attorney also told the newspaper he didn't know of any witnesses being paid and didn't believe Knight had the cash to pay anyone.
The motion notes that during the March 2015 call, Blankenship "clarified with the defendant that the witnesses being discussed would be procured by `legitimate' means and that they would just `tell the truth,"' a position repeated by Blankenship on other calls.
Knight's lawyer in the murder trial said he didn't yet have all the facts, but was "greatly concerned" about the idea of prosecutors listening in on calls between lawyers and their clients.
"I think that attorney-client privilege is something that has to be taken extremely seriously," defense attorney Jeremy Lessem said.