Marion "Suge" Knight has been issued his latest get out of jail card.
The rap mogul, behind bars since December 23, was released from jail Wednesday morning after a state prison board voted to drop four of the five charges against him. He was incarcerated after allegedly hanging with gang members--a big parole no-no.
"Suge Knight's a free man, and we're definitely very happy to have him back," said publicist Jonathan Wolfson.
Under the terms of his parole, Knight was prohibited from keeping company with known gang members outside of work. If he had been found in violation, he could have received up to a year in the slammer.
But in the end, the board decided to uphold only one count--consorting with an alleged gang member--and ordered Knight to perform 200 hours of anti-gang community service. He'll also get credit for 61 days served.
"After reviewing all of the facts, we made the decision we believe needed to be made," Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the California Board of Prison Terms, told the Los Angeles Times.
During a seven-hour closed-door session Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles, the three-person parole panel examined evidence and heard testimony from Knight, as well as 10 other witnesses, both for and against his release.
Police detectives and parole officials testified that Knight should return to the big house because they believed he had hired gang members who were involved in a number of deadly shootings around town. To that end, police raided Knight's offices and several of his residences in connection with one of the murder investigations.
Speaking in his own defense, Knight denied any ties to gang activity and insisted he has stayed clean since getting out of jail in August 2001.
A number of character witnesses came to Knight's defense. Reverend Cecil Murray, head of the First AME Church in Los Angeles, said that Knight often employed ex-cons from his hometown of Compton at his record label, Tha Row (formerly Death Row Records), to get them off the street.
Another attorney, Richard Schoenfeld, testified that parole officials assured him and Knight that putting gang members to work at the label did not constitute a violation--that is, unless they socialized after hours.
In the end, the lone charge accorded the burly businessman stemmed from his association with Tim "Timmy Ru" McDonald, a security guard and alleged gang member who worked for Tha Row.
Knight reportedly told the panel that he only drove McDonald to the hospital to visit his brother, Alton, who had been wounded in a drive-by shooting and later died. Knight ended up being nabbed by police in the hospital parking lot.
But the board didn't buy the rap kingpin's argument.
"Mr. Knight was only allowed to associate with Mr. McDonald at work and was not allowed to drive him after work to the hospital. That was a violation," said Sessa. "In the future, most of the community service that Mr. Knight will be required to do is aimed at gang abatement, that is, persuading other people not to get involved in gangs."
Considering Knight's track record, it was good news.
The man responsible for helping define the gun-toting, gold-chained image of West Coast gangsta rap and turning it into a commercial and cultural force, was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1996. He was sent to the lockup after being found in violation of parole for allegedly kicking a man in the head during a Las Vegas hotel brawl.
He spent five years in prison before getting paroled again two years ago.
Now that's he's a free man again, Knight will be getting down to business releasing Tha Row's latest disc, the soundtrack for Eddie Griffin's upcoming documentary, Dys-funk-tional Family, featuring cuts from Ja Rule, Ashanti and Jay-Z. The CD's due out March 25.