The Unsolved Mystery of the Notorious B.I.G.

Page 11 of 13

By June 21st, when a jury had been selected to hear opening statements, Sanders and Frank realized that combating the impression that their case was falling apart would be even tougher than they had imagined. One witness after another had begun to duck and cover, convinced their lives were at risk if they testified in open court. Frank urged the jury to prepare for inconsistencies in the testimony of "reluctant" witnesses frightened because those implicated in this case "are incredibly violent people."

After the mistrial, Wallace's lawyers were contacted by a number of political figures in Los Angeles — worried that this lawsuit might bankrupt the city.

The first important witness called by the plaintiffs, former Shakur bodyguard Kevin Hackie, promptly confirmed the two attorneys' fears with what the Times described as "erratic" testimony. The newspaper's coverage of Hackie's appearance in court emphasized the body-guard's repudiation of his previous sworn testimony that Mack had worked in a "covert capacity" for Death Row Records. The Times made no mention of how Hackie's testimony began with the following series of questions and answers:

Q: Do you want to testify in this case?

A: No, sir.

Q: Why not?

A: I'm in fear for my life, sir.

Q: What are you afraid of?

A: Retribution by the Bloods, the Los Angeles Police Department and associates of Death Row Records.

The following day, though, things began to improve dramatically from the plaintiffs' point of view. Retired LAPD detective Fred Miller, who had been both Poole's partner and his supervisor, not only praised his former partner's detective work but testified that after Poole left the LAPD, Miller had taken the case to the district attorney's office, seeking to have Knight charged with B.I.G.'s murder. Prosecutors had told him the case was "not quite there," said Miller, who could offer no explanation for the LAPD's subsequent failure to investigate further.

The most startling revelation of the day, however, was the testimony of LAPD detective Wayne Caffey, who told of having been shown a photograph of a woman posing with Mack and Perez that he had understood was seized from the home of a South Central L.A. gang member. The woman in the photograph, he said on the stand, was apparently Bernard Parks' daughter Michelle. "That had the jurors on the edges of their seats," Sanders says. "They had to wonder what the daughter of the chief of police was doing posing with a couple of gangster cops for a photograph found in a gang member's house."

Things got even stranger the next day, when Hollywood screenwriter Mikko Alanne, who had been researching the police scandal for a TV movie, testified under oath that during a private meeting, Caffey had told him the LAPD was in possession of a secretly recorded videotape. It purportedly showed Mack and Perez present at a meeting in the offices of Death Row Records in which Knight had ordered B.I.G.'s murder. Caffey denied this story.

But the drama of the trial's first four days would pale in comparison to what happened the evening of June 23rd and during the days that followed.

Perry Sanders was riding to dinner in an SUV with blacked-out windows, accompanied by two bodyguards hired to protect him during the trial, when he took some time to listen to his voice mails. One was from the secretary at his office in Louisiana, informing him that three people with tips on the B.I.G. case had phoned that day. Only one caller was anonymous, Sanders remembers, but for some reason it was this person he phoned back first. Sanders almost hung up, he admits, when the man on the other end of the line began the conversation with the words "In another life …" He had already dealt with too many " 'Tupac's been reincarnated'-type of callers" in the years since he had taken this case, but then, Sanders says, "This guy goes on: 'I was at a Board of Rights hearing in the basement of Parker Center.'" Board of Rights hearings were the LAPD's disciplinary proceedings, Sanders knew, and ordinarily were not held in the basement of police headquarters. But before he went further, the man said he required an absolute promise that his identity would be protected. When Sanders agreed to this, the man said that he was a member of the LAPD's command staff and had a lot to lose but "felt he just couldn't live with himself if he didn't share what he knew," the attorney recalls. "The guy sounded very credible. He gave me lots of names and dates and other specific details, so I knew that if he was not telling the truth, it would be easy to determine." Sanders immediately phoned Robleto and asked him to verify that a proceeding like the one described had taken place. Robleto phoned back in the middle of the night to say he was convinced that what the attorney had been told was accurate.

"I showed up for court on Friday morning at 7:30," Sanders recalls, "and by noon had a handwritten presentation to make before the judge." Judge Cooper, flummoxed, asked for suggestions about what to do. Sanders proposed adjourning until Monday morning while both sides investigated what he had been told.

"And by Monday we all knew it was all true."

That weekend, for the first time in memory, the LAPD had locked down an entire division — and not just any division, but the department's most prestigious, Robbery-Homicide — to search it from top to bottom. Robleto and Poole say they believe the lock-down was essentially theatrical, because the Internal Affairs investigators who performed the search already knew what they were going to find: more than 200 pages of documents hidden in two drawers belonging to Detective Steve Katz. Most of those pages related to assorted hearings and investigations that involved the sworn testimony of a prison inmate named Kenneth Boagni, regarding the confessions of Rafael Perez to his involvement in crimes that included the murder of Notorious B.I.G. "Talk about shit hitting the fan," Sanders says. "You should have seen the faces of the city's attorneys when we got to court on Monday morning."

Most of the Boagni materials have been placed under seal by Cooper and are therefore impossible to detail. A general description, however, has been offered in court documents. What they reveal is this: Sometime in 1999, Boagni was a cell-mate and friend of Perez's at a California penal institution. During that time, according to Boagni, Perez took pleasure in describing his work for Death Row Records and his participation in various crimes, including the murder of Notorious B.I.G., and he detailed his activities, and Mack's, at the Petersen Museum on the night of the killing. This information had come to light as the result of a Board of Rights hearing involving charges against a Sgt. Paul Byrnes, who had been implicated by Perez in the —scandal.

One of the three panel members at the proceeding involving Byrnes — and the only civilian among them — was Xavier Hermosillo, a former public-relations executive best known in Southern California as a radio talk-show host and community activist. Hermosillo says he found Boagni to be a "totally credible" witness. Right up front, Boagni told the panel he was the black sheep of a good family and that his main motivation was redemption. He'd been blessed with athletic ability and been drafted by the Houston Astros, Boagni said, but he continued to get into trouble with the law. He still considered "P-Dawg" a friend, Boagni said, and felt bad about "stabbing him in the back" but knew for a fact that Perez had falsely accused any number of fellow officers, including Byrnes, of crimes they had not committed.

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