Only one witness claims Combs had a gun

By Lori L. Tharps
February 05, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

Russell Simmons was in the house on Thursday — the courthouse that is. The Phat Farm/ Def Jam exec slipped quietly into the back of room 733 in New York State Superior Court to show support for his friend Sean ”Puffy” Combs, now on trial for weapons and bribery charges stemming from an incident at a New York City night club in 1999.

Clad in one of his trademark Phat Farm argyle sweaters, Simmons sat with Combs’ friends and family for both the morning and afternoon court sessions. During the lunch recess, he took the opportunity to tell reporters what he thought of the case against Combs. ”[The prosecutors are] reaching, and it’s obvious they’re reaching,” Simmons said. Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos disagreed, alleging that on the night when shots were fired at Club New York, Combs had a gun. And then after being arrested by police, Combs tried to bribe his driver into claiming the gun was his. Saying he’d never known Combs to carry a weapon, Simmons added definitively, ”I’m sure [Puffy] didn’t have a gun.” When asked to comment on Combs’ present state of mind, Simmons characterized his friend as ”pretty upbeat and confident.”

Based on what’s been happening inside the courtroom during the first week of this star studded trial, Combs may have good reason to be optimistic. Of the 11 prosecution witnesses heard from so far — including a police officer, a ballistics expert, and one of the victims who was shot in the club that night — only one person has indicated she saw the Bad Boy impresario with a gun on that fateful night.

Tarnisha Smith, 24, a patron at Club New York on Dec. 26, 1999, said during her testimony on Friday that after the shooting she saw Puffy running out of the club with something black in his hand, which at the time she believed was a gun. Smith made it clear, however, that she never saw Combs use the gun, and she fingered Combs’ codefendant, Jamal ”Shyne” Barrow, as the evening’s gunman. During cross examination, though, Smith admitted she had pieced together the events in question through a combination of what her friends had told her and what she herself remembered. Smith also admitted she had read and heard several accounts of the incident in the media, which may have influenced her memory.

The week’s final prosecution witness, Rashane Delvalle, 27, also admitted to being influenced by the media. When asked why he had come forward to testify, he responded, ” I wanted to help Mr. Combs because I didn’t think it was fair the way he was portrayed in the media.” Delvalle, who witnessed the altercation, also fingered Shyne as the lone shooter, and added that he never saw Puffy with a gun. Combs and his lawyers have always maintained that each of the allegations against him is false.

The trial is expected to continue for at least three or four more weeks.