Suge Knight, the music mogul who helped popularize gangster rap, pleaded no contest to manslaughter in the January 2015 hit–and–run death of Terry Carter. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison. Here is an overview of not only that crime, but Knight’s life in entertainment and other crimes he might have been involved in.
We have everything that you’ve ever wanted to know about his legal issues in this Suge Knight wiki.
Who Is Suge Knight?
Suge Knight was born Marion Hugh Knight Jr. on April 19, 1965 in Compton California. “Suge” is actually the short form of an old nickname, “Sugar Bear.” He attended Lynwood High School where he made a name for himself playing football and in track. Knight graduated in 1983.
Knight’s Illustrious Two–Game NFL Career
After high school, Knight went on to play football in college, first at El Camino College and then at the University of Nevada. Like many kids from a bad neighborhood, Knight hoped that playing football would be his ticket to fame and fortune.
Unfortunately, his football career didn’t amount to a huge contract. The closest he got was playing two games with the Los Angeles Rams as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL players’ strike.
From Bodyguard to Rap Impresario
After his football-playing days came to an end, Knight set his sights on the music industry. First, he was a bodyguard for a number of musicians including singer Bobby Brown. Knight made his way to being in the industry by starting his own music publishing company.
The first real money that the publishing company brought in was after Knight had a discussion with rapper Vanilla Ice over the publishing rights to “Ice, Ice, Baby.” Knight’s client, Mario Johnson, contended that he co-wrote the song but did not receive any credit or royalties.
What happened between Knight and Vanilla Ice may only truly be known to those two men, as the details of Ice’s version of the story changed in between tellings.
Ice, in the past, claimed that Knight caught up to him in a hotel room and demanded that he sign over some of the publishing rights. As part of that exchange, the rapper said that Knight implied he would toss Ice off the balcony unless he signed the paperwork.
Depending on the version of the story, this implication was made either by Knight taking Ice out on to the balcony and pointing out how long of a drop it was or hanging him off the balcony by his feet.
Shortly after this, Knight formed an artist management company. The company’s client roster expanded quickly with the signing of DJ Quik and The D.O.C. Through DJ Quik, Knight met members of N.W.A., an incredibly popular and influential rap group at the time.
When Dr. Dre and The D.O.C. wanted out of their contracts with Ruthless Records, Knight allegedly came to the Ruthless offices with pipes and bats, threatening owners Jerry Heller and Easy E until they released the artists.
Dre, The D.O.C., and Knight ended up forming Death Row Records. As the money from Death Row artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and later Tupac began to roll in, the violent behavior of Knight and many of his associates continued.
Suge Knight Arrested for Domestic Violence
Legal troubles seem to follow Knight wherever he goes.
In October 1987, Knight was arrested in Las Vegas twice. The first arrest was for domestic violence when he assaulted his then-girlfriend, Sharitha Golden. He was then arrested again for firing three shots at a man who was trying to steal his car. For the latter charge, Knight received probation.
In 1996, Knight violated that probation and ended up going to prison until August 6, 2001. In 2003, he violated his parole by assaulting a parking attendant and landed back in prison.
Suge Knight Sues Kanye West
With all of this time in prison, Knight’s empire began to crumble. In 2006, Knight ended up filing for bankruptcy and, as part of that, other lawsuits began to crop up. The most notable of these was Knight’s suit against Kanye West.
At a party hosted by West in 2008, Knight was wounded by a gunshot to the leg. In the suit, Knight claimed damages that included mental and physical pain caused by the shooting, loss of income, costs of surgery, and the theft of a 15-carat diamond earring worth approximately $147,000.
Suge Knight Arrested in 2015 after Fatal Hit-and-Run
On January 29, 2015, Knight was involved in a hit-and-run near the set of the N.W.A. biographic movie Straight Outta Compton. He ran over two men, killing one and injuring the other, and then he sped off in his truck.
Knight turned himself in to authorities the next day and was charged with murder. Due to multiple delays amid the departure of 15 lawyers, health issues, and legal issues involving members of his family, the trial date was finally set for September 2018.
Knight Denies Stealing a Camera, Claims He Was Protecting Child
Knight’s murder trial also postponed another trial for the theft of a paparazzo’s camera; it was moved until the murder trial was taken care of. Knight has denied stealing the camera.
