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.
Myers testified she tapped Combs on the shoulder after he squared off in an argument with the "loud, forceful, and intimidating" Matthew "Scar" Allen over a spilled drink. "I basically told him, 'You don't need this, let's move towards the VIP area, or if you're leaving, then we'll escort you to the door,' " Myers said under questioning from Combs defense attorney Johnnie Cochran. As they headed toward the door, Myers said she heard Jamaal "Shyne" Barrow shout, "Fuck this shit!" then saw him "firing a gun." Myers said that in the ensuing chaos she fell on top of Combs and never saw Combs with a gun.
In rebuttal testimony last Friday, a detective testified Myers told him she was not there when the altercation started and shooting broke out. Prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos, who has accused the defense of witness tampering during the six-week trial, presented telephone records indicating that calls were made between Combs or members of the Bad Boys family and three defense witnesses who later testified Combs did not have a gun. Each witness denied speaking with Combs after the incident.
Records show a three-minute call from Myers's home to Combs's cell phone on January 8 last year. The records also show five calls last January from a cell phone owned by Christopher Chambers, an auto technician who testified that he did not know Combs. Combs apparently called him once that month. A third set of calls, 22 of them last December, came from witness Glen Beck's home to a Combs bodyguard, Paul Offord. Saima Majid, a paralegal in the district attorney's office who analyzed the records, said she found no calls between Beck and Offord in the preceding year. During cross-examination by Combs's co-counsel, Benjamin Brafman, Majid said she could not tell who had made a call or answered a telephone. She could only say who owned a phone and that a call was made or received on it.
"I felt all along that Cherise Myers was lying because Puffy's own witnesses didn't see her in the area where the argument started," says a supporter of Barrow who asked not to be identified. "That woman is just a bit too conspicuous for people not to have seen her. She is six feet tall and about 210 pounds. I don't understand how Trenton Stewart [the security guard in charge the night of the shooting] didn't see her over there."
Another courtroom watcher sympathetic to Barrow notes that a different security guard had testified that it was Anthony "Wolf" Jones, Combs's bodyguard, who fell on top of Combs. "But Cherise Myers said she fell on top of Puffy," the sympathizer fumes. "You noticed the prosecutor making a conscious effort to ask everyone if they had seen her there. Puffy and them knew she was lying. But her lie didn't hurt them; it helped them. So they didn't care about Shyne."
According to assistant D.A. Matthew Bogdanos, Sean Combs and Anthony Jones first introduced the concept of Puff love in the Bad Boys family to Wardel "Woody" Fenderson, a 42-year-old father of two whom Combs allegedly repeatedly tried to bribe to take the rap for a gun. Fenderson testified in court that he saw Combs stick a gun into his waistband before his trip to Club New York. In his opening remarks, Bogdanos reconstructed Combs's desperate efforts to work out a deal with Sergeant Jack Konstantinidis after he, Fenderson, Jones, and Jennifer Lopez had been arrested. It reads like a Hollywood script.
"OK. Deal! Deal!" Combs told Konstantinidis. The sergeant had confirmed as accurate the rapper's understanding that if one of them took the heat for the gun, the others would not be charged. "Deal! I'll get you the owner of the gun."
Combs picked the patsy: Wardel Fenderson. As they stood before the desk sergeant at the precinct, Combs leaned over to Fenderson and whispered in his ear: "Take the gun. Say it's yours. I will give you $50,000."
"I have never been convicted, never been in trouble," the "petrified, frightened beyond explanation" Fenderson replied.
"Take it," Jones advised Fenderson. "He is good for it. You will be part of the family if you take it."
A "stunned" Fenderson did not say anything. The suspects were split up and Jones and Fenderson handcuffed to a railing and placed in a holding cell. Combs was also handcuffed to a railing a few feet away and could slide back and forth. That's when he launched "a relentless, unremitting barrage," to get Fenderson to accept his offer.
"Take the gun! Say it's yours. Do it now," Combs implored Fenderson. "I'll give you $50,000. I'll take care of everything. I'll pay your bail. I'll pay for your lawyer. You don't have to worry; you'll be one of us. You will be one of a family now. Take the gun. I can't go to jail. I'm Puff Daddy. I can't go to jail. Miss Lopez, she can't go to jail. You got to take the gun."
