LOS ANGELES – The Notorious B.I.G. (search) wrongful death trial ended its first week Friday with an attorney recounting an unconfirmed but potentially explosive claim of a confession by one or two corrupt police officers.
An anonymous tipster said two witnesses at a Dec. 11, 2000, police disciplinary hearing said former officers Rafael Perez (search) and David Mack (search) had confessed to the New York rapper's 1997 killing, B.I.G. family attorney Perry Sanders Jr. told the court outside the presence of the federal jury.
If proven, the allegation could become the "centerpoint" of the family's case against the city and Police Department, Sanders said, adding that he did not know the names of the witnesses.
The two witnesses, one of whom had been jailed with Perez, "started to testify about Perez and Mack and were told to stop," Sanders said outside court. "And they both had been threatened by the LAPD a few days earlier not to testify."
Sanders told the judge the tip came Thursday from a former LAPD officer who said the hearing was held in the basement of a county jail and targeted former officer Paul Byrnes, now deceased. Sanders listed the names of five other people the tipster said were present at the hearing and said Perez had also been scheduled to testify.
Two people identified by the tipster confirmed to a family investigator Friday they were present at the hearing, Sanders said. He told reporters outside court that those two people generally confirmed the tipster's account.
U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper sent the nine-person jury home early and urged the defense to immediately investigate the claim.
"I am certainly very concerned about the contents of this telephone call," Cooper said. A hearing was planned for Monday to discuss the allegation.
B.I.G., born Christopher Wallace and also known as Biggie Smalls, was 24 when he was gunned down while leaving a party at the Petersen Automotive Museum shortly after midnight on March 9, 1997. No one was ever arrested and the case remains unsolved.
The Wallace family's suit alleges Mack arranged for his college roommate Amir Muhammad to kill Wallace at the behest of Death Row Records founder Marion "Suge" Knight. Wallace family attorneys have tried through testimony to link Mack — now serving time for bank robbery — to Perez, known for his key role in the city's Rampart corruption scandal.
The lawsuit claims the LAPD covered up Mack's alleged involvement and shouldn't have allowed him to associate with Knight while serving as a police officer.