Then, suddenly, Waymond Anderson was an accused murderer. Police in bulletproof vests surrounded his black Mustang on Jan. 29, 1994, and handcuffed him as his wife and 6-year-old son watched.
USC campus, killing a man to avenge an unpaid drug debt. Anderson was sentenced to life in prison without parole for first-degree murder.
Now, after nearly 13 years behind bars, he has asked the state Court of Appeal to throw out his conviction, contending that new evidence shows he could not have committed the crime.
Two witnesses who identified him at the trial as the arsonist have given sworn statements saying that they lied under pressure from police.
Anderson's defense team has also produced travel receipts and sworn witness statements that indicate he was in Jackson, Miss., visiting his sister at the time of the killing. One of that state's most revered preachers is among those who swear they saw Anderson in Mississippi that day.
"I had nothing to do with this murder — and the police know it," Anderson, 40, said during a recent interview at Corcoran State Prison south of Fresno. "My son was 6 when they locked me up. Last year, he graduated from high school. Have you any idea how long that is? I've never even seen the Internet."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Anne Ingalls, who prosecuted Anderson, declined to discuss his court petition. But she said she remained convinced of his guilt.
"I have complete confidence in this verdict," she said. "There was overwhelming evidence that the defendant did it and that he had the motive to do it."
A downward spiral
Anderson grew up around Western Avenue and 39th Street in South Los Angeles. Raised by his great-grandmother, he sang in a church choir, wrote songs and orchestrated R&B arrangements in the "new-jack-swing" style in his home studio.
In 1985, Anderson, then 19, signed a recording contract with Capitol Records. He released three albums for the label and struck it big in 1988 with "My Girl," an update of the Motown hit.
Beneath the veneer of stardom, his life was a mess. Anderson acknowledges that he sold and used drugs, carried guns and cheated on his wife. This hidden side of his life explains why he would have killed a man over a drug debt, authorities say.
The deadly fire occurred in a converted garage on West 40th Place inhabited by a shifting assortment of junkies.
On the morning of Sept. 18, 1993, a tall, ponytailed drug dealer burst through the door, looking for two addicts who owed him money — "Punch" and "One-Arm Will."
Failing to find them, the man splashed gasoline around the dwelling, twisted a newspaper into a torch and flicked his lighter, witnesses told police. A drug addict named Robert Wellington was killed in the ensuing blaze.
Several weeks later, police tracked down One-Arm Will. He was carrying a business card with a 10-digit phone number scrawled on the back.
The number, it turned out, was for a cellphone registered in Anderson's stage name, Julian "Suavé" Scott.
Detectives included Anderson's picture in an array of photos they showed to witnesses, including Wellington's brother, Willock Garcia. Garcia, who was badly burned in the fire, identified Anderson as the arsonist, police reported.