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2 men charged in the 2002 cold case killing of hip-hop legend Jam Master Jay

Jam Master Jay, the pioneering DJ of Run-DMC whose real name was Jason Mizell, was shot dead in his Queens studio nearly 18 years ago at age 37.
Rappers Run-DMC on Stage
Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels, Jason "Jam-Master Jay" Mizell and Joseph "Rev. Run" Simmons of Run-DMC in 1987.Lynn Goldsmith / Corbis/VCG via Getty Images file

Two men have been charged in the fatal shooting of New York City hip-hop legend Jam Master Jay, a founding member of Run-DMC, whose death has remained unsolved for nearly 18 years.

The men, identified as Ronald Washington and Karl Jordan, have been indicted on murder charges in the death of the pioneering DJ, whose real name was Jason Mizell, the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn announced Monday. Jordan, 36, was arrested Sunday and pleaded not guilty Monday. Washington, 56, is serving a federal prison sentence and will be arraigned later this week.

Both men are charged with murder while engaged in narcotics trafficking and firearm-related murder, and Jordan faces several additional charges of distributing narcotics.

Prosecutors allege that the men walked into the famed DJ's studio in Queens and killed him in a "drug-related" homicide, according to the acting U.S. attorney for eastern New York, Seth DuCharme.

"They walked in and murdered him in cold blood," DuCharme said. "We started investigating that case a very long time ago, in the early 2000s, but there were a lot of challenges in bringing that case."

DuCharme said his office was confident that it will be able to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

"For the crime of murder, the passage of time offers you no escape," DuCharme said.

Jordan's attorney, Michael Hueston, declined to comment Monday.

Jam Master Jay ascended to hip-hop royalty during the 1980s as DJ for the groundbreaking Run-DMC. He also opened his own record label, which is best known for discovering the rapper 50 Cent in the 1990s.

Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC in an undated photo.Lynn Goldsmith / Corbis/VCG via Getty Images file

He was shot dead in his Queens studio on Oct. 30, 2002, at age 37, with few clues for police to identify his killer for nearly the last two decades.

Washington was named as a suspect in Jay's death in 2007 in federal court documents that alleged that he was the armed accomplice of a second, unidentified gunman. The documents also alleged that Washington was a suspect in the fatal 1995 shooting of Randy Walker, a close associate of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, according to The Associated Press.

In a sworn statement from 2007, Washington denied the allegations and claimed that hostile detectives had hounded him about the slaying of his "childhood friend" Mizell.

Federal prosecutors allege in new filings released Monday that Washington and Jordan entered the studio at about 7:30 p.m. with firearms. Washington is alleged to have pointed his weapon at a person in the studio and demanded that the person lie on the floor, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Prosecutors allege that Jordan fired two shots at close range, striking Jay once in the head, killing him.

"The investigation revealed that the motive for the killing resulted from Mizell's previous acquisition of approximately 10 kilograms of cocaine from a narcotics supplier in the Midwest," prosecutors said in a statement Monday. Prosecutors said Jay told Washington that he would not be involved in distributing the drugs in Maryland.

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At a brief videoconference hearing Monday, prosecutors asked the judge to order Jordan held without bail, alleging that he was the triggerman and posed a continued risk to the community.

"In October of 2002, he walked into Jason Mizell's studio, a fixture in the Hollis community, and executed him," prosecutor Mark Misorek said. "There is not a reasonable set of conditions that can assure the community will be kept safe."

Misorek said Jordan did not have an "extensive criminal record," but he noted that the indictment alleges that he sold cocaine to an undercover federal agent in 2017.

Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom ordered Jordan to be remanded. His next court date was scheduled for Sept. 17.

A detention memo prosecutors filed Monday claims that Jordan and Washington were identified by witnesses at the studio at the time. The memo also says Washington made statements to law enforcement and third parties that corroborated his involvement in the murder and the underlying narcotics conspiracy.

"He's always said he had nothing to do with it," said lawyer Susan Kellman, who previously defended Washington in a robbery case. "The sad part of the federal government is anyone could whisper in your ear and you're finished."

Both men face a minimum of 20 years in prison and a possibility of a death sentence if convicted.

The Mizell family said in a statement Monday evening that they had "mixed emotions" about the charges, but hoped the indictments were solid steps toward justice.

"We realize that there are other families out there who have lingering pain who continue to wait for their own closure, and we pray that this case gives them hope," the statement said. "In spite of all the tragedies we’ve seen this year alone, we take comfort in our family, our faith and in time's ability to heal all."

A Run-DMC mural by the artist Eduardo Kobra in New York City on April 21, 2019.Bill Tompkins / Getty Images file

New York police Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison commended police investigators for the "relentless pursuit" of justice.

"Me being a native of Queens and being a big fan of Run-DMC and Jam Master Jay, making this arrest was very, very important to me," Harrison told reporters Monday.

The group's other members hyped the beloved DJ on their debut album with a song titled "Jam-Master Jay," praising their "big beat blaster" in their rhymes.

"Jam Master Jay is the one in charge," the lyrics said. "It's up to him to rock beats that are truly large. He is the master of the scratch and cut."

Run-DMC was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, commemorating the group's legacy of moving hip-hop into the mainstream through its innovative sound and ability to blend genres, including its 1986 hit duet with rock icons Aerosmith, "Walk This Way."

The group had the first rap album to go gold and were the first rap performers to have a song featured on MTV, according to a 1986 Rolling Stone feature. They also received the first Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for rap artists in 2016 from the Recording Academy.

Rapper Ice Cube honored the three men in an essay posted to the Grammys website in 2016, saying Run-DMC's debut album was the first he saved up to buy with his own money.

"I remember when someone said hip-hop was dead," he wrote. "I didn't believe them until I heard that they killed Jam Master Jay. Then I believed them. A part of hip-hop died that night, but the spirit lives on."

Darryl Matthews McDaniels, also known as "DMC," said in a statement to NBC News that while the charges have opened up painful memories, he is relieved at the case's new developments.

"It’s been a difficult 18 years not having him around while knowing that his murderers were not yet indicted for this heinous crime," McDaniels said. "I commend NYPD, NYC Detectives, Federal Agents and all the law enforcement who were involved in this case, for not giving up and working to bring justice for Jay." Run-DMC's other surviving member Joseph Simmons, also known as "Run," did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.