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

Page 13 of 13

Along with Frank, Sanders has taken particular pleasure in watching how the L.A. Times has absorbed the new reality of the case. The newspaper's story reporting the discovery of the Boagni materials changed dramatically from one edition to the next. The first version ran under a subhead reading, "Three weeks into their civil case, lawyers for Notorious B.I.G.'s family have failed to prove an LAPD link to the star's 1997 slaying." That version did not even mention the lockdown of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division and the discovery of the hidden tapes and documents until the fifth paragraph. By the third version of the story, however, the lead sentence reflected what was already appearing in East Coast newspapers: "The LAPD deliberately hid witness statements tying corrupt police to the slaying of Notorious B.I.G., a federal judge said Thursday in granting a mistrial and potentially lucrative attorney fees to the rapper's family."

Still, the newspaper didn't seem to want to go down without a fight. In the first article reporting the discovery of the hidden Boagni materials, Andrew Blankstein, the reporter who had covered the trial for the Times, threw in a line from Mack, interviewed in prison, claiming that Sanders and Frank "offered him inducements to change his testimony." Sanders, who had already called the allegations a lie, confronted Blankstein. According to Sanders, "He said to me, 'I've got editors. I was instructed to put that in there.' So I know that somebody in a position of power at that newspaper has an agenda. I don't know what it is, but I know that it involves discrediting our case and protecting the city from this lawsuit." (Blankstein didn't return calls asking for comment.)

Los Angeles Times assistant managing editor Marc Duvoisin told Rolling Stone, "We stand behind our coverage of the killings of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace. Chuck Philips and The Los Angeles Times have no agenda regarding these stories. We have not tried to favor or disfavor any of the parties to the Wallace lawsuit. We have tried to learn about and publish important and interesting information to the best of our ability, and we will continue to do so. For reasons that should be obvious, we will not reveal the identities of confidential sources."

Sanders visited Boagni in prison in early October. Composed and articulate, he "might now be the best witness we have," the attorney says. Alerted soon after this visit that LAPD officials were spreading the story that Boagni had recanted, Sanders asked if it was true, and in reply, received a letter in which Boagni wrote that he stood by his earlier testimony "100,000 percent." The letter also made it clear, however, that Boagni was beginning to recognize the powerful position in which recent events had placed him. He had just been visited in prison by an LAPD representative, who "made it perfectly clear that if I was to testify, I would bury the city and the LAPD," wrote Boagni, adding that the police representative "also made it clear he hoped I wouldn't depose or testify."

Sanders' concerns about how the city and the LAPD might try to manipulate Boagni are likely to be overwhelmed by the eighty-one CDs of evidence related to Perez that the LAPD is supposed to send in response to the plaintiffs' most recent discovery demand. The CDs are expected to contain tens of thousands of pages of documents, and he and Frank will have no choice but to search through every one of them, Sanders knows, as they prepare for the next trial.

Meanwhile, eight years after the death of the Notorious B.I.G., he remains a major star. Later this month, Bad Boy Records will release Duets: The Final Chapter, in which contemporary stars such as Snoop Dogg, Eminem and Jay-Z rap to existing Biggie tracks.

Voletta Wallace continues to insist that she doesn't care how large her victory is in this civil case. The L.A. Times has reported that the Wallace estate has tried to settle for as little as $18 million. Sanders won't comment on that, but he notes that the Times articles have omitted one crucial detail of every settlement discussion he has had with the city: his client's demand that the LAPD devote its resources to solving her son's murder. "What I need from this lawsuit is that the person or persons who murdered my son are brought to justice," Wallace says. "What I need from this lawsuit is honesty. What I need from this lawsuit is to show that humans have integrity, show that they're not cowards, show that they're not liars, show that they care about the truth."

Wallace seems to have achieved a remarkable calm amid the storm of secrets and lies her court claim has unleashed. "Let it all come out," she says. "There's nothing they can surprise me with anymore." When asked what she imagines her dead son would say about her claim that his murder was the nexus of a vast and complex conspiracy, she pauses for a few moments, then answers, "I think he would say, "Well, if you didn't know before, now you do.'"

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