NEW YORK -- Two of the three men charged with killing Lost Boyz rapper Freaky Tah here March 28 are being held without bail on second-degree murder charges following their arraignment in Queens on Friday afternoon (April 9).
Meanwhile, members of a second Queens hip-hop crew denied any tension between the two groups, even though police say their rivalry is at the root of the shooting.
The two suspects, Kelvin Jones, 29, of Albany, N.Y., and Ryan Frith, 24, of Queens, are each charged with second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon, all felonies.
Lawyers for the two did not enter formal pleas on behalf of their clients before Queens County Criminal Court Judge Darrell Gavrin. The men are scheduled to appear in court April 23 for a pre-trial conference, at which time defense attorney Alan Uris said they would likely enter their pleas.
Uris is working with lead defense attorney Edward Zaloba, who was unavailable for comment. A grand jury will convene April 13 to consider an indictment on the charges.
Queens County Assistant District Attorney Nina Sas said police obtained confessions in writing and on video from the two. She said Jones confessed to shooting Tah, whose real name is Raymond Rogers, while Frith confessed to driving the van the men allegedly used the night of the murder.
A third man, Rasheem Fletcher, 22, of Queens, was arrested by police April 2 on the same charges. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment and also is being held without bail.
Raymond Rogers was killed at about 4 a.m. March 28 as he was leaving a late-night party at a Sheraton Hotel in Jamaica, Queens. Police said a man in a ski mask stepped out of a van and shot Rogers from point-blank range.
The rapper was 28. He is survived by his fiancée, Shannon Roquemore, and two children, Kahlil, 8, and Shantanice, 4.
Police said Thursday night they believe Rogers' murder was part of an escalating feud between the Lost Boyz and unsigned Queens rappers police called the Hellraisers.
A source close to the investigation said Jones confessed he mistakenly thought Rogers was the cousin of a man he suspected had killed his half-brother, Michael Saunders, allegedly a Hellraisers associate, in December.
That murder, the source said, was in retaliation for the robbery of one of the Lost Boyz in November.
Three days after Freaky Tah's death, Roger Paggent, another associate of the Hellraisers, was shot dead in Ozone Park, Queens. Police are investigating that shooting.
Word of the criminal feud came as news to Iat and 3rd Rail, said the two men, who claim to be part of a group they refer to as the Hellrazorpham. As they stood on the porch of a house in Jamaica, Queens the men vehemently denied any close association with Jones, Frith or Fletcher, saying they only knew them as faces in the neighborhood.
"Those people who are accused are not rappers," said Iat, 24.
"I'm waking up this morning in shock," said 3rd Rail, 25. "Our lives are in jeopardy now."
Iat and 3rd Rail, who would not give their real names, said Hellrazorpham, four rappers with an extended circle of friends from the Liberty Avenue neighborhood in Jamaica, enjoyed a cordial relationship with the Lost Boyz, and had played five shows with the group earlier this decade.
"We're friends," said Iat. "I'm in their video [for 'Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz and Benz' (RealAudio excerpt)]."
The men said they were particularly upset over the headline that ran in Friday's New York Daily News, which called the arrests part of a "rap war."
Inside the Queens courtroom Friday, Jones, in a black jeans jacket -- and the taller Frith, sporting wire-rimmed glasses -- stood still, hands behind their backs. They looked straight ahead, their faces betraying no emotion.
A stocky, bearded friend of Frith's became tearful and left the courtroom immediately after the arraignment.
The man, who did not want to be identified, said he has known Frith for 10 years and could not believe his friend would be involved in such a crime. "That's not Ryan," he said. "He goes to church like four days a week."
The man said Frith was released from prison last year and had been working at an AIDS clinic in Queens. Frith, Jones and Fletcher all have criminal records.
As the man drove down Liberty Avenue, where he said he grew up, he spotted a uniformed police officer patrolling one of its corners. He said the police have been a constant neighborhood presence since the two murders occurred.
The Lost Boyz came to prominence with two underground hits, "Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz and Benz" and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless" (RealAudio excerpt), both off their 1996 debut album, Legal Drug Money. That album and its follow-up, Love, Peace and Nappiness (1997), were praised by critics.