Death Row's 'Suge' Knight Loses Bid For Freedom

Appeals court denies new sentencing hearing for rap-label founder serving nine-year prison term for assault.

LOS ANGELES - Jailed Death Row Records founder Marion ''Suge'' Knight lost his latest bid for early freedom last week when the California Court of Appeal denied him a new sentencing hearing.

Knight, who was identified by Los Angeles police last month as a suspect in the March 1997 slaying of rapper Notorious B.I.G., will continue serving a nine-year term in a San Luis Obispo prison.

The sentence stems from Knight's conviction for assaulting two aspiring rappers in 1992. He pleaded no contest in 1995 in exchange for a sentence of five years' probation, with the understanding that he would go to prison for nine years if he violated the terms of the probation.

The probation was revoked and Knight was ordered to prison after he was caught on videotape kicking Los Angeles resident Orlando Anderson, an alleged gang member, during a fight in the lobby of Las Vegas' MGM Grand Hotel in September 1996.

Last August, the Court of Appeal ruled that Superior Court Judge Stephen Czuleger's original sentence in the assault case was unclear and open to misinterpretation by Knight. That finding opened the door to a resentencing that could have drastically reduced Knight's time in prison. But the three-judge panel reversed itself April 28 after the state appealed.

"We're obviously very pleased with the new decision, and it is the decision that Knight chose when he agreed to his plea bargain," said Steven Matthews, supervising deputy attorney general for the state of California. "He agreed that if he violated the terms of his probation, he would serve nine years in jail."

Knight's lawyers -- David Kenner, Marcia Morrissey and Armand Arabian -- did not return phone calls Thursday (May 6).

Reuters reported Knight plans to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.

Only hours after Knight attacked Anderson, Death Row rap star Tupac Shakur was fatally shot while riding in a car with Knight in Las Vegas. Though the Shakur case remains unsolved, police had named Anderson as a suspect. Anderson was killed in a gunfight in Los Angeles in May 1998.

Six months after Shakur was killed, rapper Notorious B.I.G. (born Christopher Wallace) was slain in Los Angeles. Police in that case have said they're investigating a possible "murder-for-hire" plot involving Knight, who was already in jail. Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times quoted police sources as speculating Notorious B.I.G. was killed as payback for "squabbles" between his label, Bad Boy Entertainment, and Death Row. Knight refused to let police interview him in jail, the Times reported.

Matthews said he doubts Knight's sentence will be reduced for good behavior.

"I don't know whether he's been working while he's there and earning time, but I wouldn't expect that he'd get out any sooner than two to five years [from now]," Matthews said.

Knight, a former football star at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, helped launch the careers of such major rappers as Shakur, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.

Even before Knight was jailed, Death Row Records, founded in 1992, began to struggle. The label was shaken by the 1996 defection of its co-founder Dr. Dre (born Andre Young) and the death of Shakur. Snoop Dogg (born Calvin Broadus), the label's last remaining superstar, defected to No Limit Records last year.