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Jam Master Jay’s murder remains a mystery

Five years, a substantial reward and a lengthy investigation haven’t changed a thing when it comes to arresting the murderer of the Run-DMC turntable legend.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The mother of rap icon Jam Master Jay knows the truth: The people who brazenly pumped a bullet into her son’s head remain on the street. So do the witnesses — some of them Jay’s friends — who can identify the killers.

Law enforcement knows it, too. Five years, a substantial reward and a lengthy investigation haven’t changed a thing when it comes to arresting the murderer of the Run-DMC turntable legend.

“The people who know something haven’t talked,” said Jay’s mother, Connie Mizell-Perry. “They have to live with themselves. Whoever did it, let them live with themselves.”

On the night before Halloween 2002, 37-year-old Jason Mizell was in his recording studio in his neighborhood of Hollis, Queens, where the hip-hop star was as recognizable as Santa Claus at the North Pole. Two armed men were buzzed inside; according to some reports, Jay hugged one of the pair.

And then he took a single .40-caliber bullet to the back of his head.

Only suspect denies any role in killingWhile the homicide lingers as an open case, the identity of one suspect/eyewitness was made public this year by prosecutors: Ronald Washington, a career criminal and local zero. Washington, in the days before Mizell’s slaying, was reportedly living on a couch at Jay’s home.

The arrangement infuriated Jay’s family, since Washington was already linked to another rap slaying: the 1995 shooting of Randy Walker, a close associate of the late Tupac Shakur. Next month, Washington faces sentencing for a series of robberies that took place after he went on the lam following Jay’s death — a nomadic tour of Long Island motels as he dodged the police.

He denies any role in the murder at Jay’s 24/7 Studio, and has not been charged in the case. But prosecutors detailed Washington waving a handgun and ordering people in the studio to lie on the ground while the execution took place.

The gunman “provided cover for his associate to shoot and kill Jason Mizell,” said the court papers, filed by prosecutors opposing a defense motion to dismiss the federal gun and robbery charges against him. Prosecutors declined further comment.

Police identified at least other four people in the studio that night. There were two armed gunmen involved, including one suspect with neighborhood ties. In Hollis, it seemed everybody had heard something about Jay’s death.

And still, nobody opened their mouth. And no one is charged in the death.

“There are people who may not be directly culpable, but they damn sure know who did it,” said Bill Adler, a hip-hop historian and one-time Run-DMC publicist. “And they keep their mouths shut because they know they could be the next one to end up dead.”

Part of the trinity of hip-hop slayingsHis slaying made Jam Master Jay part of the trinity of high-profile hip-hop heroes senselessly slaughtered by gunmen who escaped legal retribution, along with Tupac and his East Coast nemesis, Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace.

The investigations were all stunted by a lack of witness cooperation, part of the national “stop snitching” trend. More recently, the same thing happened when a bodyguard for rapper Busta Rhymes was gunned down during a Brooklyn video shoot on Feb. 5, 2006.

“Stonewalling has hurt these investigations, obviously,” said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, referring to the New York slayings. “What makes it even more insidious is the profit motive. Stop snitching is all wrapped up in music sales, and the so-called ‘street cred’ in violence and keeping quiet about it.”

Kelly said NYPD investigators were told by potential crime witnesses that cooperating with authorities could end their rap careers. Among witnesses without star power, the concern about cooperating is more self-preservation than career preservation.

“Many people obviously know a lot,” said David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “And they see people who have killed friends and family members walking around the neighborhood all the time.”

The message is clear: They got away with one murder. What’s another?

‘It’s really pathetic’Ryan Thompson grew up in Brooklyn with his cousin Jay, the two of them spinning records side by side as nascent DJs. Thompson was working two security jobs back in 2002, and finishing up his shift on one when his phone rang. It was a friend delivering an incomprehensible message: Jay was dead.

Thompson couldn’t believe it then, and has trouble accepting it now — particularly the fact that no one has come forward to identify his cousin’s killer.

“It’s about snitching — people are supposed to live by that,” said Thompson. “It’s nonsense. There’s no such thing as snitching when someone’s been murdered that you love and care about. Did those people really respect Jay?”

An assortment of names have surfaced over the years as suspects, ranging from local nobodies to one of Queens’ most notorious drug lords, Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, currently serving life without parole for a pair of murders.

Other then Washington, authorities identified no suspects.

The names of two witnesses surface repeatedly in the case: Mizell’s business partner, Randy Allen, and his sister Lydia High. Reports from four years ago indicated she was placed in protective custody by police.

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Today, her attorney says he has not heard from High in more than a year.

The investigation into Jason Mizell’s death continues; the NYPD never closes a murder probe. No one ever claimed the more than $60,000 in reward money posted by the city and Jay’s friends.

Some would say no amount of cash was worth their life. Thompson disagrees.

“It’s really pathetic — we’re here five years later, and nothing is solved, and no one’s arrested,” he said. “How is that?”