In 1993, Tupac Shakur had the world in his hands—until he was charged with sexual abuse. The trial consumed headlines for nearly a year, but there’s still so much we don’t know. For the first time, a juror is speaking out about what happened inside the jury room, raising powerful questions about race, criminal justice, and the mistreatment of women that echo today.
Tupac Shakur Sexual Abuse Trial: 1994-95
Defendants: Tupac Shakur and Charles Fuller
Crimes Charged: Sexual abuse, sodomy, and illegal possession of a firearm
Chief Defense Lawyer: Michael Warren
Chief Prosecutor: Francine James
Judge: Daniel P. Fitzgerald
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trial: November-December 1994
Verdict: Guilty of sexual abuse; acquitted on the two other charges
Sentence: Shakur: 18 months to 4 and one-half years imprisonment; Fuller: 4 months imprisonment and 5 years probation
Tupac Shakur was one of the world’s top-selling hip-hop artists and a burgeoning movie star in 1993 when he was charged with sexual abuse for an incident that occurred inside a New York hotel room. The case went on for nearly a year, during which time Shakur would survive a shooting, and resulted in his conviction at trial for first-degree sexual abuse. He would serve nine months of a four-and-a-half-year maximum sentence, which would mark the beginning of his tragic downfall. This excerpt adapted from a forthcoming oral history follows the artist’s story through this turbulent chapter.
Justin Tinsley (The Undefeated staff writer): Think about where Tupac was in the summer of 1993. He’s becoming this household name. Juice was a cult classic. Pac was already known by the federal government, not just because of his last name but because former vice president Dan Quayle wanted [his debut album] 2Pacalypse Now taken off the shelves. Poetic Justice is set to hit theaters later that year. Now he’s in New York filming what will be his third major role, Above the Rim, and spending time with these movers and shakers.
Charisse Jones (former New York Times staff writer, USA Today correspondent, coauthor of Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America): On the one hand, you’re seeing him in Above the Rim, and he’s got this amazing career that is taking off in a direction that was unprecedented. At that time, you didn’t have a lot of rappers who were crossing those boundaries. It was such a surprising thing to see at that time. It was like, God, I hope he can keep this going. I hope he doesn’t shatter that. I was also starting to worry a little bit that this guy’s got the world in his hands, but he’s juggling it. What’s going to happen?
Justin Tinsley: If you were in New York in the nineties and you were in the know, you knew Haitian Jack. Jack knew all of the party promoters. Jack knew all of the DJs. Jack was fly. Jack was flashy. Jack had no problem putting holes in people. Tupac said that the role of Birdie in Above the Rim was inspired by Jack. It was great, until it wasn’t. Pac picked up a lot of game from Jack, and Jack says he really enjoyed hanging out with Tupac. Pac became really embedded in that New York underworld, and once you open Pandora’s box, you can’t put shit back in there. Eventually, some real street shit is gonna happen, and lines will be drawn in the sand.
The night of the sexual assault incident was November 18, 1993. Literally three weeks before that, Pac is in Atlanta and he shoots two off-duty police officers because he sees them accosting a Black driver. At that point in time, you would think that him shooting two off-duty police officers would be the biggest legal hurdle. But that November, he’s introduced to Ayanna Jackson at Nell’s [a Manhattan nightclub that closed in 2004]. Allegedly, they go to a corner of the club to perform oral sex. Then they go back to his hotel and they have consensual sex. I think that part is pretty much accepted. Everything after that is all about who you choose to believe. I truly believe—and I’m not exercising any hyperbole when I say this—this is the single most impactful, consequential case in rap history. Because the chain of events that happens after November 18 alters the course of rap.
Four days after the incident at Nell’s, Ayanna Jackson returned to Tupac’s hotel suite. The two were there with Tupac’s manager, Charles “Man Man” Fuller; Haitian Jack; and a friend of Jack’s who remained unidentified. Jackson claimed that she was forced to perform oral sex on Tupac while Jack undressed her and then she was forced to perform oral sex on Jack’s friend while Tupac held her down. Tupac claimed that he left the room when the other men came in and didn’t see what happened after. Jackson sought out hotel security, and Tupac, Jack, and Fuller were arrested. The unidentified man was never located. Tupac and Fuller were charged with first-degree sexual abuse, sodomy, and illegal possession of a firearm. (Police found two guns in the hotel room.) Haitian Jack’s case was separated, and he later pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Tupac’s trial began in November 1994.
