Jailed Death Row Records founder Suge Knight, emerging from afar from a neon white-painted cinder block room, testified for the first time Wednesday of the day in early 2015 when he attempted – but failed – to book a meeting with Dr. Dre in an office for the film Direct from Compton and eventually ended up driving his truck into two men outside a nearby burger stand, killing one of them.
Knight, 57, is now serving a 28-year sentence for the fatal incident at Tam’s Burgers in Compton, California that killed local businessman Terry Carter on January 29, 2015. Prosecutors originally charged Knight with murder, alleging he reversed his Ford Raptor before intentionally shifting gears, hitting the gas and mowing down Carter. The case did not go to trial as Knight accepted a plea deal and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in September 2018.
Knight’s long-awaited, sometimes conflicting affidavit was shown live to a jury Wednesday at a Compton courthouse as the centerpiece of his defense in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Carter’s wife and daughters.
Wearing a gold chain over his blue prison uniform, Knight drank what appeared to be iced coffee from a large plastic cup and claimed he practically tripped over it Direct from Compton Production base camp that day and did not seek a confrontation with Dre – although Knight testified under oath that Dre had hired him the man who shot him seven times at Chris Brown’s pre-VMA party six months earlier in the summer of 2014.
“I was told that,” Knight said Wednesday when asked about the alleged rent-to-kill contract. “People showed me checks, canceled checks.”
For his part, Dre has denied the wild allegation. “Given that Dre has not had any interaction with Suge since he left Death Row Records in 1996, we hope Suge’s attorney has plenty of insurance against malicious prosecution,” Dre’s attorney said in a 2016 statement, when an attorney allegedly representing Knight dropped the allegation, a now-defunct civil court counterclaim.
In testimony Wednesday, Knight claimed he never worked with the attorney who filed the counterclaim, but he did not shy away from the topic of alleged killers. He claimed he ended up at the film’s production office shortly before Carter’s death because he was “driving around” and an unidentified person told him to “come through” to discuss a “situation” with Dre.
“DR. Dre – we’ve been really good friends for years. In fact, I know his kids, he knows my kids. And I’ve been told he paid some people to harm me,” Knight testified. “I did didn’t believe it because the authorities are lying. So I went up there. … I wanted to talk to him and say, ‘Hey man, I’m not going to act on what the authorities are saying that you had anything to do with me being shot I just want to draw your attention to saying that and making it public.'”
Knight claimed he wasn’t at base camp to complain that the film’s script portrayed him as a “bodyguard” or to solicit money for the use of his name and likeness on screen. He said maybe it would surface – but what he wanted most was a face-to-face meeting with Dre to let him know what the police were said to be saying. He claimed that when he heard Dre and his Direct from Compton When co-producer Ice Cube was too “busy” for a meeting, it wasn’t a big deal because he was planning on taking his 5-year-old son to an arcade. Knight said he was leaving base camp voluntarily when someone “caught up” with him, saying, “Hey, Cube wants you to come (back) because we were trying to catch you to take care of you.”
Knight testified that when he specifically asked about Dre and said he didn’t want to wait all day, things went sideways. Cle “Bone” Sloan, a gang member who works in security for the film, took offense at a joke he made and began to become “aggressive,” Knight said. Around the same time, someone tried to put something on his windshield, he said.
“Have you ever been served with a restraining order that Dr. Dre allegedly had against you?” Knight’s attorney, David Kenner, questioned the confusing mention of the windshield.
“No,” Knight replied. “Never.”
Knight testified that after leaving the film production office for his family outing, he received a call from Carter, a longtime friend. He told jurors Carter invited him to a special meeting with Dre at Dwayne “Knob” Johnson’s home across from Tam’s.
“He said, ‘They’re trying to take care of you, to fix some things. Dre comes to Knob’s house. Come meet me over there.’ He said, “Man, they’re trying to get you some bread,” Knight testified, saying he agreed, made a U-turn and headed to the location.
According to Knight, he pulled up alongside Carter’s gray station wagon on a road bordering Tams and was the subject of an armed ambush. He said Sloan jumped over a wall bordering Tam’s parking lot, pulled out a gun, and began punching him through the open window of his truck.
