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Suit Over Rapper's Death Altered

Mother of Notorious B.I.G. drops key figure in case after a reported confidential settlement.

October 29, 2004|Chuck Philips | Times Staff Writer

The mother of late rap star Notorious B.I.G. has decided to dismiss from a wrongful-death lawsuit the man she accused of shooting her son, raising new questions about theories surrounding the entertainer's slaying seven years ago.

In her suit, Voletta Wallace had named Southland resident Harry Billups, also known as Amir Muhammad, as the triggerman who ambushed her son on March 9, 1997, in the mid-Wilshire district. Billups could not be reached for comment Thursday but has long denied any involvement in the killing.

Wallace was unavailable and her attorneys refused to discuss the terms of the proposed dismissal or why it was initiated. The move came after Billups, who has never been questioned by police, submitted to a pretrial deposition during which he denied involvement in the murder and offered to take a lie-detector test, according to sources close to the negotiations.

The sources said no money changed hands as part of a confidential settlement between the two parties. Wallace agreed, however, to dismiss Billups as a defendant in the case.

Still remaining in the suit are the city of Los Angeles and a former Los Angeles police officer, David A. Mack, who is serving a 14-year federal prison sentence for bank robbery.

In her lawsuit, filed in 2002, Wallace accused Mack of hiring Billups to shoot her son and claimed that police did not pursue the investigation after becoming suspicious that one of their own might be involved.

The dismissal of such a key defendant as Billups presents a difficult challenge for the rapper's mother. Without the person she accuses of doing the shooting in the case, it becomes more difficult to prove the conspiracy theory upon which the case is built.

In August, Wallace's attorneys told the city that she would settle the case out of court for $105 million. Wallace's lawyers later slashed the figure to $18 million -- an amount rejected last month by the City Council, sources said.

Billups and Mack were first implicated in the rapper's killing by former Los Angeles Police Det. Russell Poole, who maintains he was forced out of the department after he began investigating potential police involvement in the slaying of Notorious B.I.G., whose real name was Christopher Wallace.

Poole has publicly contended that Mack was hired by rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight amid a bicoastal rap feud. According to Poole, Mack arranged for Billups, his friend and college roommate in Oregon, to shoot the rapper outside the Petersen Automotive Museum following a music industry event.

Mack has denied any involvement in the killing.

Poole began scrutinizing Billups after learning he had visited Mack in prison in December 1997, after the ex-police officer's conviction for bank robbery.

Poole was contacted last year by the FBI after the agency launched its own investigation into Mack's and Billups' possible involvement in the killing.

Last December, the FBI wired an informant to approach Billups in the San Diego area, hoping he might talk about the killing, but Billups said nothing to implicate himself, sources said.

Earlier this month, Voletta Wallace's attorneys asked the court for a postponement to April so they could continue discovery in the case. The judge granted the request and issued an order breaking the trial into three phases to better clarify the issues for jurors.

During the first phase, Wallace's attorneys must persuade a jury that Mack, in fact, orchestrated the killing. So far, investigators have found no murder weapon or witnesses tying Mack to the crime.

Poole, whose theory places Mack at the center of the alleged conspiracy, will be prohibited from testifying as an expert witness during this part of the process.

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