Richard Devitt (juror in Tupac’s sexual-abuse case): I lived in Manhattan for nearly twenty years, ending in 2002. This was one of a number of times that I was called to jury duty. A reminder of the way New York state law works: The jurors all had to be from the same county in which the crime occurred. Manhattan is its own county, so everyone on the jury was a Manhattanite.
There were two older women on the jury. One of them, this older Jewish lady, was really non compos mentis. She was really not fit to be a juror. She didn’t remember things. She wanted to get out of New York and get to her condo in Florida. That’s all she cared about—“Can we just vote on this now?” She would vote guilty or not guilty depending on the majority. She didn’t care if he was acquitted or not, or on what charge. There was a younger Jewish lady who was a nice lady, who I became somewhat friendly with during the trial, who was sitting right next to her, who turned to me at several points and said, “You know, she’s senile. She doesn’t know what’s going on here.” The other older lady was much more of a force to be reckoned with. I remember during the jury selection, boy, she really wanted to be on this jury. You could just tell that she wanted to give all the right answers. I had a number of conversations with her over the course of the long period, because we were sequestered. She positioned herself once we got into the jury room at the head of the table, this lady, and she really tried to preside over things even though she was not the jury foreman.
She had worked in Manhattan. She lived in an upper-middle-class apartment complex on the East Side. She was retired. She had never been married. She was a devout, extreme, right-wing Roman Catholic. She was very religious, very conservative, no experience with relations with the opposite sex. Her social knowledge seemed to have been frozen in 1943.
Here was her position on the whole thing: This poor, poor girl. He was her ideal. He was her star. He was her guiding light that she looked up to and she respected and she fully expected him to marry her, and this is how he betrayed her. That was her entire theory of the case, and she never let go of that theory. She was the one who kept us in there forever. Had it not been for her, we would have acquitted on all counts. She was the reason we deliberated for so long. She would not back down an inch; she wouldn’t concede a single point.
A younger woman was trying to tell her people do have sex outside of marriage and they even have casual sex without intending to get married. She didn’t buy that. This was too nice of a girl for that kind of thing. That’s how she would frame it; this was not that kind of a girl. You could see how well-dressed this girl was, and she worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and she was well presented, and she was very soft-spoken, and she’s not the kind of girl that would have sex unless she was absolutely determined that she was going to be marrying this guy, and that’s what he must have led her to believe. She was starstruck.
So that was her.
There was another guy there who was a pastor. I don’t know if he was Black, Hispanic, or Black-Hispanic. He was my roommate during the sequester. But he and I didn’t really speak all that much because he was a very soft-spoken gentleman. He was probably in his late thirties. Very nice man. He had a congregation somewhere uptown. I don’t remember where.
He was very deliberate. I would say very fair-minded. He would ask questions, but they were always pointed questions. What surprised me was, in the end, whenever we took a vote, he was always voting in Tupac’s favor. When we first introduced ourselves to each other and got to know each other, I thought, This guy, he’s religious. He’s from a conservative Protestant sect. He is probably going to be really against this kind of out-of-wedlock thing, and he’s probably judgmental of hip-hop and thug life and all of that. He may have been all those things, but he stuck to the facts all the time.
There was a little NYU girl. She was a white girl. She was twenty-one, shy but very sweet. She thought the whole thing was ridiculous, that Tupac was on trial for this. “The girl knew what she was doing, and Tupac didn’t do anything to her, regardless of what happened with the other guys in the room,” she said. The girl never claimed at the time that the manager even touched her. She was like, “What are we trying here?” That was her opinion.
There was a Black woman who was in her late twenties. She vociferously stood up for Tupac. She had many arguments with the older woman sat at the head of the table.
Charisse Jones: You live the moment now and it’s hard to believe, in a way. Everything was one way, and then it changed. Post-change you’re like, How was it ever like that? That was soooo far before Me Too. It was so far before the reckoning for R. Kelly and these other folks, and the reckoning for R. Kelly took a long time. But at the time, for many, it wasn’t even in your rearview mirror that you should maybe look at it and condemn what this guy had been accused of doing.
Richard Devitt: I have to remark upon the fact that times have changed so much, with the Me Too movement and everything, that today, the event that night would be seen as egregious. We’ve come a long way from when I was a kid, with regards to women and charges of rape. This was the nineties—a long ways from when I was a kid, but we weren’t where we are today. The question of consent was very much on people’s minds at the time.
