A paid informant who figured prominently in police and FBI investigations into the killing of rap star Notorious B.I.G., and who accused rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight and a rogue police officer of orchestrating the murder, has admitted that his information was "all hearsay."
The informant, questioned under oath in a civil lawsuit, also admitted that his identification of the alleged gunman was fraudulent. He described himself as a paranoid schizophrenic.
The statements cast grave doubt on a theory that has gained wide currency: that corrupt police officers played a role in the killing and that top LAPD officials covered up their actions.
The theory, energetically promoted by a former Los Angeles police detective, has been featured in Rolling Stone magazine, on MTV and PBS' "Frontline," and in books and movies. Along the way, it has attained a kind of pop-culture immortality.
Notorious B.I.G., born Christopher Wallace, was gunned down March 9, 1997, after a music-industry party in the Mid-Wilshire district. The case remains unsolved.
Leads that the informant gave LAPD detectives formed the basis of the theory that Knight, founder of Death Row Records, conspired with then-LAPD Officer David A. Mack to arrange the shooting.
According to this scenario, a college friend of Mack's, a Southland mortgage broker named Amir Muhammad, ambushed Wallace as his motorcade waited at a stoplight.
The informant picked Muhammad's picture out of a police photo lineup in 1998.
Five years later, he served as an undercover operative in an FBI investigation that focused on Muhammad.
In his recent deposition, the informant, known to law enforcement officials as "Psycho Mike," all but demolished his earlier assertions about the killing.
He said he had no solid information that Knight or Mack was involved -- only "hearsay." And he acknowledged that he had never laid eyes on Muhammad when LAPD detectives showed him six photos and asked him to identify the suspect.
The informant was asked how he knew what Muhammad looked like.
"I didn't know what he looked like," he replied, according to a transcript of the Feb. 3 deposition obtained by The Times.
"So actually, when you looked at this picture, you guessed?" a lawyer asked.
"Yes," the informant said. "Hearsay."
The Times is withholding the man's name because authorities said disclosing it could endanger his life.
Muhammad, Mack and Knight have long denied any role in the killing.
The deposition was related to a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles by Wallace's estate, his mother, Voletta Wallace, and other relatives.
The suit contends that LAPD officials covered up police involvement in the rapper's death, and seeks unspecified monetary damages. It is scheduled to go to trial in U.S. District Court on June 14.
For nearly two hours, the informant sat in a downtown law office, answering questions from attorneys on both sides.
Wallace, 24, who also went by the name Biggie Smalls, was in Los Angeles in March 1997 to attend the Soul Train Music Awards. The next night, he attended a music-industry party at the Petersen Automotive Museum.
After the event, a man in a dark Chevrolet Impala pulled up beside Wallace's sport utility vehicle and opened fire.
The killing has often been attributed to a bitter feud between hip-hop camps in New York City and Los Angeles.
Wallace, a onetime Brooklyn crack dealer, was part of the East Coast rap establishment led by music and fashion entrepreneur Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. Knight was leader of the West Coast rappers, notably Tupac Shakur, who recorded for Death Row.
In September 1996, Shakur was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. Police surmised that Wallace's killing six months later may have been an act of retaliation.
In July 1997, Psycho Mike contacted LAPD detectives from a county lockup, where he was serving time for a parole violation. He offered information about the Wallace murder, hoping for early release from jail.
In his recent deposition, he said he grew up in Compton, started stealing bicycles at age 6 and moved on to car theft and armed robbery. In 1979, he shot a man to death to avenge the killing of his twin brother, he said.
Behind bars, he joined a prison gang and stabbed an inmate 14 times as an initiation rite. Then, he said, he found God and decided to change his life.
The man, now 48, said he has served as a paid informant for an array of agencies: "The Sheriff's Department, FBI, DEA, Long Beach police, anti-terrorist groups."
He said he has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia since childhood, has been hospitalized repeatedly for treatment, and has been on medication "for most of my life."
On July 10, 1997, LAPD Det. Theodore L. Ball went to see him at the North County Correctional Facility to find out what he knew about the Wallace slaying.