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Suspect in Tupac Shakur's murder has pleaded not guilty

Duane Davis first appeared in court at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Oct. 4 on charges of murdering Tupac Shakur.
Bizuayehu Tesfay
Getty Images
Duane Davis first appeared in court at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Oct. 4 on charges of murdering Tupac Shakur.

Twenty-seven years ago, rapper Tupac Shakur died after being shot while sitting in a car at a red light near the Las Vegas strip. In all that time, no suspect had appeared before a judge. But Thursday morning, Duane "Keffe D" Davis, the man charged with being the ringleader of Shakur's killing, pleaded not guilty in a Las Vegas courtroom.

Davis' arraignment has been delayed twice already, after he repeatedly came to court without legal representation beginning Oct. 4. He has been held without bail. On Thursday he was represented by public defenders.

In September, a grand jury in Nevada indicted Davis with charges of murder and using a deadly weapon. There is no statute of limitations in Nevada for murder charges.

Davis has long said he was in the car

Davis, a former gang leader in Compton, Calif., was allegedly one of four men who pulled up in a car next to Shakur at the red light. Shakur was being driven by the former CEO of Death Row Records, Marion "Suge" Knight. Both Shakur and Knight were shot; Knight survived, but Shakur died of his injuries several days later.

For years, Davis has affirmed in interviews and in a book he wrote that he was in the car with the man he says was the shooter. He said the same thing to authorities in California who had agreed in advance that he wouldn't be prosecuted — but charges from Nevada are a different story.

Davis has also said that it was his nephew, Orlando Anderson, who actually fired at Shakur and Knight. (Anderson died in a separate, gang-related killing in 1998; Davis and Knight are the only two of the six people involved who are still alive.) Whoever fired the gun, prosecutors say that Duane Davis was the organizer of the crime.

After Davis' arrest, TMZ interviewed Knight, who is currently serving his own 28-year prison sentence in California for a different case. Knight told TMZ that he plans to refuse to testify in this trial:

"Me and Keffe D played on the same Pop Warner football team. And whatever the circumstances, if he had an involvement with anything, if he didn't have an involvement with anything — I wouldn't want to see, I wouldn't wish, somebody going to prison on my worst enemy."

Fans and family hope for closure

Shakur's late mother, Afeni Shakur, had said publicly that she believed that the Las Vegas police never had any intention of solving the crime — and she wasn't the only one. For years, however, authorities have said that no one would talk to them about the killing. Shakur's story is very complicated, there are allegations that he had gang ties, but there's also the fact that Black men have not always been treated fairly by the criminal justice system.

Shakur has now been dead longer than he was alive; his family, loved ones, and his fans are hoping that this case will provide closure and more information about the circumstances surrounding his death.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.