I was not personally very impressed with Tupac’s attorney. He mainly did the down and dirty thing that defense attorneys do in a rape case. It turned out that there was an event that happened at Nell’s, down the street from where I lived, on Fourteenth Street. [Jackson] had oral sex with Tupac, and Tupac’s attorney made her go through what happened between them on the dance floor in very graphic detail. He had her go through that step by step. “He whispered in your ear, ‘Would you like to do this?’ and what did you say?”
“I said, ‘Yes.’ ”
“Then what happened?”
“He put his hand on my shoulder and I knelt down in front of him,” or along those lines.
“And then what happened?”
“He took out his penis.” Her voice got quiet.
“And then what happened?”
“I put my mouth on it.”
“And then what? Did you like it?”
And she said, “Yes.”
If you’ve ever been in a courtroom, you may know that the court reporter has no reason to speak up. In this case, she did. I think it was a statement on her part. When he asked her, “Did you like it?” and the girl said, “Yes,” the court reporter said, “I’m sorry, Your Honor, I didn’t catch that. Would you have the witness repeat it, please?” And she made her repeat that. The fact that the court reporter did that made quite an impression. It made an impression in the jury room later on, and it made an impression on me at the time.
Justin Tinsley: Obviously, our conversations around rape and sexual assault are night-and-day different compared with what they were in 1993 and 1994. If you go back and read the articles from that time, there were a lot of people, men and women, who sided with Tupac. Even back then, to the people who were really astute and aware of Tupac, he felt like so much more than a rapper. He felt like a ghetto Lazarus to a lot of people. The thought of being remembered as a rapist deeply haunted him. In the Ed Gordon interview [on BET], he says, “I can’t leave until people actually know that I am not guilty of this.”
Even still, something happened in that hotel room. Something clearly happened. In the Vibe interview [from 1995], he said, “Even though I’m innocent of the charge they gave me, I’m not innocent in terms of the way I was acting. I don’t know if she was with these niggas or if she’s mad at me for not protecting her, but I feel ashamed because I wanted to be accepted. I didn’t want no harm done to me. I didn’t say anything.” So there is this level of responsibility there. Regardless of what anyone believes did or did not happen that night, Tupac said it himself: He didn’t do enough to stop it. At best, he looked the other way. Those aren’t my words. Those aren’t your words. These are his exact words.
When we think about this case, we’ve got to look at all entry points, all levels of complexities, because it’s not just “Did he do this?” Maybe he didn’t. But in his own words, he was complicit in what happened. Tupac feared for himself and protected himself over protecting Ayanna Jackson.
Over the course of 1994, Tupac is telling basically anyone who will listen, “I’m innocent. I did not do this.” Whether it’s on Arsenio Hall, whether it’s Ed Gordon, whether it’s outside the courtroom the day before he’s shot at Quad. November 18 leads to Quad; he’s calling out all these street dudes in the media, calling out all the hangers-on. He’s like, All these guys were in the room when this incident happened; why am I the only one on trial? His angst with that is understandable. But, again, you’re in that underworld. There are going to be consequences.
n November 30, 1994, while recording verses for a Ron G mixtape, Tupac received a message on his pager from the manager Jimmy Henchman, who years later would be convicted of running a massive drug operation and conspiracy to commit murder. Tupac had agreed to do a verse for Henchman’s client Little Shawn at Quad Studios in Manhattan. When Tupac arrived in the lobby, he was robbed at gunpoint. He resisted and was shot five times. Sean “Puffy” Combs and the Notorious B.I.G. were both upstairs in the studio working on an album for Biggie’s group Junior M.A.F.I.A.; Tupac believed Puffy and Biggie to be among those responsible. Only a few hours after surgery, fearing further attacks, Tupac checked out of Bellevue Hospital Center. Two days later, he received the jury’s verdict.
Richard Devitt: Even the older woman who really wanted to crucify Tupac, regardless of whatever he may or may not have done, she even dismissed the gun charges immediately. When we first went into the jury room, the gun charges were dismissed in minutes. The gun that they entered as evidence was a different-colored gun. That and various other details about the gun, which I no longer recall, made us immediately discount those gun charges. We all felt, even the most conservative, that the guns had been planted there by the cops. Everybody believed that.