Lance Behringer, the attorney representing Carter’s widow, Lillian, and his two daughters, Nekaya and Crystal, grilled Knight over claims that he “feared for his life” and acted in self-defense when he fired his engine, detonating both Sloan and Sloan Carter killing Carter.
Behringer read from a transcript of Knight’s sentencing, in which a judge warned Knight that his “no contest” plea was the same as a guilty plea to first-degree manslaughter. Behringer also pointed out that Knight’s former attorney, Matthew Fletcher, recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy and perjury after prosecutors said he and Knight planned to bribe people to say they saw men with guns carrying Knight would have faced at Tam.
“Isn’t it true that after you backed out of the Tam parking lot, fearing for your life, instead of exiting on 142nd (Street) you decided to turn back into the Tam parking lot? asked Behringer.
Knight replied that the fear “freezes you,” so he drove forward, backward, and then forward again.
Behringer then confronted Knight about the transcript of his first interview with police after Knight surrendered for questioning hours after Carter’s death.
“Nowhere in this interview with Sgt. Biddle did you ever mention Bone Sloan pointing a gun at you,” the attorney said.
“Where I’m from, Compton, and how my parents taught me, as a child of God, it’s not an eye for an eye. … I didn’t want to say, ‘Hey, this person put a gun on me and tried to kill me’ and took her into custody. But at the same time, once I knew they gave Bone immunity and he can’t get into trouble, if I’m telling the truth, nothing could happen to him, it’s a different story,” Knight claimed.
“Let me see if I can understand it. Sloan, the man you believe pointed a gun at you and tried to kill you, you tried to protect him by telling Sgt. Biddle that he had a gun there? Is that right?” asked Behringer.
“We are all friends. There are several rules we follow – that you do not personally attempt to take custody of any of your homeboys, no matter the situation. So if he has immunity and he can’t get in trouble, it makes a difference,” Knight testified.
“And you want this jury to believe that Bone Sloan was there to kill you and he had a gun that he wanted to use to kill you, but instead of using that gun he chose to throw punches . Is that true?” Behringer asked.
“That’s not true at all,” Knight said, beginning one of his more convoluted answers. “The truth is, Tam’s isn’t called ‘Murder Burger’ for nothing. One thing we all know is that there is nothing to do near Tam’s because of the cameras. …Nobody drew their guns next to Tams. Everyone knows there are cameras. Ask anyone, they call Tams ‘Murder Burger’. A lot of people who didn’t know they had cameras there are still in prison today.”
“I had done no harm to these guys that they wanted to kill me, but there was a contract,” Knight added as Carter’s daughter, Nekaya – who was in the courtroom with her mother and sister – shook her head in disgust.
The Carter family filed the underlying lawsuit in June 2015. She initially named Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and NBC Universal were among the defendants, claiming they were all aware that Knight objected Direct from Compton and intended to commit violence on the film’s sets. The family claimed the producers hired Sloan to stand up to Knight’s violence and then negligently guided him.
Dre and Cube, née Andre Young and O’Shea Jackson, respectively, joined NBC Universal in successfully defending themselves against the complaint.
“The court fails to understand how Knight’s reckless and alleged criminal attempt to run over Bone with his truck later that afternoon could have been predicted with an ‘extraordinarily high degree of foreseeability’ such that a duty could be imposed on the defendants,” das said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brian Currey wrote in a September 2016 decision allowing the parties’ objections. “The alleged fact that the defendants ordered Bone to ‘take control of the situation’ and arrange a meeting with Carter makes it unpredictable that Bone would ‘flank’ and ‘ambush’ Knight by using a personal combat with Knight in the presence of Bone’s associates or that Knight would recklessly and criminally attempt to attack Bone with his vehicle, or that Carter would be in any likely danger.”
Knight appeared on camera Wednesday walking both with and without a cane. He testified that he was “100% blind” in his left eye.
“Don’t you agree, Mr. Knight, that if you drive around without a valid driver’s license, are blind in one eye, and run over and kill someone on the sidewalk?” Behringer asked.
Knight replied that he could “see enough” to drive. “Like now, I can tilt my head in the right direction, I can see you, but I can’t go any other way,” he said.
The Carter family’s civil trial, which is seeking more than $10 million in damages, is expected to continue until next week before a jury hearing.