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2 men to be charged in the 2002 killing of hip-hop legend Jam Master Jay

Jam Master Jay, the pioneering DJ of Run-DMC whose real name was Jason Mizell, was shot dead in his Queens studio nearly 18 years ago at the age of 37.
Run DMC Portrait In NY
Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels and Jam Master Jay of the hip-hop group "Run DMC" pose for a portrait in circa 1986 in New York, New York.Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Two men have been charged in the fatal shooting of Jam Master Jay, a founding member of Run-DMC and New York City hip-hop legend, whose death has remained unsolved for nearly 18 years.

Ronald Washington and Karl Jordan have been indicted in the murder of the pioneering DJ, whose real name was Jason Mizell, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York announced on Monday. Jordan, 36, was arrested Sunday and arraigned on Monday. Washington, 56, is currently serving a federal prison sentence and will be arraigned later this week.

Both men are charged with murder while engaged in narcotics trafficking and firearm-related murder, while Jordan is also facing several additional charges of narcotics distribution.

Prosecutors allege that the two men walked into the famed DJ's Queens studio and killed him in a "drug-related" homicide, according to Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth DuCharme.

"They walked in and murdered him in cold blood," DuCharme said. "We started investigating that case a very long time ago, in the early 2000s, but there were a lot of challenges in bringing that case.”

The acting U.S. attorney said his office was confident that they will be able to prosecute and prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

"For the crime of murder, the passage of time offers you no escape," DuCharme said.

Jordan’s attorney, Michael Hueston, declined comment to NBC News on Monday.

Jam Master Jay ascended to hip-hop royalty during the 1980s as DJ for the groundbreaking Run-DMC. The DJ also opened his own record label, which is best known for discovering rapper 50 Cent in the 1990s.

He was shot dead in his Queens studio on Oct. 30, 2002, at the age of 37, with few clues for police to identify his killer for nearly the last two decades.

Washington was first named as a suspect in Jay’s death in 2007 in federal court documents that alleged Washington was the armed accomplice of a second unidentified gunman. The documents also alleged that Washington was a suspect in the fatal 1995 shooting of Randy Walker, a close associate of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, according to the Associated Press.

In a sworn statement from 2007, Washington denied the allegations and claimed hostile detectives had hounded him about the slaying of his “childhood friend” Mizell.

Federal prosectors allege in new filings released on Monday that both men entered the studio at about 7:30 p.m. with firearms. Washington allegedly pointed his firearm at an individual located inside the studio and demanded that the person lie on the floor, according to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District.

Jordan allegedly approached the DJ and fired two shots at close range, striking Jam Master Jay once in the head, killing him.

"The investigation revealed that the motive for the killing resulted from Mizell’s previous acquisition of approximately 10 kilograms of cocaine from a narcotics supplier in the Midwest," a press release from the office said Monday.

Jam Master Jay allegedly told Washington before his death that he would not be involved in distributing the drugs in Maryland.

At a brief hearing held via videoconference on Monday, Jordan pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Prosecutors asked the judge to order him held without bail, alleging that he was the triggerman in the DJ's killing and posed a continued risk to the community.

“In October of 2002, he walked into Jason Mizell’s studio, a fixture in the Hollis community, and executed him,” said prosecutor Mark Misorek. “There is not a reasonable set of conditions that can assure the community will be kept safe.”

Misorek said Jordan did not have an “extensive criminal record,” but noted the indictment alleges that he sold cocaine to an undercover ATF agent in 2017.

Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom ordered Jordan to be remanded. His next court date was scheduled for Sept. 17.

A detention memo filed to Bloom by prosecutors on Monday claims that both Jordan and Washington were identified by eyewitnesses present at the studio at the time of the murder. The memo also claims that Washington made statements to law enforcement and third parties that corroborate his involvement in both the murder and the underlying narcotics conspiracy.

A lawyer for Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

Both men face a minimum of 20 years in prison and a possibility of a death sentence if convicted.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison commended the department’s investigators for the “relentless pursuit” of justice in the case.

“Me being a native of Queens and being a big fan of Run-DMC and Jam Master Jay, making this arrest was very very important to me,” Harrison told reporters Monday.

The group's other members hyped the beloved DJ on their debut album with a song titled “Jam-Master Jay,” praising their “big beat blaster” in their rhymes.

“Jam Master Jay is the one in charge,” the lyrics said. “It’s up to him to rock beats that are truly large, he is the master of the scratch and cut.”

Run-DMC was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, commemorating the group’s legacy of moving hip-hop into the mainstream through their innovative sound and ability to blend genres, including their 1986 hit duet with rock icons Aerosmith, "Walk this Way."

The group had the first rap album to go gold and were the first rap performers to have a song featured on MTV, according to a 1986 Rolling Stone feature. They also received the first Grammy Lifetime Achievement for rap artists in 2016 by the Recording Academy.

Rapper Ice Cube honored the three men in an essay posted to the Grammy’s website in 2016, where he remarked that Run-DMC’s debut album was the first he saved up to buy with his own money.

“I remember when someone said hip-hop was dead,” he wrote. “I didn't believe them until I heard that they killed Jam Master Jay. Then I believed them. A part of hip-hop died that night, but the spirit lives on.”

NBC News has reached out to representatives for Run DMC’s surviving members, Joseph Simmons and Darryl Matthews McDaniels, for comment on the case's developments.

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