The cops who testified, frankly, I didn’t believe a word of what they said. I don’t think any of the jury did either. They just didn’t come across as believable, and it was felt that they had an ax to grind. I do recall that they admitted to the fact that they were basically stalking Tupac. There were a number of them around the hotel. They were out to get Tupac, and it was obvious. He was in town to make a music video, and they hounded him all over town. Because eventually, when he was shot in the middle of the whole thing, they were at his side thirty seconds after he was shot. It was just phenomenal. The feeling at the time was that he was shot by one of the cops. That wasn’t discussed in the jury room, but I remember people speculating afterward. We didn’t feel that the cops were being fair to him at all.
Justin Tinsley: Of course Tupac is gonna be the one to catch the brunt of everything. He’s Tupac Shakur. He’d just shot at two off-duty police officers. The federal government knows who he is and hates him. At some point they’re gonna be waiting on you to slip up.
Richard Devitt: We were sequestered in a hotel, a really shabby place. The city of New York didn’t have a lot of money. It was a roach-infested place, like a Holiday Inn, outside Kennedy Airport. We were bused there in a police van with our armed guards the entire time back and forth. We actually ate at the place with the guards standing around the table. We all had to be at one big table. They made sure that when we walked in, there were guards standing in front of the newsstand. We didn’t look at any newspapers. The TVs were taken out of our rooms. So we were incommunicado. We had no idea whatsoever what happened. So the next day after it happened and they came into the courtroom—as always, when we would come into the courtroom, the jury was the last to arrive—we came in and right away, we noticed that Tupac was not there.
So the judge turns to us and he says, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury”—and I’m paraphrasing—“I would like to instruct you that the defendant will be arriving shortly and you are to make no inferences whatsoever about his appearance. You are not to discuss his appearance afterward when you deliberate. His appearance today has nothing to do with the events that occurred during what he’s accused of.” Then they wheeled Tupac in in a wheelchair. I was like, Whoa, what happened here? We glanced at one another. I remember being incredibly curious as to what went on. But it didn’t have any effect on our deliberations. Nobody speculated on it in the jury room. Nobody called attention to it. We—with the exception of the Catholic lady and her old-lady friend who would sometimes join her—repeatedly voted to acquit on all the charges because it was felt that Tupac wasn’t even in the room when the abuse occurred. Whether somebody else or the rest of them gang-raped or not is irrelevant to this case.
So we thought Tupac was definitely not guilty of anything at all. We were very close to saying hung jury. Hour after hour after hour; you have no idea how tedious it was. We actually sent a note out at one point that said, We’re having difficulty coming to a decision, Your Honor. We wanted to know about how a hung jury would work. He sent a note back that said keep going. After that, we went a whole other day with this woman.
I said, “This is ridiculous. This is not going anywhere. We cannot make a decision here. Let’s just say a hung jury.”
A lot of people threw up their hands and said, “All right.”
The old lady said, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, does this mean he’s going to go free?! Is that what you people want? He’s got ‘Thug Life’ written on his stomach. Is that what you want? Somebody like that roaming the streets?”
She gave this nearly hysterical speech about how there’ll be other women who are victimized and the message we were sending to young people. She was virtually arguing that whether this guy is guilty or not guilty, the details of this case are virtually irrelevant. Because it’s the message that you’re going to be sending that’s the key. She said, “I will not allow you to say this is a hung jury.”
We were like, “Listen, we’re just not going to go any further, okay?”
She said, “There’s the fourth-degree thing. You have to admit that something did happen to this girl, right?”
Our knowledge of fourth-degree sexual assault was that if you put your hands on somebody in a bar or something like that, that’s fourth-degree sexual assault. People went around the table and said things like, “Well, how much time will he get for a conviction like that?” I think we may have even sent a note out to the judge asking about that. The answer came back that he couldn’t talk to us about the sentencing or the sentencing potential. That’s irrelevant. You’re to judge the facts of the case and the facts only.
The feeling among the majority of people was that Well, this is a pretty minor charge. Did he really get four years for that?
hough jurors considered an even lesser charge, Tupac was ultimately convicted of first-degree sexual abuse and sentenced to one and a half to four and a half years in prison. During the sentencing, Justice Daniel P. Fitzgerald said, “This was an act of brutal violence against a helpless woman.” Addressing the judge, Tupac said, “I mean this with no disrespect, Judge—you never paid attention to me. You never looked in my eyes. You never used the wisdom of Solomon. I always felt you had something against me.”
