By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Two men accused of killing rap pioneer Jam Master Jay in a 2002 dispute over a drug deal will face a jury in a federal court in New York City on Monday as opening statements begin in their murder trial.
Ronald Washington, 59, and Karl Jordan Jr., 40, have pleaded not guilty to federal charges of murder while engaged in drug trafficking for the death of Jam Master Jay in his New York recording studio, one of the most infamous killings in rap history.
Jam Master Jay, the stage name of Jason Mizell, helped shape hip-hop with his Run-DMC bandmates in the 1980s. He was 37 when he was shot dead on Oct. 20, 2002, shortly after acquiring 10lb of cocaine from a Midwest distributor, according to the federal indictment.
If convicted in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Washington and Jordan face a maximum sentence of life in prison, and a mandatory minimum of at least 20 years. The U.S. Department of Justice told the court it would not seek the death penalty.
Last May, a third defendant, Jay Bryant, was also indicted for participating in the murder. He is due to face a separate trial in 2026.
Washington has previously been convicted of violent felonies, including drug-trafficking crimes, at least seven times since 1982, and has spent years in prison. Jordan has no adult criminal record, prosecutors say.
Both men are from the same Queens neighborhood in New York City as Jam Master Jay. Washington was angry that Jam Master Jay had decided to cut him out of a deal to sell cocaine the musician had obtained in Maryland, according to the indictment, and plotted with Jordan and Bryant to kill him.
According to the prosecutors' account, they arrived with guns at the rapper's studio and demanded another man present lie on the floor. Jordan fired two shots at Jam Master Jay at close range, hitting him once in the head and killing him. The second shot hit the man who they had ordered to lie down in the leg. All three men fled.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)