Notorious B.I.G. Murder Case: Finally Time for Answers?


Aug. 1, 2006 — -- A new search is on for the killer of rap star Notorious B.I.G., nine years after he was shot in Los Angeles.

But why now? It depends on whom you ask.

The Los Angeles Police Department said there is nothing special about the new seven-person task force formed to solve the 1997 crime, but others say the time is right to finally get some answers to rap's greatest mystery.

This new probe comes after a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the rapper's mother, Voletta Wallace, and other relatives, who've said that Los Angeles police officers were involved in the killing.

A civil lawsuit filed by the Wallace family ended in a mistrial last year when it was revealed that a police detective intentionally hid statements made by a jailhouse informant that linked B.I.G.'s slaying to two former officers.

If the task force of six LAPD detectives and one Los Angeles Sheriff's Office deputy finds new evidence, it could prove important in helping police fight the lawsuit.

Despite the time elapsed since the crime and the fact that no new evidence is known to have surfaced, police deny the case is receiving undue attention.

"The investigation is ongoing, and we're investigating it as we would any other crime," LAPD spokesman Sgt. Lee Sands told ABC News.

Notorious B.I.G. -- also known as "Biggie Smalls" but born Christopher Wallace -- was fatally shot on March 9, 1997, after leaving a music industry party at a Los Angeles museum.

The 24-year-old was waiting at a stoplight in a sport utility vehicle when the shooter came alongside in a dark Chevrolet Impala and opened fire before speeding away.

His slaying came just six months after Tupac Shakur, Wallace's main rap rival, was shot to death on the Las Vegas Strip.

With numerous possible conspiracy theories surrounding the Wallace crime, the LAPD force faces the challenge of confirming which one fits.

A leading theory of investigators, according to gang members who spoke to the Los Angeles Times, is that Wallace was killed by a member of Compton's Southside Crips gang as part of an East Coast vs. West Coast rap feud linked to Shakur's slaying.

They told the newspaper that Wallace had promised $1 million to the Crips for killing Shakur. When they received only $50,000, the gang killed him, too, the gang members said.

Another theory alleges that Marion "Suge" Knight, the owner of Death Row Records -- Shakur's record label at the time -- hired a Bloods gang member to kill Wallace in retaliation for his client's death, unnamed law enforcement sources told the L.A. Times. Knight, who declared bankruptcy earlier this year to avoid Death Row Records being placed in receivership, denies any involvement in the slaying.

LAPD officials declined to expand on these reports to ABC News, citing the "ongoing" nature of the case.

However, experts not connected to the case were more willing to offer explanations as to why police would have chosen this time to search for new evidence.

"I think the LAPD have re-opened the case because the empire of Suge Knight has fallen and witnesses are now prepared to testify against him," Nick Broomfield, who directed the 2002 documentary "Biggie and Tupac," told ABC News. "I am happy for ... Biggie's mum that justice might finally be done."

The lawsuit filed by the Wallace family against the city of Los Angeles argues that an ex-LAPD officer, David A. Mack, conspired with Knight and arranged for Mack's college friend, Amir Muhammed, to commit the murder.

A mistrial was declared after the judge ruled that a detective had purposely hidden interview statements from an informant connecting the murder to two former LAPD officers, Mack and Rafael Perez.

Perez was a central figure in the LAPD Rampart scandal seven years ago, in which officers from Los Angeles' anti-gang unit were investigated for routinely planting drugs and guns on suspects, fabricating arrest reports, and beating suspects in custody.

The scandal led to the overturning of more than 100 criminal convictions. The city of Los Angeles paid more than $40 million in civil lawsuits related to the corruption scandal.

Mack is currently serving a 14-year sentence for bank robbery. Like Knight, Mack, Perez and Muhammed deny any involvement in the slaying.

The premise that Knight orchestrated the plan to kill Wallace was originally proposed by former Detective Russell Poole, who at the time was a junior investigator working on the case for the LAPD. Poole, who did not supply any evidence to support his theory, quit the police force in 1999 after what the L.A. Times described as a series of disputes with his superiors about the direction of the investigation.

"Detective Russell Poole lost his job over insisting that Suge Knight was behind the killing," Broomfield said. "I hope he will be properly compensated."

A new trial in the wrongful death case of the Notorious B.I.G. is set for early next year. Poole is expected to appear as an expert witness on behalf of the Wallace family.

Immediately after last year's mistrial, LAPD Chief William Bratton removed the lead investigator on the case, Detective Steven Katz, and replaced him with Capt. Kyle Jackson.

Bratton has given Jackson a team of six experienced homicide detectives and a substantial budget to try to make headway in the case.

Police also confirmed that there was a reward for anyone providing information leading to conviction.

Los Angeles officials were quick to support the police department's approach.

"It's good news [and] will reinforce that we have the type of police force that should be taken seriously," said Councilman Ed Reyes, who is part of the Los Angeles Public Safety Committee. "We need to get to the bottom of this, and if we can come to that conclusion," that the police were not involved in the murder, "it would be a big relief."

The task force is also re-analyzing a camcorder video taken by tourists who were filming stars, including Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who left the 1997 party just moments before the fatal shooting occurred.

It is hoped that the video may supply some clues as to who was responsible for the shooting.

Hard suspects in the killing of Notorious B.I.G. have been few and far between.

A few months after the shooting, a black Chevy Impala was seized from the home of a prominent Southside Crip, Dwayne Keith "Keefee D" Davis.

Though present at the shooting of both Wallace and Shakur six months earlier and questioned by law enforcement officials, Davis was never arrested for either of the crimes. He was later sentenced to five years for dealing drugs.

Last month, police interviewed several potential suspects, including Texas-based rap entrepreneur Tony Draper, whose car was seen on the tourist's video taken near the crime scene, according to the L.A. Times.

Draper denied any involvement in the murder in what has become a familiar pattern in the investigation.

Nevertheless, police remain hopeful of a successful outcome to their relaunched investigation.

"Any type of information is important," Sands said. "And we aim to find out exactly who is responsible."

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