The Suge Knight Trial: Conspiracy!


This Suge business is coming to a head. His defense attorney dropped a bomb last week, on April 1st, the day of fools. And by bomb I mean a sprawling 137 page beast of a motion that pointed fingers, named names and screamed to the rafters a word that no one wants to hear, not in a respectable court of law: the C-word. Not that C-word, come on now. I’m talking about… Conspiracy.

Here it is on page six:

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In other words, the entire judicial system – the cops, the DA, the judges, and even his former defense attorneys – has been in cahoots to bury the big man. Let that sink in for a minute. Suge Knight isn’t just accusing the cops of shenanigans. He’s not just saying that the DA hasn’t been fair. No, he’s saying – in so many words – “Your Honor, they’re all crooked to the bone, and so are you. Now undo my handcuffs and let me go!” After a year of relative silence in the confines of Men’s Central Jail downtown, Big Homey has decided to go Big or go Home. (In a manner of speaking – going home isn’t an option when you’re on trial for murder…)

The full glory of this motion can’t be contained in one post. On the face of it, it’s a motion to unseal some orders that have set out some harsh jail conditions for Suge – restricting visitors, phone calls, that sort of thing. But it goes so much further than that. It’s part legal document, part outpouring, part window into the psychology of Suge’s defense. After so much chaos, changing lawyers every few months, it as though something has come undone – the lid has been pried off and the writhing tentacles of conspiracy theory are reaching into every corner, grabbing what they can.

I’ll get to the individual pieces in Part II. But for now, a tasting platter, a sampling of a motion in a high profile murder trial the likes of which we’ve never seen and may never see again.

  1. Dr Dre tried to have Suge killed at 1 Oak and a rogue sheriff called Henry Boyd was in on it, as was some guy called Tee-Money who’s connected to Akon
  2. The comparison between this case and the cover-up of child molestation in the Catholic Church, as seen in (the Oscar-winning movie) Spotlight.
  3. Danny Timms, the jailhouse informant, whom the Sheriffs hired to befriend and incriminate Suge, but was then turned by Suge against the Sheriffs
  4. The suggestion that Los Angeles Sheriffs killed an ex-cop Russell Poole at Sheriff’s headquarters because he threatened to expose Sheriff corruption
  5. The controversial, self-published book about the Tupac and Biggie murders that was appended at the end
  6. SHOUTY capitals to, you know, REALLY make a point. For that angry Facebook comment feel. Plus exclamation marks! Of outrage and irony! In a court filing! I shit you not!
  7. The kitchen sink

But for now, let me give some context. Because this motion didn’t come out of nowhere. Suge’s camp has been riddled with infighting and paranoia for a long time. It’s like the Trump candidacy. It’s shocking when it actually happens, but when you look back, you can totally see how we got here.

The motion’s author, Thaddeus J. Culpepper, came onto this case in May 2015, just as Suge was dispatching his 3rd criminal defense attorney, Matt Fletcher. Fletcher replaced David Kenner who replaced James Blatt before him – and he was in turn replaced by Tom Mesereau, who was then replaced by Stephen Schwartz, or lawyer #5. (The trial is set for August 1st, so Suge will likely be onto #6 or #7 by then.)

David Kenner Matt Fletcher Tom Mesereau

I’d always found Matt a pugnacious and effective defender. He’d made progress in the case and he knew how to talk to Judge Ronald Coen. But Suge was facing life and didn’t want to take his chances with this unknown black guy from Long Beach when he could get a brand name white guy from Century City instead – or so went the thinking. Not that Thaddeus was that brand name, not by a long shot. But he wasn’t brought on as a criminal defender. He was in-house counsel, tasked with hiring specific attorneys for specific tasks – civil attorneys for the civil cases, and a new criminal defense attorney to replace Fletcher. He was the one who brought on Tom Mesereau, the shock-haired attorney who famously got Michael Jackson acquitted.

Why hire Thaddeus? It’s hard to say. A quick Google search reveals that he was disciplined in 2010 and suspended in 2013. The legal directory AVVO gives him 1 out of 10, and marks him with a hazard sign: Extreme Caution. He’s still yet to try a case. But he knew a lawyer called Freddy Fayegh, who’d done some time with Suge in prison. And when Suge asked Freddy to represent him, Freddy called Thaddeus for help (this according to Thaddeus). And I met him soon afterwards. He was full of beans.

It was a Sunday afternoon in May, about 2pm, and Thaddeus was smoking a cigar and pouring himself a Chivas Regal. We were in his offices in Altadena, which he shared with Freddy – though he has since moved to East LA and then to Crenshaw Blvd. And he was in a good mood. Stocky and dark, with eyes that disappear when he smiles, he offered me the bottle. “Can I tempt you?” he said, and laughed his high pitched laugh.

