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Nearly 3 decades since Tupac Shakur's killing, alleged mastermind will be arraigned

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Twenty-seven years ago last month, rapper Tupac Shakur died. Days earlier, he had been shot while he sat in a car at a red light near the Las Vegas Strip. In all that time, no charges had been filed. But now Nevada prosecutors are charging a man named Duane Davis with Shakur's murder. Today, Davis will enter a plea in a Las Vegas courtroom. And joining us to discuss this case is NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas. So who is Duane Davis?

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Well, Duane Davis is a former gang leader from Compton, Calif., and he allegedly was in the car that pulled up next to Tupac Shakur at this red light. And let's remember, A, Shakur wasn't alone in the car. The driver was the former CEO of the Death Row record label, Marion "Suge" Knight, and someone shot both of them. Shakur died of his injuries several days later, but Suge Knight survived. And a really interesting thing is that for years now, Duane Davis has said very publicly that he was one of the people in that car where those shots came from.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, in the car, but did he shoot the gun?

TSIOULCAS: So Davis has said that it was his nephew, Orlando Anderson, who actually fired the gun. Whoever fired it, prosecutors say now Duane Davis was the ringleader who oversaw Tupac Shakur's killing.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, after all this time, Anastasia, why do prosecutors think they can charge Davis now?

TSIOULCAS: Well, Duane Davis made those statements about him being in the car both in a book he wrote and in various interviews, and he also told it to California police in a deal he proffered. But this is Nevada, so it's a totally different ballgame. And prosecutors feel that they have strong accounts from eyewitnesses - not people in the car, but people who were on the scene - that will sway a jury. And I should note, A - Duane Davis and Suge Knight are the only ones of those six people between those two cars who are still alive.

MARTÍNEZ: Does that mean, then, Suge Knight is going to be called as a witness here?

TSIOULCAS: So Suge Knight is now a few years into serving his own 28-year prison sentence in California for voluntary manslaughter. It's a totally different case. But when Duane Davis was arrested earlier this month, Knight told TMZ that he plans to refuse to testify in this trial for either side. Let's take a listen. You'll notice that Suge Knight calls Davis by his nickname, Keefe D.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUGE KNIGHT: Me and Keefe 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 any involvement in anything, who'd want to see - I wouldn't wish somebody going to prison on my worst enemy.

MARTÍNEZ: This is a day that I think a lot of Tupac fans never thought would actually happen. And, you know, I'll bet a lot of Tupac fans probably are pretty skeptical that he'll get justice even after 27 years.

TSIOULCAS: Oh, yeah, for sure. Even Tupac's late mother, Afeni Shakur, said in interviews she believed that the Las Vegas police never had any intention of solving the crime. She certainly wasn't the only one to think that. On the other hand, police have said for many years that no one would talk to them. And as, of course, we all know, Black men have not always been treated fairly by the criminal justice system. And there are complications here. There are allegations of gang ties involving Tupac Shakur. What strikes me, though, is that at this point, Tupac Shakur has been dead longer than he was alive, and certainly his family and loved ones and, for sure, his fans would really like to see some closure around his death.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas. Thanks a lot.

TSIOULCAS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.