"Do it," Jones urged. "Come on. I'm a predicate [felon]. I'll do time for the gun. I can't take my gun. You got to take it. You have never been arrested. You have never been in trouble. The worse you will get is probation. Do it. You don't believe me?"
"Here, take my ring as collateral," said Combs, handing Fenderson a pinkie ring, a birthday gift Lopez had given to him. "Take this ring. You don't believe me? I'm good for the money. This ring is worth several hundred thousand dollars. Take this ring. It's all right, $50,000. You will be one of us. I'll take care of everything, but you got to do it now, you got to do it now."
Eventually, Fenderson gives in, telling the cops: "It's my gun." But he reflects on what he has done. "It is at that point Mr. Fenderson . . . thinks about his daughter, his family," Bogdanos tells the jury. "It is at that time Mr. Fenderson . . . can't go through with it. He can't commit the crime." On the stand Fenderson stuck to Bogdanos's interpretation of the events. He was unshakable.
Shortly after the shooting, Sean Combs allegedly began to woo Matthew Allen with Puff love, trying to recruit him into the Bad Boys family. He and Allen bumped into each other at a party, and according to D.A. Bogdanos, talked about the incident.
"What's up?" Combs asked Allen. "Why'd that have to get out of hand?"
"What's up with trying to shoot us?" Allen retorted.
"I'm going to have my people get in touch with you, but it ain't coming from me," Combs said. "You've got to understand that it's not coming from me. Give your number to my man, Wolf. I've already got a bribery on me. My boys will take care of you, but you got to understand, it's not coming from me. My people will get in touch with you."
According to Bogdanos, the two men saw each other again on two different occasions, and Combs asked Allen why he had not reached out to the family.
"Why didn't you call my man?" Combs asked.
"I'm not your bitch to be calling your man!" Allen fired back.
In court papers, Bogdanos claims that someone who worked for Combs "in fact approached" Allen later "to talk about how much money it would take," presumably to buy his silence. But "no money ever changed hands . . . and there was no expressed or explicit offer," Bogdanos concluded. "Mr. Allen never gave any indication to those people that he would accept their money or what it was that he had to do in order to get their money."
Three days before closing arguments in the case, police sources told New York Postreporter Laura Italiano that "a Combs insider warned [Allen] to watch his back because the rap millionaire had put a $50,000 price on his head." Allen is in protective custody at the Queens House of Detention after skipping out on unrelated misdemeanor weapons and domestic violence charges. "You know I believe it, because that's how I'd play it," Italiano's law enforcement source quoted Allen as saying. "Why pay me $250,000 to shut me up if you can pay someone only $50,000 to clip me?"
In court Monday, Jamaal Barrow's hardcore clientele began scratching their heads in confusion after attorney Ian Niles dropped what they considered to be a bombshell. "Nigga said he had a gun?" one dismayed rap fan asked. They say that in the end, after all that bragging about "death before dishonor," Barrow broke his oaththat a true gangsta rapper would have bit into his own hollow-point.
But that's another bum rap they've put on Barrow. Nowhere in Niles's summation does he use subterfuge to suggest that Barrow's codefendants, Sean Combs or Anthony Jones, could have been that gunman. Thatwould be snitching. Ballistics tests showed the gun police found in Barrow's waistband had been fired twice, while witnesses testified hearing between three and six shots. Niles contended that the other gunman remains at large, chiding authorities who found it "more important to go after celebrities in this case than the true perpetrators."
As proof that Barrow fired at the ceiling and not at anyone, Niles reminded the jury that Wardel Fenderson testified hearing Jennifer Lopez say, "I can't believe Shyne busted off. He busted off in the air." Niles told the jury that Judge Charles Solomon will instruct them that a person may use deadly force to protect himself. "He [Barrow] attempted to use that gun in a reasonable manner to protect himself," Niles argued. Over and over again, Niles sought to convince jurors that "there is no evidence in this record that Jamaal harbored the intent to kill anyone," adding that "it was Jamaal's life that was at risk. . . . His intent was to get out of a dangerous situation." And when Barrow did, according to Niles, "he runs like there's no tomorrow." As Barrow would say, "That's gangsta!"
Additional reporting by Samuel Maull, Associated Press