LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight pleaded no contest in a Los Angeles court on Thursday to a charge of manslaughter for a 2015 hit-and-run killing, accepting a 28-year prison sentence under a deal with prosecutors days before his murder trial was to begin.
In pleading no contest, equivalent to a guilty plea under California law, the 53-year-old co-founder of influential hip-hop label Death Row Records admitted using a "deadly and dangerous weapon" when he ran down two men with his pickup truck.
One of the victims, 55-year-old Terry Carter, later died of his injuries. The second man, Cle "Bone" Sloan, was left with a badly mangled left foot and head injuries.
The deadly confrontation occurred on Jan. 29, 2015, outside a hamburger stand in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, following a heated argument on the set of a commercial for the film "Straight Outta Compton."
Knight, who was out on bail in a robbery case at the time, fled the scene but was later arrested.
Had Knight been convicted of murder and attempted murder as originally charged, he would have faced a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison. Jury selection in the murder trial had been set to start on Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
As part of the agreement to plead no contest to a single count of voluntary manslaughter, all other charges in the case were dropped. Two separate criminal cases in which he was charged with robbery and making criminal threats will also be dismissed when he is formally sentenced on Oct. 4, prosecutors said.
Knight's lawyers previously contended he accidentally struck the two men with his vehicle while trying to flee what he thought was an ambush attempt.
But prosecutors said Knight traded punches with Sloan through the window of his truck before putting the vehicle into reverse, knocking Sloan and Carter to the ground, then pulling forward to run over both men. The incident was captured on videotape by the restaurant's surveillance cameras.
Knight, sporting a graying beard and wearing an orange jail uniform and dark-rimmed glasses, said little during Thursday's proceedings, mostly giving one- or two-word answers to a series of procedural questions from Superior Court Judge Ronald Coen.
But at one point when asked by the judge if he understood his plea could lead to deportation were he not a U.S. citizen, Knight joked: "Is ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) gonna come and get me?"
Knight has long been known as much for his run-ins with the law and brushes with violence and as for his career as a rap music executive who promoted the likes of Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur in the 1990s.
Knight was sent to prison in October 1996 for violating probation on a previous assault case when he allegedly kicked a man during a scuffle at a Las Vegas hotel.
That scuffle in September 1996 took place hours before Shakur was shot to death in a drive-by attack while riding in a car with Knight after a Mike Tyson boxing match. Knight, who was at the wheel, was slightly wounded himself.
Months later, rap artist Christopher Wallace, known as Notorious B.I.G. and signed to a rival record label, was shot to death in Los Angeles.
Knight, who was incarcerated at the time, was named by police a few years later as a suspect in the Wallace slaying but was never charged. Both rap murders remain unsolved.
Knight was released from prison in April 2001.
The following year, a federal racketeering probe of Knight and his record label, stemming from allegations of murder, drug trafficking, money laundering and gun running, was closed with the company pleading guilty to misdemeanor tax charges.
In addition to being injured in the Shakur slaying, Knight was shot and wounded during a party at a Miami Beach nightspot in 2005 and in 2014 at a West Hollywood nightclub.
Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Peter Cooney