Will Suge Knight’s attorney follow the rap mogul to prison?

In his own words, Matthew Fletcher is a “f— gang motherf— lawyer.”

The defense attorney’s crass self-assessment was captured on tape a few years ago while L.A. County sheriff’s investigators eavesdropped on one of his conversations. It was typical bravado for a man who often speaks with rapid-fire profanity and can rattle off the turf boundaries of Compton’s street gangs as easily as another attorney might cite sections of the penal code.

The persona has endeared him to clients, while aggravating prosecutors and detectives, some of whom say Fletcher behaves more like a defendant than a defense attorney.

That line has blurred completely in a Los Angeles courtroom where for the past two months Fletcher has defended himself against charges he conspired to bribe witnesses to lie on behalf of gangsta rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight, whom Fletcher represented in a murder case.

After listening to closing arguments from prosecutors and Fletcher, who acted as his own attorney, jurors are expected to begin deliberating this week. If convicted Fletcher could face nearly four years in prison.

Prosecutors portrayed the case against Fletcher to jurors as a righteous stand against a corrupt attorney, with Deputy. Dist. Atty. Stefan Mrakich comparing Fletcher in his closing statement at trial to Saul Goodman, the morally rudderless attorney on “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.”

Knight’s murder case ended in 2018, when the Death Row Records founder pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 28 years in prison for running his pickup truck over a man at a burger stand in South L.A.

Six months before Knight’s plea deal, Fletcher and another member of Knight’s defense team, Thaddeus Culpepper, were indicted on several charges related to the alleged witness tampering. Fletcher has also been charged with a count of perjury arising from a hearing connected to an unrelated allegation of misconduct brought in 2016 by the State Bar of California.

Culpepper’s case is on hold as he faces a federal trial next month on allegations that he cashed more than $1 million in stolen checks.

Prosecutors say the attorneys were prepared to pay witnesses to testify that a group of men who confronted Knight at the burger stand were armed with guns in order to bolster Knight’s claim he was the target of an assassination plot and had been fleeing for his life when he killed Terry Carter and seriously injured Cle “Bone” Sloan in January 2015.

Their case rests heavily on recorded jailhouse conversations he had with Knight as well as discussions with a Sheriff’s Department informant who posed as a witness willing to help the defense. Prosecutors have acknowledged they have no evidence Fletcher actually bribed anyone, but argued at trial that his recorded comments show he intended to do so.

“If these motherf— got a price, well let’s get that motherf— price paid,” Fletcher said to the informant on one call played in court. “I told Suge … man, you can always make some more money. You can’t make any more freedom though.”

In another call, Fletcher told Knight that $25,000 would be a “fair investment” to secure an acquittal.

To win a conspiracy conviction, prosecutors need to prove Fletcher made an agreement with someone to commit a crime and took a step toward doing so, even if he didn’t complete the criminal act.

Fletcher has insisted that his references to paying witnesses were about his willingness to compensate them for videos or other recordings they made at the burger stand. In Knight’s case, Fletcher claimed videos shot by witnesses would show Knight’s alleged attackers were holding guns, but no videos or other evidence corroborating that claim have ever surfaced.

Some legal experts, however, expressed concern that the trial is the latest in a series of overly aggressive maneuvers prosecutors made in their pursuit of Knight and his allies.

Another attorney in the case, Mark Blankenship, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in 2019 and was placed on probation for helping facilitate the sale of video of the fatal crash to TMZ. Knight’s fiancee, Toi-Lin Kelley, was sentenced to three years in prison for helping Knight violate a court order. Sheriff’s detectives also seized a journalist’s phone and sought to force two filmmakers to testify at a grand jury hearing connected to the case in 2018.

Fletcher was the attorney of record on Knight’s murder case only for two months in 2016, though he also represented Knight in a related case involving threats Knight allegedly made against a film director.

Mrakich dismissed suggestions that Fletcher had been subject to a “witch hunt.” The investigation into Fletcher and other Knight associates, he said, was sparked by Fletcher’s phone calls with Knight and a leak of surveillance video of the crash to TMZ.

Although investigators typically would be barred from eavesdropping on jailhouse calls between an attorney and his client, Knight’s habit of allowing his fiancee or others on the calls meant they were no longer private and opened the door to allowing detectives to listen in, court records show. And once investigators raised concerns that Fletcher could be tampering with witnesses, a judge gave them permission to listen to calls between Knight and Fletcher, regardless of whether anyone else joined them.

As the witness tampering investigation progressed, prosecutors had a confidential informant approach Knight and offer to help with his case. Knight sent the informant to Fletcher, who suggested witnesses would need to be paid, according to recordings played in court.

If this cat’s ready to come forward and say, ‘Look man we had guns … I don’t care why he says it,” Fletcher said on a jailhouse call with Knight, according to a transcript shown in court. “And if somewhere down the road they say, ‘Oh, they gave us $50 racks,’ say, ‘OK, well prove that s—.’”

Fletcher has repeatedly claimed the case against him is the result of a vendetta held by the lead investigator in the case, L.A. County sheriff’s Det. Frances Hardiman.

While testifying in his own defense, Fletcher yelled that Hardiman had been “trying to get me for 10 years.”

At one point during the trial when the jury was not present, Hardiman suggested to the judge that jurors should hear about an incident in which an undercover operative tried to get Fletcher to accept methamphetamine as payment for legal services. Hardiman claimed Fletcher responded to the offer by saying he had bought and sold far more drugs in his life than the informant was offering.

Fletcher laughed at the detective and said, “I knew he was undercover.”

In the lead up to the trial, Alexandra Kazarian, an attorney assisting Fletcher in his case, also tried to portray Hardiman as a rogue detective with questionable credibility. In a court filing, she accused Hardiman and his partner, Richard Biddle, of routinely “threatening criminal action against defense attorneys and criminal justice reform advocates who they view as ‘interfering’ with their cases.”

She pointed to a homicide case in Compton last year where Hardiman arrested defense attorney Naren Hunter on suspicion of obstruction of justice. Hunter did not respond to a request for comment and the district attorney’s office said only that it has not yet decided whether to file charges against him.

Kazarian also wrote that Fletcher and Hardiman have a “long and tumultuous history.” In one incident, she alleged, Hardiman threatened a witness who refused to cooperate in a case in which Fletcher was defending a high-ranking member of the Mexican Mafia.

“I will run you over like a train to get what I want, OK?” Hardiman said to the woman, according to the motion Kazarian filed.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Phil Stirling, who helped prosecute Fletcher, downplayed Kazarian’s claims, saying Hardiman and Fletcher crossed paths only on the Knight investigation and the Mexican Mafia case.

And Hardiman’s comment to the witness about the train, Stirling said, was a “metaphor,” which Fletcher and Kazarian had taken out of context.

In his closing arguments last week, Mrakich said Fletcher is incapable of telling the truth. He told jurors they should believe what they heard Fletcher say on the recordings, not his explanations of what he meant.

“I think you can safely say if Mr. Fletcher is standing and his mouth is open and he’s saying something … it’s false,” Mrakich said. “He lies about his own lies.”

But Fletcher maintains it is prosecutors who are being dishonest. Despite all of the recordings they played of his conversations, Fletcher repeatedly noted prosecutors had failed to present a witness who testified Fletcher offered them money or asked them to lie for Knight.

“You bring in one witness who says that,” Fletcher said repeatedly during the trial. “And I’ll plead guilty.”

Times staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian contributed to this report.

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