According to comedian Katt Williams, who was charged along with Knight for the theft, not only did they not steal the woman’s camera, but the two men were protecting a child from being recorded.
Williams, who has had many runs-in with the police himself, said he and Knight saw a female paparazzo recording a five-year-old child in an alley. Williams and Knight assumed she was doing something untoward with the minor and they jumped into action, he said.
Williams says the photographer agreed to delete the footage of the child, but then she took off running. Knight and Williams followed in hot pursuit.
Video footage of the incident, though, seems to contradict Williams and Knight’s description of the events.
There was a child present, but Knight claimed it was his son. And the whole incident took place out in the open with many, many witnesses present.
Knight confronted the female photographer, repeatedly called her a bitch, and proceeded to threaten her. She denied taking any pictures of his son.
Charged with Threatening Straight Outta Compton Director
Suge Knight’s legal woes continued unabated.
In 2017, Knight was charged with one felony count of making criminal threats over the phone and via text message against Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray in 2014.
In August 2017, a grand jury indicted Knight for making criminal threats against Gray.
Gray was filming a scene for Straight Outta Compton when he received a phone call from Suge Knight. Knight was furious with the way he was being portrayed in the movie, according to police testimony. He was also not happy about not receiving any compensation.
Gray eventually hung up on the angry Knight. Undeterred, Knight called back two more times, but a busy and perhaps fearful Gray ignored the calls.
Shortly thereafter, Gray received a text message.
“I will see u in person … u have kids just like me so let’s play hardball,” Knight wrote, according to court records. He ended the message with a couple of expletives and a racist slur.
Gray was clearly frightened of Knight. He spent two days avoiding questions about the incident during a February 2017 grand jury hearing. During the hearing, Gray said he couldn’t remember anything about the text messages.
Incredibly, Gray had trouble remembering details about Straight Outta Compton, a film he had directed and for which he had received an Academy Award nomination. As Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Barnes said, “He’s so afraid he came in here and lied under oath. He’s perjuring himself because he’s that afraid (of Knight).”
As expected, Knight’s legal team had a different take.
Defense attorney Dominique Banos said the phone used in the text messages didn’t belong to Knight.
The gang references in the texts sound “like law enforcement language,” she said.
Knight allegedly sent Gray a text message on August 8, 2014 in which he used gang phrases and made reference to other N.W.A. members.
“I’m from Bomton,” Knight allegedly wrote, using well-known Bloods slang. “I’m a Blood criminal street gang member from the city of Compton … Time has arrived Faith in God keep ppl safe. The Devil’s Money can’t save No 1.”
Knight is also said to have written that he would “make sure” Gray, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube would receive “hugs,” which is slang for physical violence.
Banos suggested the threats case was filed to help the prosecution win its homicide case against Knight.
Suge Knight’s Murder Trial Finally Set for September 24, 2018
In late April, a judge set September 24, 2018 as the trial date for the January 2015 murder that Suge Knight said was the unfortunate result of self-defense.
The co-founder of Death Row Records was accused of intentionally hitting two men with his red Ford F-150 pickup truck in the parking lot of Tam’s Burgers at South Central Avenue and West Rosecrans Avenue after an argument on the movie set of Straight Outta Compton.
Once again, though, video footage seems to contradict Knight’s depiction of himself as the victim.
A recording from Tam’s showed Suge Knight’s truck pulling into the parking lot of the burger joint. A discussion ensued with movie consultant Cle “Bone” Sloan talking to Knight through the driver’s side window. Knight abruptly backed up his truck, knocking Sloan to the ground.
At this point, it appears as though Knight could have gotten out of his truck to see if Sloan was all right, or simply driven away. Instead, Knight put his truck into drive and drove back into the parking lot of Tam’s, careening into producer Terry Carter and running him over.
Carter, 55, was killed while Sloan was injured. Knight fled the scene after plowing the two men down but eventually turned himself in.
Knight plead not guilty to murder. Knight did not deny he was driving the truck, but he claimed he acted in self-defense because armed men were at the scene trying to kill him.
