Detectives were amazed that witnesses came forward, given the level of fear Knight inspired in virtually everyone who dealt with him. For the first time in a long while, people seemed to view Knight as vulnerable. Watching him get locked up seemed to turn the tide. Yet until the month before B.I.G.'s murder, Knight had been getting away with outrageously violent behavior for years. At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Knight had combined his status as an all-conference defensive end for the football team with a reputation as the biggest drug dealer on campus, while repeatedly using his athletic connections to avoid prison time. On Halloween night 1987, Knight was arrested after shooting a man twice and stealing his Nissan Maxima, yet managed to have the felony charges against him reduced to misdemeanors.
Moving home to Southern California in 1990, Knight used the constant threat and regular exercise of violence to transform himself from bodyguard to talent agent to record producer. In 1991, Knight showed up for a meeting with Ruthless Records owner Eazy-E accompanied by two of his thugs from the Bloods gang. During the next hour he "persuaded" Eazy to sign over three of his top acts — including the leading talent in rap, Dr. Dre — for no compensation. After launching Death Row Records with an investment by the legendary drug lord Michael "Harry-O" Harris, Knight secured $10 million from Jimmy Iovine and Ted Field of Interscope and promptly released Dr. Dre's The Chronic, which by the end of the year had become the biggest-selling rap album ever.
Detectives investigating the murder learned that "LAPD officers provided security for members of Death Row during criminal activities … and drug deals."
Despite his wealth, Knight maintained his reputation as a dangerous man. The most serious charges against him stemmed from a 1992 incident at Hollywood's Solar Records. There, surrounded by an audience of his homeboys, Knight dealt with an impudent rapper named Lynwood Stanley by pistol-whipping him and his brother George, then forcing the two to take off their pants and lie naked in front of him while he removed IDs from their wallets. He promised to have them killed if they went to the police. The brothers called the cops anyway, but Knight, with the aid of his megalomaniacal attorney David Kenner, was able to delay his trial for three years, and then persuaded both the victims and the prosecutor, Larry Longo, to back his appeal for a suspended sentence. Judge Stephen Czuleger, who did not know at the time that the Stanleys had recently signed a $1 million contract with Death Row Records — or that a few months later, prosecutor Longo's eighteen-year-old daughter would become the first white singer signed to a Death Row contract — recommended a nine-year suspended sentence but agreed to let Knight spend a month in a halfway house, then walk away from the whole mess with five year's probation. Knight's involvement in the melee that preceded Shakur's murder in Las Vegas in September 1996, however, would end his freedom.
As was his standard practice in securing new talent, Knight had honed in on Tupac Shakur at the lowest ebb of the rapper's life. Shakur was in the New York state prison at Dannemora, serving up to a four-and-a-half-year sentence for sexual assault and recovering from the five bullet wounds he had suffered in the lobby of the Quad Recording Studios off Times Square. Knight promised not only to solve Shakur's money problems, but to secure his release from prison as well. In October 1995, Shakur signed a three-page handwritten agreement drafted by Kenner, and within a week he walked out of prison to the white stretch limousine where Kenner and Knight waited for him.
But within a year, Shakur would try to break away from Knight. First he formed his own production company, Euphanasia, to develop movie projects. And later that summer, the rapper fired Kenner as his attorney — effectively signalling his independence. It was a move that a lot of people predicted would get him killed. At the MTV Video Music Awards held in New York a week later, Knight approached Shakur to insist he had no hard feelings; as a gesture of friendship, he invited Shakur to join him in Las Vegas for the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon heavy-weight title fight the following weekend. When Shakur confided to his fiancée, Kidada Jones, that he felt uneasy about the trip, she advised him to wear his bulletproof vest. But Shakur said Vegas was too hot for that.
As the Death Row contingent stepped out of the MGM Grand Hotel's auditorium following the bout, one of Knight's homeboys approached Shakur to whisper in his ear. Shakur's bodyguard, Frank Alexander, saw him turn to stare at a young black man who stood on the other side of the hallway. The man was Orlando "Baby Lane" Anderson, a member of the Southside Crips. Anxious to impress Knight and the other Bloods with his continuing loyalty, Shakur charged across the hallway and threw a punch at Anderson. The Crip went to the ground immediately, said Alexander, who found it difficult to believe the skinny rapper could hit that hard. Knight and the Bloods surrounded Anderson, punching, kicking and stomping. They all fled before the police arrived, but Knight, strangely, stopped very near the scene of the crime to make a phone call.
About an hour after the fight, the Death Row crew traveled in a caravan of luxury vehicles to Knight's 662 club. At Knight's insistence, he and Shakur rode alone in Knight's BMW, listening to Shakur's newest album, Makaveli, at an obliterating volume. When the BMW stopped at a red light just off the Strip, a white Cadillac with four young black men inside pulled up on the right. The passenger in the left rear seat rolled down his window, extended the barrel of a semiautomatic pistol and sprayed the side of the BMW with thirteen bullets, mortally wounding Shakur, before the Cadillac sped away.
"When you saw it laid out, the whole thing looked pretty well planned," Poole says. "But how did the killers know Tupac would be in that car at that place at that time?" Poole's suspicions would harden into a working theory after he learned that Snoop Dogg had told the L.A. County Sheriff's office that Knight was behind Shakur's murder. Poole was further convinced after he was advised by several people who knew Knight well that he was perfectly capable of taking the risks involved in sitting so close to the target of a contract killing.
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