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Attorneys for Suge Knight indicted on charges tied to alleged witness tampering

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Attorney Thaddeus Culpepper argues during a hearing for Marion “Suge” Knight in Los Angeles, Calif. on Feb. 1, 2018. Culpepper and Matthew Fletcher appeared in a downtown courtroom Monday morning where they were charged with conspiracy following accusations of witness tampering. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Two attorneys who have represented Marion “Suge” Knight at various stages of his upcoming murder trial were indicted Monday following accusations of witness tampering that have roiled the case since last year.

Thaddeus Culpepper and Matthew Fletcher appeared in a downtown courtroom Monday morning where they were charged with conspiracy, according to a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. A charge of accessory after the fact to the 2015 murder Knight is accused of was also filed, though it was not immediately clear which attorney was accused of that count.

A grand jury returned the indictment against both men in recent weeks, prosecutors said in court.

In a court filing made public last year, prosecutors accused Culpepper of agreeing to pay a man for “testimony that he was present at the time of the crime and (witnessed) evidence favorable to the defense.” Unbeknownst to Culpepper, the man was actually an informant for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Judge Scott Gordon released both men on their own recognizance, and an arraignment was scheduled for March 16. Neither man entered a plea, but both have previously denied wrongdoing in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Knight has remained jailed in downtown Los Angeles since January 2015, when he rammed his truck into two men at a famous Compton burger stand after a dispute on the set of the N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton.” Terry Carter, 55, died of his injuries. Another man, 52-year-old Cle “Bone” Sloan, survived.

Knight has pleaded not guilty and claimed self-defense. His attorneys have repeatedly argued that either the victims or someone else at Tam’s Burgers, where the crash took place, had a gun. Prosecutors say the evidence does not support that claim and a gun was never recovered.

His murder trial is scheduled to begin next month, and the years leading up to it have been marked by legal drama and accusations of misconduct. Knight has cycled through at least five attorneys in connection with the looming murder case, a 2014 robbery case that also involved comedian Micah “Katt” Williams and accusations that he threatened to harm the director of “Straight Outta Compton.”

In August, prosecutors filed a 22-page motion accusing Knight, his fiancee, and several attorneys of discussing potential witness tampering during jailhouse phone calls. A judge had previously signed an order that allowed investigators to listen to the calls, which normally would have been protected by attorney-client privilege, after the Sheriff’s Department developed information that Knight might be involved in witness tampering.

According to transcripts of the recorded calls, which took place when Fletcher was still the attorney of record in the murder case, the attorney made references to paying witnesses to say they saw firearms at the scene.

“And you all went over there and you saw these guns removed from these two people,” Fletcher said, according to the motion. “Yes, yes. Fine, dude, you’re done. Here’s your money.”

Knight’s fiancee, Toi-Lin Kelly, also said Fletcher had put “bread” out to get witnesses to come forward, presumably referring to cash, according to the motion. Kelly was sentenced to three years in jail for a probation violation earlier this year, after she had been accused of violating a court order by leaking video of the car crash to celebrity website TMZ.

The motion filed last year also detailed how a confidential informant working for the Sheriff’s Department approached Knight on a prison transport bus in 2016.

“I’m on my way home, blood. … Anything you need,” the informant said to Knight, according to the transcript.

Knight instructed the man to get in touch with one of his attorneys. The next day, the informant visited Fletcher’s offices in Long Beach, and the two later spoke by phone. At one point, Fletcher suggested gaining helpful testimony might cost money, according to the filing.

“These … got a price; let’s get that … price paid,” Fletcher said, according to the transcript. “I told Suge, ‘You can always make some more money, you can’t make any more freedom though.’”

The informant contacted Fletcher a week later, according to the motion, which did not include a transcript of their phone call. Culpepper allegedly offered the man money in exchange for his testimony, prosecutors alleged last year.

Both Fletcher and Culpepper have denied all wrongdoing. Culpepper has said any comments he made about paying potential witnesses had to do with expert testimony fees or covering expenses. He has also accused prosecutors of throwing dirt at Knight’s attorneys in order to discourage people from speaking out on Knight’s behalf.

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