In the weeks since Marion "Suge" Knight was charged with murder, sharply conflicting accounts have emerged about what happened in the parking lot of a Compton burger joint.
Knight's attorneys have said the Death Row Records co-founder was threatened and fleeing for his life when he struck two men with his truck and sped from the eatery. But L.A. County sheriff's officials described a deliberate act in which Knight knocked one man to the ground with his truck and then ran over him, hitting another as he surged forward.
On Monday, surveillance video of the incident was made public by TMZ, providing a fuller picture of what happened at Tam's Burgers on Jan. 29.
But the video evidence has quickly become another source of contention in the deadly hit-and-run case.
In the video, a red truck enters the driveway of a restaurant and comes to a stop. At least two figures walk over to the driver's side of the vehicle and what looks like a scuffle occurs. The truck backs up and hits one of the men, who collapses on the ground and lies virtually motionless. The truck pulls forward seconds later, runs over the man on the ground and then plows into another man, running him over as well.
Knight's new attorney, Matthew Fletcher, said Monday that the video shows Knight being attacked as he sits inside his truck.
"They started it.... They attacked him," Fletcher said, equating Knight's reaction to a stand-your-ground situation. "You're not required by law to run.... If Suge had put it in park and got out, he's dead."
Referring to the video, Fletcher said "100% it proves Suge Knight was attacked."
Prosecutors have charged Knight with murder and attempted murder in connection with the incident in which Terry Carter, 55, died, and Cle "Bone" Sloan, 51, was injured. Knight has pleaded not guilty.
A lawyer representing Carter's family disputed the claim that the victim had attacked Knight.
"Mr. Carter was a respected businessman with no gang affiliations," attorney Carl E. Douglas said in a statement. "Any suggestion by Mr. Knight that Mr. Carter played any role whatsoever in the fight through the car window is self-serving nonsense with no factual support whatsoever."
Douglas said the video of the incident "shows a senseless act of violence. While the criminal investigation appears to be ongoing and our own investigation has just begun, the video makes clear that Terry Carter's tragic death was caused by unnecessary acts of violence initiated by Cle Sloan attacking Suge Knight, and Mr. Knight choosing to retaliate using his motor vehicle as a deadly weapon, rather than simply driving off to a place of safety."
Last month, L.A. County sheriff's Sgt. Richard Biddle said that video from the scene indicated that running over Sloan and striking Carter looked like an "intentional act." He declined to comment Monday, as did the prosecutor on the case, saying a protective order prohibits them from publicly discussing video evidence.
Legal experts say video footage in criminal cases is rarely as clear cut as it might first appear.
Stan Goldman, professor of criminal law and evidence at Loyola Law School, said that defense attorneys often remind jurors that what happened in the moments leading up to snippets of video footage is often unclear.
"Although some evidence looks like it's going to kill you, it doesn't always," he said. "You can't always depend on an amateur video … to convince a jury."
Fletcher said the video also shows a man with a gun. Toward the end of the video clip, someone is seen taking a black object away from Sloan while he's on the ground, but the image is grainy.
A law enforcement source, who was not authorized to discuss the case because it's ongoing, confirmed that sheriff's homicide detectives have the recording that was made public by TMZ, adding that authorities will try to enhance the footage before the case goes to trial to clarify the actions. The source acknowledged that the man identified in the video as Sloan makes a movement toward his waistband. The source, however, said no gun was recovered at the scene.
Sheriff's officials said Knight and Sloan had argued earlier in the day on the set of "Straight Outta Compton," a biopic about the rap group N.W.A. Knight was involved in a dispute over the use of his image in the movie and had gone to Compton to discuss the issue, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.
Fletcher said he has updated Knight on how the video affects his case.
"I said, 'This helps you beyond any stretch of imagination,'" Fletcher said.
Knight, who was taken to a jail infirmary last week after saying in court that he thought he was going blind and couldn't "really comprehend" what was happening, appeared healthy in court Monday. Fletcher is his third attorney since the killing.
The former rap impresario also faces charges stemming from an incident in which prosecutors say he and comedian Micah "Katt" Williams stole a camera from a photographer last September.