Suspect in 1996 murder of Tupac Shakur pleads not guilty

Duane Keith ‘Keffe D’ Davis, the only person ever charged with a crime in the case, entered his plea before a judge on Thursday

A former southern California street gang leader pleaded not guilty on Thursday to orchestrating a drive-by shooting that killed Tupac Shakur in 1996 in Las Vegas.

Duane Keith “Keffe D” Davis, the only person still alive who was in the car from which shots were fired and the only person ever charged with a crime in the case, stood in shackles before the Clark county district judge Tierra Jones.

Special public defenders Robert Arroyo and Charles Cano represented Davis in court on Thursday. On Wednesday, Davis lost his bid to hire Ross Goodman as his defense attorney. Two weeks ago, Goodman had said prosecutors lacked witnesses and key evidence, including a gun or vehicle, from the killing 27 years ago.

Before entering his plea, Davis stood in dark-blue jail garb and answered a short series of questions, telling the judge that he had attended “a year in college”, was not under the influence of any drugs, medication or alcohol, and that he understood he had been charged with murder.

Older Black man, bald head, full salt-and-pepper gear, sitting in a black chair beside two empty chairs behind a table.
Duane ‘Keffe D’ Davis, 60, appears in a Las Vegas court for his arraignment on murder charges on 19 October 2023. Photograph: John Locher/AFP/Getty Images

Davis, 60, is from Compton, California. He was arrested on 29 September outside a home in suburban Henderson, Nevada, where Las Vegas police had served a search warrant on 17 July, drawing renewed attention to one of hip-hop music’s most enduring mysteries. Davis remains jailed without bail, did not testify before the grand jury that indicted him, and declined from jail to speak with the Associated Press.

The indictment alleges Davis obtained a gun and provided it to someone in the back seat of a Cadillac before the car-to-car gunfire that mortally wounded Shakur and wounded rap music mogul Marion “Suge” Knight at an intersection just off the Las Vegas Strip. Shakur died a week later. He was 25.

Knight, now 58, is in prison in California, serving a 28-year sentence for the murder of a Compton businessman in 2015. He has not responded to messages through his attorneys seeking comment about Davis’s arrest.

Prosecutors allege that Shakur’s killing in Las Vegas was the result of competition between east coast members of a Bloods gang sect and west coast groups of a Crips sect, including Davis, for dominance in a musical genre dubbed “gangsta rap”.

The grand jury was told the 7 September 1996 shooting in Las Vegas was retaliation for a brawl hours earlier at a Las Vegas Strip casino involving Shakur and Davis’s nephew, Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson.

Night-time photo of right side of black sedan with bullet holes on both doors and passenger window.
The car in which rapper Tupac Shakur was fatally shot in September 1996 in Las Vegas. Photograph: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department/AP

Prosecutors told a grand jury that Davis implicated himself in the killing in multiple interviews and a 2019 tell-all memoir that described his life leading a Crips sect in Compton. Davis has said he obtained a .40-caliber handgun and handed it to Anderson, a member of Davis’s gang, in the back seat of a Cadillac, though he did not identify Anderson as the shooter.

Anderson, then 22, denied involvement in Shakur’s killing and died two years later in a shooting in his home town of Compton. The other back seat passenger and the driver of the Cadillac are also dead.

In his book, Davis wrote that he told authorities in 2010 what he knew of the killings of Shakur and gang rival Notorious BIG, whose legal name was Christopher Wallace, to protect himself and 48 of his Southside Compton Crips gang associates from prosecution and the possibility of life sentences in prison.

Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls, was shot and killed in Los Angeles in March 1997, six months after Shakur’s death.

Shakur is largely considered one of the most influential and versatile rappers of all time. He had five No 1 albums, was nominated for six Grammy awards, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, and received a posthumous star this year on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.