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California

Judge lowers $2-million bail for Suge Knight’s fiancee on charges she sold murder trial evidence to TMZ

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Marion “Suge” Knight’s fiancee, Toi-Lin Kelly, was charged with violating a court order by selling surveillance video of a 2015 fatal crash involving Knight to gossip site TMZ.
(Associated Press)

A Los Angeles County judge decided to sharply reduce the $2-million bail keeping Marion “Suge” Knight’s fiancee jailed on charges that she violated a court order by selling a key video in Knight’s murder trial to the gossip website TMZ.

Toi-Lin Kelly, 36, was arrested this month after a grand jury indicted her on charges of conspiring to violate a court order, obstruct justice and commit grand theft, prosecutors said. While bail for such offenses would normally be set at $45,000, prosecutors sought the multimillion-dollar figure because they believed Kelly had been actively trying to help her fiance beat his murder case through illegal means.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Douglas Sortino reduced Kelly’s bail to $500,000, deciding that allegations that Kelly has possibly engaged in witness tampering and other crimes at Knight’s behest made her a threat to public safety. But Sortino also noted that defendants charged with murder or sexual assault of a child might normally face bail lower than the seven-digit figure prosecutors sought.

“I can’t in good conscience justify a $2-million bail,” he said.

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According to court records, TMZ paid Kelly $55,000 for a grainy surveillance video of Knight plowing his truck into two people in the parking lot of a Compton hamburger restaurant in 2015 after a dispute on the set of a commercial for the N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton.” A judge had ordered that the video, which was released to Knight’s defense team as part of discovery, could not be released to the public or media.

Kelly has pleaded not guilty. Mark Blankenship, a 57-year-old business partner of Knight, has also been charged with the illegal sale of the video and is scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 5, according to Greg Risling, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Blankenship’s bail has been set at $45,000.

A grand jury indicted Kelly and Blankenship in July, but the indictment was not unsealed until last week. Both could face up to three years in prison if convicted.

Dmitry Gorin, one of Kelly’s attorneys, has argued that the $2-million bail was “excessive and unconstitutional” for charges he said should amount to a simple misdemeanor.

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“This is a murder bail,” he said Tuesday, after arguments over the unusually high bail began in a downtown courtroom.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Biddle, a veteran homicide investigator who is the lead investigator on Knight’s murder case, testified Tuesday that Kelly admitted to selling the video during an interview but said one of Knight’s former attorneys told her it was legal to do so. Gorin declined to comment on Biddle’s testimony.

The video was first published by TMZ on March 9, 2015. Sheriff’s detectives got a warrant to search Kelly’s cellphone, and prosecutors say they found messages between her and a TMZ correspondent negotiating a price for the recording.

In a prior filing, prosecutors said Kelly and Knight communicated in code about a plan to sell the video for as much as $150,000. In the end, a TMZ correspondent and Kelly agreed to “55,” though the filing does not say whether that meant $55,000.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Stefan Mrakich had argued the high bail was necessary because Kelly is a public safety risk, contending she was one of several people in Knight’s orbit who prosecutors say tried to bribe or intimidate witnesses in his murder trial.

“Her goal is to get Mr. Knight acquitted through illegal means,” Mrakich said in court Wednesday.

Biddle also testified Tuesday that Kelly was involved in past assault and extortion attempts alongside Knight, including an incident in which she allegedly struck a man. Those incidents were documented by the Los Angeles Police Department but never resulted in charges.

Kelly’s arrest was the latest bizarre turn in Knight’s years-long legal saga. The 52-year-old former rap impresario is expected to stand trial next year on charges that he plowed his truck into Terry Carter and Cle “Bone” Sloan in the parking lot of Tam’s Burgers in Compton in 2015. Carter, 55, died of his injuries. Knight has insisted he was acting in self-defense.

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In the years since, Knight has also been charged with threatening F. Gary Gray, who directed “Straight Outta Compton.” Knight also faces robbery charges after a photographer accused him of stealing her camera and chasing her in Beverly Hills in 2014.

Last month, prosecutors filed court documents asking the court to investigate whether two of Knight’s former attorneys, Thaddeus Culpepper and Matthew Fletcher, conspired to bribe witnesses to give testimony favorable to Knight in the murder case.

According to the filing, Culpepper agreed to pay a former jail inmate for testimony in the trial; the inmate had been working as an undercover informant for the Sheriff’s Department. Prosecutors allege that transcripts of jailhouse phone calls also suggested Fletcher would be willing to pay for favorable witness testimony.

Neither man has been charged with a crime, and both denied any wrongdoing in interviews and statements released to The Times. In a text message exchange with a Times reporter last month, Kelly also scoffed at the claims made by the district attorney’s office and accused prosecutors of trying to denigrate defense witnesses ahead of the murder trial.

james.queally@latimes.com

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.


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