By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Barring the miracle that rapper Jamaal "Shyne" Barrow has been praying for, the jury in the Club New York shooting trial undoubtedly will convict the accused baby-faced gunman, some sympathizers predicted following the first round of closing arguments on Monday. This wicked fate, they contend, seemed to have been sealed by the eleventh-hour admission by Barrow's defense lawyer that the rap star fired his gun inside the upscale nightclub. Others are praying that the jury of seven blacks and five whites buys attorney Ian Niles's argument that the three people injured in the club on December 27, 1999, were hit by gunfire from someone else. "I'm going to make your job a little bit easier," Niles said. "I'm going to tell you Jamaal had a gun." Niles claimed that Barrow "had that gun because he had been shot at just a few weeks earlier." Barrow, Niles added, fired his weapon at the ceiling, acting only in self-defense after a war of words erupted between Barrow's codefendant, rap mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs, and alleged "club brawler" Matthew "Scar" Allen. According to Niles, Allen began "yelling that he was going to kill Shyne."
Long before attorney Ian Niles felt it was sound strategy for Jamaal "Shyne" Barrow to fess up about his burner, Barrow's supportersraptivists who are staunch critics of hip hop idol Sean "Puffy" Combstheorized that Barrow, 21, had been offered up by big fish in Combs's Bad Boys family as a sacrificial lamb.
Barrowwho popularized the question "Is dyin' what you wanna do?"was expendable. And that's "Puff love," they sneer. Now, no matter what the jury decides, Barrow, insiders reveal, will never be a part of that dysfunctional hip hop family again. "What would you do if you [left] millions with niggas and they had no love for ya, wouldn't pay for your lawyer?" Barrow asks in his hit rap, "The Life," bemoaning the loss of honor among partners in crime.
"Making him the fall guy made it easier on the jurors because the message they got from Puffy was, 'Let me go. I didn't do it. Shyne is the villain. He's the bad boy,' " one irate Barrow fan declares. "Puffy's publicity machine paints him as this fun-loving guy, getting him on the front page of the Daily Newsplaying in the snow with his kids. But Shyne is just the guy that went into a club and shot it up."
But others point out that the charismatic Combs courageously took the stand in his own defense, and that Barrow, feeling bound by ghetto laws and not telling his side of the story earlier, gambled with his freedom. It is important, however, that Barrow's fans understand why he "Fifthed" and how he allegedly came to be shunned by the Bad Boys family. "The Life" overflows with secrets if one reads between the lines.
After "starting this shit called 'The Council,' " in which "every nigga . . . was a boss," Barrow's alter egoDawgwas arrested, charged with a very serious drug offense, convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term. "Niggas started shittin', actin' bizarre, drivin' ma cars, fuckin' ma broads, breakin' the laws," Dawg complains, adding it was the "same niggas I took care of." Despite his feelings about the betrayal, Dawg never ratted on members of the Council.
"If I was different, I'd snitch," he says. There were times when Dawg was torn by the dilemma of loyalty. "I figured, 'Shit, why sit in a cell rottin'?' " If he cooperated, everything, it seemed, would work out: "I'll be out in 10. Start over again. Throw the Boys in the pot. But I couldn't do it. You wouldn't understand if you ain't been through it." In the end, Dawg opted for Oz because there are "rules to this shit, and I couldn't break 'em." For him, it's all about "death before dishonor."
Many of Barrow's supporters see similarities in his current predicament. Dawg's vow "never [to] break this oath" against snitching may have influenced Barrow's stubborn resolve to remain silent even in the face of what the star defense witness for Sean Combs had done to him. During her testimony, Club New York security guard Cherise Myers took a smoking gun away from Combs, looked Barrow in the eye, and put a 15-shot, .9mm Ruger in his hand. (This is the gun a prosecutor maintains Barrow drew and fired, hitting the three club patrons.)
Like a true member of Combs's Bad Boys family, Barrow, supporters speculate, stifled his outrage. It's what they say Combs expected of him. And to those who understand the savage code of the street, which some insist Barrow helped to enforce through characters like Dawg, "That's gangsta!"
Barrow, they assert, is prepared to accept punishment25 years behind bars if convicted of attempted murder and assault chargeswith the utmost dignity. That's Puff love, Combs insiders insist. That's Puff love in the Bad Boys family, the love three defense witnesses, including Cherise Myers, allegedly demonstrated on the stand, but that prosecution witnesses Wardel "Woody" Fenderson and Matthew "Scar" Allen ultimately rejected.
If Cherise Myers had become a member of the Bad Boys family, she did a poor job of masking her love for Sean "Puffy" Combs when she took the stand on his behalf February 26.