Richard Devitt: As the judge was wrapping up, he turned to the jury, and he said, “There’s no law preventing you from speaking to the press, but I would like to tell you that it’s not a very pleasant experience. You may find that there’s personal repercussions from having that kind of visibility. So, if you wish, I would advise you to leave the courtroom by one of the side doors so you don’t encounter the press who are waiting outside. You’ve been sequestered, so you don’t realize that there will be TV cameras and print reporters and a lot of press there.”
Most of the jury went out one side door and avoided the press. This NYU girl and I, I don’t know why, but we chose the other side. When we came out the door, boom, there we were, just me and her in front of this whole scrum of reporters and cameras and lights. She was scared and she put her arm around my waist. One of the reporters said, “Is this a sequestered-jury love story like we had in the Bernie Goetz trial?”
I said, “No, no, no, no, no. We’re just friends.”
So I did most of the talking, and she just kept her arm around my waist and she was shivering, she was so scared, but it was cold, too.
The reporter for MTV was right in the middle of the scrum in the front. He went down on one knee and held out his microphone to me. I was sort of aiming my comments at him because he was the one right in front of my face. First thing he asked me was: “There were two older women on this jury. Do you feel that two older people were really competent to understand the music and the culture behind hip-hop?”
I, perhaps suffering from Stockholm syndrome myself, was far too generous to these two old ladies. I did not want to throw a wrench into the works and get myself in trouble by saying one of them was completely senile and had no idea what was going on most of the time and the other one was a right-wing revolutionary who wanted to lock up every Black male that she could get her hands on. I was far too generous. I said, “Well, you know, there were two older women here, but remember, this is Manhattan. They’re not completely unsophisticated. They know a little bit more about the world.” That was wrong. I don’t know why I said that. Maybe because I was trying to protect them or protect the jury.
In retrospect, would I have said anything different? Probably not, because of the implications. It might have ended up in a mistrial had I said, “Listen, one of them was senile; the other one wanted to crucify Tupac no matter what.” I just didn’t think that was the appropriate thing to say, even though it was the truth.
I said that, and unbeknownst to me, I was on every local-news broadcast that night, and I was on MTV News with Kurt Loder. My brother lives in Pennsylvania. He was shaving the next morning, and he said he had on MTV and all of a sudden, he said, “I heard your voice from the other room.”
Charisse Jones: I think that it was a very racialized paradigm. I think that because he was hated by cops, because he was this fledgling rap icon becoming a movie star, there was a protectiveness around him, which obviously does a great disservice to the woman who was abused. I think there’s been a real awakening since then with R. Kelly and all of that, but at that time, I feel that Black women felt that they had to be loyal to this young brother. Even though they were, in doing that, denying the humanity and the emotion that this young woman had to be going through, having experienced this terrible assault. I got the sense that people were kind of Team Tupac, especially because he was a young Black man who was being vilified by some in the white community.
Richard Devitt: As soon as I got back to work, I hadn’t even gotten my coat off when three Black women walked into my office and shut the door behind them. They were furious at the girl. My own secretary, Michelle, was from Queens. She said, “What the hell is wrong with that girl? She walks into a room, there’s five men there, and there was a gun on the table. Why the hell didn’t she just turn around and walk out of there?” They were vehemently in support of Tupac, and they were mad at me for convicting him. I said, “Listen, I wanted to acquit on all charges. Most of the people in the room did. There were a couple of people there that kept us there forever. So that’s what we ended up with.” Still, the MTV reporter had asked if the verdict was a compromise, and he was right. It was a compromise.
Tupac and Fuller were convicted of first-degree sexual abuse, but they were acquitted of weapons and sodomy charges. Haitian Jack was later deported to Haiti after an unrelated conviction. Tupac’s conviction changed not only his trajectory but the trajectory of a still-nascent genre. It was the first domino in a series leading to both a moratorium for West Coast rap and the wider genre’s commercial explosion. But for Tupac specifically, it put an increasingly paranoid rapper in the clutches of a man who encouraged his worst impulses, Suge Knight, beginning what may have been an inevitable demise. The confluence of circumstances—his sentencing, the Quad shooting, releasing the album that made him a star as he served time in maximum-security prison—led to him signing with the volatile label Death Row Records, kicking off a combustible two-year stretch that subsequently coronated two coastal kings in Tupac and Biggie, pitted their camps against each other in a violent feud, and eventually left both men dead and martyred. The hip-hop culture that remained in the wake of all the bloodshed would take years to fully recover.