Women in Music 2016
How Suge Knight Video Could Help or Hurt His Murder Case
L.A.-based criminal defense attorney Mike Cavalluzzi says it comes down to proving Knight acted in self-defense -- and being one of rap's most hated men might help.
The graphic new video released Monday (March 9) allegedly showing Marion "Suge" Knight running over two men in a Compton parking lot may be good for the Death Row Records founder, according to an expert. Or, it might not.
Billboard spoke with Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney Mike Cavalluzzi -- who isn't involved in Knight's defense -- about the graphic TMZ video, which shows two men being struck by a red pickup truck after walking up to the vehicle. He said that with this new evidence, Knight's defense depends on two key things.
"Whether or not there's proof enough that it's him inside of the car to show if there's going to be an ID defense," Cavalluzzi said. "It seems that it his him inside the car, so then you have to explain his actions, and the actions have to be that they were in self-defense."
Self-defense will be the crux of Knight's defense, said Cavalluzzi, leaving it up to his team to explain his actions in a favorable narrative.
"The question is, was he behaving like a reasonable person in like circumstances?" Cavalluzzi said. "And when you look at the like circumstances, it wouldn't just be how somebody would respond if they were inside of a car and a number of people started approaching the car and there was a perceived danger. The reasonable person would also have to be a reasonable person who's in Suge Knight's shoes, someone who very recently was the victim of an attempted killing, a shooting, he was shot at. And while he has a history himself of being violent, he also has a history of being in danger and threatened."
Following the release of the video on Monday, TMZ followed up with a report that Knight says the footage is proof of his innocence, also posting an interview with Knight's new lawyer Matthew Fletcher stating it's clear the video shows a gun on the scene and exonerates his client.
"[Knight] is a person who, more than maybe you or me, is going to always have a more heightened sense of being alert to the potential of an attack or danger," Cavalluzzi said. "And I think the reason the defense thinks it's good for their case is because it shows the number of people around the area that seemed to be approaching the car. And -- again looking at those reasonable standards -- if the people that he's dealing with are commonly known to carry firearms, then it may impact the mode of escape that Suge Knight is going to use.
"Is he simply going to back all the way out and then drive past them, where they can shoot at him? Or is he going to pull partially out and then come right back at them because that's going to surprise them and maybe prevent them from shooting?"
But the prosecution will of course claim otherwise, said Cavalluzzi, and so the evidence will be used to support both sides' version of the events.
"From a prosecution standpoint, they're going to look at it like he's clearly volitionally driving, he's making very specific decisions to harm people -- meaning pulling out when he knows people are close enough to the car to get injured and then literally running over somebody," said Cavalluzzi. "So they're going to say that satisfies the intent to commit murder."
With so much hinging on whether Knight's alleged actions were in self-defense, Cavalluzzi said it could be a benefit to the former rap mogul that he's earned such a bad reputation over the years.
"Suge Knight has a history that cuts both ways for him," he said. "It's very good because he is a person where if somebody were to say to anyone who's familiar with Suge Knight, 'Oh, there are people who want Suge Knight dead,' I don't think anyone would say, 'Oh, that's not true.' I think we'd all say, 'Oh, yeah, I bet there are.'
"At the same time, if you or I were to hear from somebody, 'Suge Knight wants a lot of people dead,' I think we'd also probably say, 'Oh, yeah, that makes sense too. Suge Knight probably does want a lot of people dead.' So the history is very interesting, because it plays both for the defense and also for the prosecution."
Whether there were actually any guns at the scene is "going to make a very big difference" in Knight's defense, Cavalluzzi said. That will be decided by the jury.
But the jury will also consider the fact that Knight did flee the scene, and that is incriminating, according to Cavalluzzi, who cited a law that says a jury can consider flight as consciousness of guilt. That, too, will surely be argued for and against Knight's conviction.
"Again, it cuts both ways," said Cavalluzzi, "as you're going to be fleeing if people are trying to kill you as well. But the manner in which he fled is going to be important. As in, does he flee and just leave the truck somewhere? Does he flee for a number of days? He certainly didn't go straight to the police, which is probably the best thing for him to have done if he were really, truly just frightened for his life."
Essentially every detail of Knight's actions and the scene that allegedly unfolded around him at the Tam's Burgers parking lot in late January will be scrutinized in this case, said Cavalluzzi. And when it comes down to judging someone's reasoning, there are many different factors that will come into play. And each of those, just like this video, will be argued as proof both for and against Knight's alleged actions.
"If you're really dealing with somebody acting in self-defense but accidentally harming or killing another person," said Cavalluzzi, "there could then be some wiggle room and you might be able to get something lesser than first degree murder and might be able to get some sort of charge where he would ultimately see the light of day again."