Jurors declared themselves “deadlocked” Friday at the California civil trial over whether Suge Knight should be held liable – and pay millions in damages – for killing married Compton dad Terry Carter with his Ford Raptor truck seven years ago amid a parking lot dispute with another man linked to the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton.
The jurors told the judge their vote was split seven-to-five without confirming which way they were leaning. They need nine votes out of 12 for a verdict in the wrongful death case centered on claims of negligence and battery.
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The judge let the jury go home early and ordered them back Tuesday morning to keep trying.
“We realize you have a very difficult split, but the consensus for everyone is we want to try to find an end to this case, if at all possible,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas D. Long said. “We want to make sure that all efforts to reach a verdict, one way or the other, have been exhausted.”
The admonition came after the jury sent a note to the judge late Thursday that read: “Currently we cannot produce nine aligned votes on battery or negligence.”
In a rare move, the judge brought the deliberating jurors back into the courtroom Friday morning and allowed both sides to give an extra five minutes of closing argument on two new instructions related to Knight’s claim he was acting in self-defense when he ran over a man named Cle “Bone” Sloan before hitting and killing Carter, 55.
Knight and Sloan, a former gang member turned Straight Outta Compton staffer, had been fighting through the driver’s side window of Knight’s truck before the Ford F-150 Raptor reversed, knocking Sloan to the ground, and then blasted forward again, barreling over Sloan’s body lying in the street and mowing down Carter, surveillance video of the deadly Jan. 29, 2015 incident outside Tam’s Burgers in Compton shows.
The new instructions both related to the issue of whether Knight can avoid liability in the case by claiming self-defense.
“If you believe that Marion ‘Suge’ Knight was lawfully acting in self-defense, he must do so while using reasonable care to avoid injury to innocent bystanders,” one of the new instructions given Friday read. The second instruction said, “the right to self-defense ends when there is no longer any apparent danger of further violence on the part of the assailant,” including after an alleged victim acts in self-defense and “uses enough force upon his attacker as to render the attacker apparently incapable of inflicting further injuries.”
In his extra five-minute closing argument, Carter family lawyer Lance Behringer argued Knight was no longer in imminent danger once Sloan was flung from the truck and lay crumpled on the ground.
“He knocks him down. He has the right to do that, 100-percent. If someone comes after you, you have the right to knock them down. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Behringer said. But once Sloan was on the ground, not moving, the threat was neutralized, the lawyer said. “At that moment, that’s when you’ve got to stop. That’s what the law says, and you’ve got to follow the law,” Behringer argued. “You can’t just go crazy and take people down.”
Knight’s lawyer, David Kenner, argued his client was the victim of what he thought was a coordinated armed ambush by multiple men. Kenner said Carter, a well-connected local businessman who invited Knight to Tam’s to help broker a payment for the use of Knight’s name and likeness in Straight Outta Compton, did not fit the definition of an innocent bystander.
“He is not an innocent bystander if he injects himself into the confrontation. He sees what Cle ‘Bone’ Sloan is doing, and he walks into that scene. He is next to the car, and a tragic accident occurred,” Kenner argued, asking jurors to review the video. “This was an unfortunate accident. This was not the result of negligence.”
Carter’s wife, Lillian Carter, got up and left the courtroom before Behringer showed the graphic video of her husband’s death. Carter’s two daughters, Nekaya and Crystal remained, but Crystal buried her face in her hands while Nekaya appeared to look away.
Knight, 57, is now serving 28 years behind bars after pleading no contest to the voluntary manslaughter of Carter under a deal that avoided a looming murder trial and possible life sentence if convicted.
Knight gave his first-ever courtroom testimony about the incident during the civil trial, appearing remotely from prison. He claimed he visited the production base camp of Straight Outta Compton that day with the hope of meeting Dr. Dre face-to-face to let him know police purportedly told Knight that the former N.W.A. member, producer, and Beats by Dre mogul had paid someone to kill him.
Dr. Dre, born Andre Young, has denied the allegation through his lawyers. Knight, meanwhile, claimed in his testimony that he simply wanted to meet with Dr. Dre to let him know he didn’t believe the murder-for-hire allegation. Still, Knight told jurors that he believed his life was in danger when Sloan, who testified during Knight’s criminal case that he was working for Dr. Dre as a technical adviser on Straight Outta Compton, attacked him outside Tam’s and purportedly pointed a gun at him. (Sloan testified in 2015 that he didn’t have a gun at the confrontation.)
Carter’s family is asking for damages worth $81 million. The judge ordered the jurors back on Tuesday morning to continue deliberating.
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