With things inside the courtroom looking dicey, Sean 'Puffy' Combs took his case to the street Friday, making his first public pronouncement since his gun and bribery trial got rolling last month.
'I want to profess my innocence,' the 31-year-old rapper, arguably the most powerful man in hip-hop, told reporters outside the courtroom. 'I look forward to next week when the defense is heard and we put on our case and you get to hear all of the facts,' he added.
Puffy needs to pull out some serious facts if he wants to counter the damning testimony heard over the past few weeks, especially that of the prosecution's star witness, the rapper's ex-driver Wardell Fenderson, who just finished his time on the stand Friday.
Under vicious cross-examination by Combs' lead attorney Benjamin Brafman, Fenderson refused to back off his claim that Puffy had a gun on December 27, 1999, when a firefight broke out in a New York club wounding three bystanders, and that the Bad Boy Entertainment mogul offered the driver a substantial bribe to take the fall in the case.
Combs and his bodyguard, Anthony 'Wolf' Jones, 34, are charged with two counts of gun possession. One count for a gun police found in the rapper's Lincoln Navigator, and the second for a weapon allegedly flung out of the SUV's window as police gave chase. Neither Jennifer Lopez, the car's other occupant, nor Fenderson, who turned state's evidence, was charged. Jamal 'Shyne' Barrow, a 21-year-old rapper Combs had been grooming for Bad Boy, is facing three counts of attempted murder for allegedly shooting the victims.
On Friday, Fenderson, 42, reiterated his claims that after the shooting, while he and the rapper were in police custody, Puff Daddy offered him $50,000 in exchange for the driver telling police the gun found in the SUV belonged to him. He said the rapper begged him 'easily over a dozen times' to take the heat for the gun.
'The plan was for me to hurry my admission so that all of them could be released,' Fenderson said. 'He didn't want Jennifer Lopez to be hurt by this.' Lopez, Fenderson said, 'looked like she also was in a state of shock' at the time.
The chauffeur said Combs offered his jewel-studded pinky ring--a $300,000 birthday gift from then-girlfriend Lopez--as collateral. Fenderson said he eventually relented and told police the gun was his, but later recanted and agreed to testify against his boss--a decision that cost him his job.
'I was not in a rational state of mind,' Fenderson said. 'I was a deer in headlights; I didn't know which way to go.'
Brafman also suggested that Fenderson, who owes several thousand dollars in child support, switched his story to cash in on Combs' fortune. Fenderson has filed a $3 million civil suit against Puffy over the incident.
The court will be dark until next Tuesday. Prosecutors have three more witnesses to go before they wrap their case on Wednesday (they've called 36 so far). The defense, meanwhile, says it has 20 witnesses to call likely beginning Thursday. It is still not known if Lopez will testify (she's listed as a potential witness for both sides) and Branfman and fellow counsel Johnnie Cochran still are weighing whether to put Puffy on the stand.
But Combs says he's more than willing to give his side in front of the five-woman, seven-man jury, telling reporters 'I have nothing to hide.'
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