Two attorneys who previously represented former rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight during his pending murder case pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that they conspired to bribe potential witnesses and to obstruct justice.
A grand jury indictment unsealed March 5 charges Matthew Fletcher, 53, and Thaddeus Culpepper, 44, with one count each of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit subornation of perjury, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact.
Culpepper also faces two other conspiracy counts, along with a charge that he violated a court order that restricted Knight’s phone privileges and prohibited phone calls with three people on the line. Fletcher is charged with one additional count of perjury.
A day after the indictment was returned, Fletcher and Culpepper were arrested on suspicion of acting as “accessories after the fact,” but both were released the following day.
At that time, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department cited the complexities of the case and said the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office was undertaking a further review of the case.
Both attorneys — who are free on their own recognizance — have denied any wrongdoing.
Knight, 52, is awaiting trial on charges of murder, attempted murder and hit-and-run for using a pickup truck to allegedly run down 55-year-old Terry Carter and Cle “Bone” Sloan in the parking lot of Tam’s Burgers in the 1200 block of West Rosecrans Avenue on Jan. 29, 2015. Carter died and Sloan survived his injuries.
Prosecutors allege that Fletcher tried to pay off potential witnesses in the weeks following Knight’s arrest. In one instance, he allegedly told Knight it would take about $20,000 to $25,000 to secure his freedom, according to the indictment.
Fletcher also allegedly told Knight that Sloan, the surviving victim, should be paid for his testimony.
In 2016, a confidential informant allegedly told Culpepper he would be willing to testify that he saw weapons at the murder scene, even though the informant wasn’t there when the crime occurred, according to the indictment.
“So you weren’t there, but you know what’s going on?” Culpepper allegedly said to the informant before agreeing with Knight to use the informant as a defense witness at trial.
Some of the overt acts alleged in the indictment would seem to point to credible defense witnesses, though the document portrays Knight’s attorneys and partner as ready to pay everyone involved for any testimony.
One note indicates that Knight’s business partner, Mark Blankenship, texted Knight’s fiancee, Toi-Lin Kelly, the day after the alleged murder, saying, “I’m driving with Reggie (Beamon). He saw everything and can exonerate Suge.”
Blankenship later paid Beamon $250 and then “put him on the payroll,” according to conversations cited in the document.
Fletcher also allegedly texted Blankenship to say, “I have found a (sic) eyewitness … he says there were multiple guns … trying to get him to go public … he’s scared … we are working him hard.”
In separate cases, Knight is accused of robbery and threatening “Straight Outta Compton” director F. Gary Gray.
An August filing by the District Attorney’s Office, which initially raised the question of a conspiracy by the attorneys, asked the court to conduct an inquiry into whether Fletcher had a conflict of interest in representing Knight against the threat charges involving Gray.
Fletcher and Culpepper are the latest associates of Knight to face criminal charges.
In October, Kelly pleaded no contest to violating a court order by selling video evidence that was under seal. She was sentenced in February to three years in jail for violating her probation by having indirect communication with Knight, and helping him violate orders restricting his use of jailhouse phones, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Blankenship faces one felony count each of conspiracy to violate a court order, conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy to commit grand theft.
A pretrial hearing is set April 13 for Fletcher and Culpepper in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
If convicted as charged, Fletcher and Culpepper face a possible maximum sentence of three years and eight months in jail.
–City News Service