Over the next two hours, he explained to me that his goal was to prove what Suge believed in his heart – that Dr Dre was the invisible hand, the dark force behind his woes. That time Suge had been shot at the 1 Oak nightclub in August of 2014? That was Dre all over. And this business at Tam’s? Well, the aggressor Bone worked for Straight Outta Compton, which was executive produced by Dre, so obviously he was behind that too.

His little office filled quickly with cigar smoke and conspiracy theories. He drew a web on the white board, Beautiful Mind style, linking Tam’s to Bone to Universal Pictures to Dre to Beats to Apple to Death Row to a corrupt Sheriff’s Department, to 1 Oak, to a corrupt DA… It was an incredible theory. And Thaddeus was going to blow this thing wide open. I would write a book about it. It was going to be awesome. Because what this case was really about, he said, was a contract that Suge claimed to have with Dre dating back to the Death Row days, promising Suge a cut of all Dre’s income in perpetuity – so Suge was owed a slice of Dre’s Beats windfall. Hundreds of millions of dollars. And that’s why Dre wanted Suge dead. This would all come out in time, he said. You watch.


Back then, Thaddeus sang Mesereau’s praises. The great Mesereau! How could they lose? He knew this case was a big break, that it could be the making of his career, so at court, Thaddeus was anxious to appear at Mesereau’s side. After a hearing, Mesereau had this way of turning on his heels and marching to the elevators with nary a backward glance, leaving the press to scuttle after him. And Thaddeus would take off after them. He’d stop mid-sentence and run. And if he missed the train, I’d find him looking panicked in the corridor on the 9th floor, his eyes darting. “Where’s Tom? Did you see Tom?”

But that didn’t last long. Mesereau and Thaddeus were soon at war. Chief among their differences was strategy. Thaddeus wanted to frame Tam’s as part of a vast conspiracy, because that’s how Suge saw it, and he wanted the press to make a stink. Mesereau, however, wanted to narrow the focus to Tam’s, the video of Suge running Carter over, which he would argue was self-defense – no Dre, no 1 Oak, no conspiracy. And no press either, that wasn’t his style.

So Thaddeus stopped following Mesereau around. And Mesereau stopped dealing with Thaddeus altogether. They used separate investigators. They weren’t sharing information. When the prosecutor Cynthia Barnes provided discovery (evidence in the case) to Mesereau and not Thaddeus, Thaddeus asked Mesereau for the discovery himself. “It’s my right!” he told me. “I’m co-counsel!” But Mesereau wrote back: “Mr Culpepper Get Lost. Tom Mesereau.”

Ultimately Mesereau left the case on January 21st. He hasn’t commented as to why he left, but according to Thaddeus, there was a showdown: Mesereau told Suge it’s either me or him, and Suge stuck with Thaddeus. It’s not a choice most would make. After all, Tom Mesereau is one of the best known criminal defense attorneys in LA. But whatever Suge’s talents, choosing attorneys is not one of them. He believes, for instance, that David Kenner stole vast sums of money from Death Row records but when Suge was locked up, he hired Kenner to represent him. Go figure.

So far, of all the attorneys that entered Suge’s orbit, Thaddeus, the least experienced by far, has lasted the longest. And this motion is the result – outlandish, rambling, indignant and paranoid, it sprays accusations at all and sundry, not least Mesereau, who’s accused of perhaps the worst charge one could level at an attorney – that he worked against the interests of his client. It’s all based on the word of Danny Timms, a jailhouse informant, drug addict and admitted liar.

“Mesereau kept saying, ‘I just want things to calm down, let the movie [Straight Outta Compton] get out of the way,’” Thaddeus told me. “But really, he was working for the other side… There’s this group of attorneys who sell out their clients for favors in other cases. They’re called the Drug Club…” On page 19 he writes: “Mesereau has at the very least violated California Rule of Professional Conduct 3-310© and his duty of loyalty to Knight.”

I called Mesereau about this and he laughed. “The allegations against me are outrageous and ridiculous,” he said. Whether the judges will respond with such good humor is yet to be seen. It’s a curious strategy to plead for a favorable judgment from people that you’re publicly accusing of a felony. And Judge Ronald Coen doesn’t strike me as the type to just laugh off such an attack on his reputation.

But Thaddeus brims with confidence. He has fired a shot across the boughs and the gavel men will just have to respond. He’s indicting the system here, shaking the pillars of corruption like Samson. He sees this motion as akin to the Boston Globe’s exposure of molestation in Catholic Church. He’s not just an attorney anymore, he’s a crusader.

“They’re doing to have to answer this!” he tells me, laughing. “They can’t ignore it. I’ve challenged them on points of law. Oh, they had no idea I was going to file something like this. I caught ‘em in the act!”

Thaddeus went to Judge Ryan’s court to file the motion. Judge Coen’s office was closed. The clerk there went through the document aghast. “You should have seen her, she was so nervous!” he laughs. “She was looking for anything to see if she could turn it away, but I had everything in order. She couldn’t deny me, man! And once I had that stamp – I had my son with me and I was just pumping my fist. Like, we got ‘em!’ We got ‘em!”

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