Hip hop mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs’ faces what could be his toughest round of critics yet — a jury.
Just over a year after a shooting incident in New York City landed him in trouble, the singer, producer and founder of Bad Boy Entertainment heads into court charged with illegal weapons possession and allegedly trying to bribe a witness. The trial was to have started Jan. 8, but was postponed.
On Dec. 27, 1999, at the Club New York, shots that injured three people were fired after a patron reportedly threw money in Combs' face. Bad Boy recording artist Jamal "Shyne" Barrow, who arrived with Combs' party, allegedly pulled the trigger, and is currently facing three counts of attempted murder.
Combs; his girlfriend, singer-actress Jennifer Lopez; and bodyguard Anthony "Wolf" Jones fled the scene in a sport utility vehicle, driven by chauffeur Wardel Fenderson.
Police who stopped them claimed that one firearm had been thrown from the vehicle, and a second was found on the floor of the passenger seat. Combs is also charged with allegedly offering Fenderson $50,000 and a diamond ring to claim ownership of the gun found in the vehicle.
The Grammy winner pleaded not guilty to the charges, and will be tried along with Barrow and Jones, despite his request in May to be tried individually.
Stop the Presses
Combs' high profile personality has the proceedings under close watch in the media. His hip hop empire includes his record label, clothing line and restaurants in New York and Atlanta. Lawyers on both sides of the case are concerned leaks to the press will damage their chances in court.
Earlier this month the New York Daily News ran a pair of stories citing one prosecution witness who said Combs had a gun the night of the shooting, and another secret witness who would testify that Combs fired a shot into the ceiling of the club. Combs has also been discussing his story and gave several interviews to assert his innocence.
His legal team asked Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon to remove a gag order imposed on participants in the trial, so they could publicly counter the Daily News stories, but the motion was denied.
Faith in the System
Combs says dealing with his family has been the toughest part of the ordeal. Last month he gave his first sit-down interview since the case began, telling the Daily News the worst parts of the experience were seeing his mother cry and having to explain to his kids that he is "totally innocent." If a jury doesn’t agree, he could face prison time.
Combs remains confident he will get a fair trial, and told the News that he'll "have to have faith."
He more recently spoke with the Associated Press with his lawyer Benjamin Brafman at his side. Brafman's past clients include mobster Sammy "The Bull" Gravano and nightclub owner Peter Gatien.
The singer recalled his experiences on the night of the incident when he and Lopez took a limousine to the Club New York, a popular hip-hop spot.
He explained once the shooting started, he feared he was the intended subject of the bullets.
"I was definitely scared to death," Combs remembers. "I was especially scared because I had Jennifer with me. … When your woman's in danger, it's a lot more scary."
He also said he is eager to get his case in front of a jury and out of the headlines. "We're not going to get involved in the hype," Combs promises. "We're just going to lay out the facts, and get my life back on the road."
Although once the criminal case is over, Combs faces civil charges. All three of the injured victims have filed lawsuits against Puffy, as well as the owner of Club New York.
Mr. Showbiz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.