A former music executive on trial for murder had been "thirsty for blood" as he drove past 50 Cent's apartment on the Hudson River, a key government witness testified Friday, before his credibility crumbled on cross-examination.
Already serving life after an unrelated 2012 federal trial in Brooklyn, James "Jimmy the Henchman" Rosemond faces a new jury weighing whether he paid goons drugs and cash to kill Lowell Fletcher, affiliated with 50 Cent's crew G-Unit.
Prosecutors called cooperating witness Mohammad Stewart to make the case that the former hip-hop manager ordered Fletcher's murder on Sept. 7, 2009, as payback for an assault on his 14-year-old son.
Stewart has been cooperating with the government since April 16, 2010, the same day that three branches of federal agents arrested him on drug- and firearm-related charges.
For a day and a half, Stewart has regaled jurors with sordid accounts of Rosemond's alleged exploits, including two attempts on 50 Cent's life.
The first tale Friday alleges that Rosemond had been driving down Manhattan's West Side Highway when he allegedly took his hand off the wheel of his Ford Expedition near the rapper's building to retrieve his gun. Rosemond stopped after being told that police were behind them, Stewart testified.
Stewart said Rosemond looked like he was "thirsty for blood."
Stewart also made reference to a vague plan to "blow up" 50 Cent's bulletproof van.
This appeared to be slang for gunfire because his testimony centered on firearms rather than explosives, which Rosemond never has been accused of using.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nola Heller handed Stewart a plastic evidence bag containing bulletproof vests that he said he wore every day for two years because of his dangerous line of work with Rosemond. The bag crackled as Stewart took them out for the jurors to see. He said that he preferred the white vest to the green one because it was longer and offered more protection.
Stewart estimated that he made more than $1 million selling cocaine and crack, and that the music executive's brother Kesner Rosemond offered to show him how to "hustle from West to East." He offered detailed descriptions of setting up fake businesses, sending drugs via FedEx to "catchers" in New York City hotels, and carrying fake IDs to avoid capture for his open warrant.
He said that he decided to move to Atlanta in the summer of 2009 to escape the dangers of his work, though he said that he kept up with the drug trade there as a distributor.
Stewart said that he met with Rosemond's co-defendant Jason Williams at a restaurant in Lower Manhattan's Alphabet City neighborhood shortly after Fletcher's killing.
Williams laughed and smiled when passing him a copy of Fletcher's obituary, Stewart said, adding that Rosemond had been nearby and also looked in good spirits.
Displayed on a screen for jurors, the obituary was dedicated "In Loving Memory" to Fletcher
Describing his reaction, Stewart said, "It didn't register."
"I'm like, 'Word?'" Stewart said. "[Williams is] like, 'Yeah!"
On cross-examination, defense attorney Bruce Maffeo noted that there has been no corroboration that Stewart had even traveled from Atlanta to Manhattan, let alone participated in the incriminating conversation.
Stewart said that he got there by plane, but he acknowledged that prosecutors never asked him to produce his ticket.
Maffeo's combative questioning had been a multipronged attack on the witness's credibility. The defense attorney took repeated aim at the terms of Stewart's cooperation agreement.
Although Stewart could theoretically spend life in prison for his role in the conspiracy, he confirmed that he has not stayed in jail for a single day so far. Prosecutors called for him to forfeit close to $80,000 found in his car, two guns and a leased car. He has not been made to forfeit any part of the million-plus dollars in drug money he made and has admitted to spending.
When asked if he declared the cash to the Internal Revenue Service, Stewart replied, "At the time, I didn't know we were supposed to report drug money."
At least three jurors stifled laughter after that line.
Later, Maffeo confronted the witness about an alleged barber-shop intrigue. Stewart said that his former shop had been burglarized, and another man opened a rival shop. Maffeo said that the two masked men tied to Stewart killed the rival owner.
Asked if that was true, Stewart responded, "Not that I know of."
Maffeo's sarcastic repetition of that line drew a prosecutor's objection and the judge's rebuke.
Stewart confessed to a list of crimes on the witness stand, including shoplifting, perjury, bribery and domestic violence, often escaping without punishment.
He said that he whisked into his trunk one man he thought had "robbed his girl" and drove him to Staten Island where a group of men beat him with sticks. A kidnapping charge in that case was dismissed when the victim did not testify, he acknowledged.
Though Stewart spoke of Rosemond's alleged bloodlust for payback, he also described the executive's coolheaded reaction to his son's assault.
Under questioning, Stewart agreed that Rosemond had indeed said "no" when someone initially wanted to "do something" to avenge the beating.
Four months later, Stewart said he started feuding with 50 Cent's "muscle," a beef that he says continues to this day because they both live in Georgia. Steward added that he got two threatening phone calls and found a dead rat near his front door.
Stewart said that he secretly taped "under 10" phone calls with Rosemond under his cooperation agreement, but the topic of Fletcher came up during none of them.
Maffeo also pressed him about the topic not coming up for the first few years of his meetings with federal prosecutors in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Stewart said that he did not talk about it initially out of a mixture of love for and fear of Rosemond.
Stewart's cross-examination continues Monday as the third week of trial kicks off. The government's case is expected to rest on Wednesday or Thursday.