His attorney, James E. Blatt, went further, saying Knight was assaulted, and while he was trying to escape from his attackers, he accidently ran over the two men.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, said Knight rammed into the two men intentionally after a fight he’d had with Sloan earlier that day at a production office for Straight Outta Compton.
Knight’s Murder Trial Was Postponed Twice
Knight’s murder trial was initially scheduled for January 2018, but it was delayed after two members of his defense team, Thaddeus Culpepper and Matthew Fletcher, were indicted for attempting to bribe witnesses.
Fletcher and Culpepper were indicted with conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit subornation of perjury, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, and serving as accessories after the fact to the 2015 murder Knight was accused of.
Culpepper was charged with two additional conspiracy counts and Fletcher faced an additional charge of perjury. Both men denied any wrongdoing.
According to the indictment, though, Fletcher found a man willing to claim there were guns at the crime scene. But lies don’t come cheap. Fletcher allegedly told Knight that $25,000 was a “fair investment to secure his freedom.”
As a result, Suge Knight’s murder trial was pushed from January to April, but then there was another postponement after Knight was unexpectedly hospitalized for eye-related issues.
“He had eye surgery,” said Knight’s sister Karen Anderson. “He was in a lot of pain—a lot of pain. His left eye is partially blind.”
Terry Carter, the Victim
While all the attention has been focused on Suge Knight, it’s important to remember the hit-and-run victim, Terry Carter. Avis Ridley-Thomas, a cousin, described Carter as a business associate of Knight’s but said he did not consider the two to be friends.
She said Carter was instrumental in getting Straight Outta Compton filmed and saw the movie as a way of rectifying the bad reputation his working-class community had received in the past.
“He was always trying to put Compton in a positive light and to fight all the negativity that Compton experiences,” said Ridley-Thomas.
Skipp Townsend, a friend of Carter’s, described him as a businessman known for being generous.
“He was an entrepreneur,” Townsend said. “He could have three or four businesses going on at one time.”
From the second floor of his car repair shop, where he fixed low-riders, Carter operated Heavyweight Records and would entertain rappers who dropped around for a visit, including Ice Cube and Mack 10.
Townsend also said that Carter took in foster children, and it wasn’t uncommon to find someone who described themselves as Carter’s son.
“He helped a lot of people,” said Townsend.
Unlike Ridley-Thomas, Townsend suggested that Knight and Carter were more than just business associates.
“I just know that they definitely have a relationship and they talked,” he said. “They’ve known each other for years.”
Suge Knight’s Request to Attend Mother’s Funeral Denied
On Sunday, June 18, 2018 Suge Knight’s mother, Maxine Chatman, 77, died surrounded by loves ones in Paramount, California. She had suffered a strike in May and her health had been in steady decline since then.
Knight was hoping that the courts would give him a temporary get-out-of-jail card so he could attend his mother’s funeral. His request was denied. Being a murder suspect disqualified Knight from attending funerals.
Even though Knight could not attend his mother’s funeral, he still paid for it. Knight reportedly forked over $20,000 to cover the costs of the funeral at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California in early July.
Suge Knight Gets 28 Years for Manslaughter
On Thursday, September 20, 2018, Suge Knight plead no contest to manslaughter in the hit-and-run death of Terry Carter. In exchange for his plea, Knight will spend the next 28 years in prison.
Jury selection for his murder trial was set to begin on September 24. Had Knight been found guilty, it would have led to a life sentence.
Because of the plea deal, Knight will serve 22 years in prison for manslaughter. He received six additional years because the hit-and-run marked a third-strike violation.
Why an 11th-hour plea deal? Prosecutors had given the defense team a list of people they planned to call as witnesses in the lead-up to the trial. Peter Johnson, a criminal defense attorney who also lectures at UCLA Law School, noted, “You can pretty much predict the testimony and how damaging that will be and you weigh the risks of conviction,” Johnson said.
The video evidence, which contradicted Knight’s claim he was acting in self-defense, also must have played into the decision.
Two other criminal cases against Knight—his alleged threats against F. Gary Gray and his alleged theft of a paparazzo’s camera—were dismissed at sentencing.
Crystal Carter, Terry’s daughter, had a seat in the front row in court. “I’m surprised he pleaded out,” she said outside court. “Normally he likes the cameras to be on him 24/7.”