Puff Daddy Acquitted

ByNancy Chandross

N E W  Y O R K, March 16, 2001 -- Rap star Sean "Puffy" Combs was acquitted today of all gun and bribery charges stemming from a shootout inside a packed Manhattan nightclub that left three people wounded and sent other patrons scrambling for cover.

"I'm really at a loss, I'm very emotional, I feel blessed," Combs, his mother and his lawyers at his side, told journalists outside the courthouse.

The rapper briskly thanked God, his lawyers and his fans, while declining comment on whether the trial may prompt him to change his lifestyle.

"I'm gonna talk about all that later, right now I want to go and be with my kids," Combs said. "I'm just grateful."

Jones Cleared, Barrow Guilty of Assault

The jury found Combs protégé Jamal "Shyne" Barrow, 21, not guilty of attempted murder but convicted him of reckless endangerment and assault. Bodyguard Anthony "Wolf" Jones, 34, was acquitted of gun possession and bribery charges.

All the charges stem from a Dec. 27, 1999, shooting at Club New York.

Upon hearing the verdict, Combs hugged his lawyers Benjamin Brafman and Johnnie Cochran, who buried their heads against the rap mogul's shoulder.

Brafman rejoiced outside the courthouse. "It's quite customary when people win the Super Bowl, they're on television saying they're going to Disneyland. I feel I just won the Super Bowl — and this quarterback is going right to synagogue to thank God."

Co-counsel Johnnie Cochran defended the defense's decision not to call Combs' former girlfriend, singer-actress Jennifer Lopez, to the stand. He called the verdict an "exhilarating victory for Combs."

"Five not guilties," Cochran said, "will resound and ring in our ears forever."

The jury began deliberations in State Supreme Court in New York on Wednesday, after hearing six weeks of testimony in a courtroom packed with reporters and punctuated with hip-hop stars. The 12-member panel deliberated for three days before returning the verdicts.

Barrow could get up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced on April 16. Tears ran down his cheeks as the jury forewoman read out the guilty verdicts against him.

Ending for Closely Watched Case

The 31-year-old Combs, one of the biggest names in hip-hop, is the owner of Bad Boy Entertainment and the Sean John Clothing line — a $400 million empire.

On the night of the shooting, Combs and Lopez were partying at Club New York. Taking the stand in his own defense, Combs even recalled dancing on a table and drinking champagne.

Then, the prosecution alleged, an argument broke out between Combs and another patron, Matthew "Scar" Allen. Shots were fired, clubgoers dodged for safety, and police arrested Barrow as he fled on foot.

Combs, his driver Wardel Fenderson, and Jones were arrested after fleeing the scene in a Lincoln Navigator. Lopez, also in the car, was detained and released.

During the chase, a gun was tossed from the car window, police said. Later, prosecutors maintained Combs and Jones tried to coerce Fenderson into accepting responsibility for the pistol. Fenderson became a prosecution witness and told jurors that he was offered a $50,000 bribe to protect Combs.

As the trial unfolded, the singer would arrive in court dressed in expensive suits, every inch the A-list celebrity. His mother sat in the audience gallery with dozens of supporters.

Lopez never showed up at the courthouse, even though she was named as a potential witness for both the defense and prosecution. On Valentine's Day, Combs confirmed what gossip columnists had been saying for months — that the celebrity couple had split up. A Star on the Hot Seat

In the end, Combs' fate may have swung on his own credibility. After Fenderson told jurors that he saw Combs stick a gun in his pants — and two other witnesses testified that they saw him holding a gun inside the club — the rap star took the stand and denied all charges.

Combs told the court that he never even spoke to Allen, and portrayed himself as just another club patron who feared for his life when the shooting started.

"I thought I was being shot at," Combs said. "My hands were up. I started to go down. Everybody started falling all over each other."

Jurors never did get to hear testimony from Allen, who could have offered another perspective on the chaotic shooting scene. He was expected to be brought in as a last-minute witness. Instead, the prosecution and defense agreed that his statement be read into the record.

ABCNEWS' Vivian Siu and Tim Scheld and ABCNEWS.com's Buck Wolf contributed to this report.

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