LAS VEGAS—The first arrest in the 1996 slaying of Tupac Shakur had its roots in the investigation of the killing of Biggie Smalls.
The shooting deaths of the two hip-hop luminaries and rivals—Shakur in Las Vegas and Smalls in Los Angeles six months later—have always been culturally inseparable, and one man, Duane Keffe D. Davis, found himself involved in both investigations.
On Friday, Mr. Davis was arrested and charged with murder, with prosecutors saying he ordered and masterminded the Shakur killing.
Now retired Los Angeles police detective Greg Kading was assigned to investigate the slaying of Smalls—whose legal name was Christopher Wallace—and in 2009 interviewed Mr. Davis as a person of interest in the case. Mr. Davis had had been at the party at the Peterson Automotive Museum that Wallace had just left when he was shot.
Mr. Kading had helped build a federal drug case against Mr. Davis to get leverage to compel him to talk to Los Angeles police, who to date have made no arrests in the Wallace case.
“He confesses to his involvement in the Tupac Shakur case, he gives all the details of how he and his co-conspirators killed Tupac,” Mr. Kading recalled in an interview Friday with The Associated Press.
Mr. Davis, who had immunity for what he said in his police interview but not what he said outside it, went on to divulge many of the same details in documentaries, on podcasts and in a tell-all 2019 memoir that would give new life to the Las Vegas police probe and help lead to his grand jury indictment.
“He has essentially talked himself right into jail,” Mr. Kading said.
Mr. Davis had long been known to investigators as one of four suspects identified early in the investigation. He isn’t the accused gunman but was described as the group’s ringleader by authorities at a news conference and in court. In Nevada a defendant can be charged with a crime, including murder, if you help someone commit the crime.
Mr. Davis, now 60, said in his memoir, “Compton Street Legend,” that he provided the gun used in the drive-by shooting.
Mr. Davis was arrested early Friday while on a walk near his home on the outskirts of Las Vegas, hours before prosecutors announced in court that a Nevada grand jury had indicted the self-described “gangster” on one count of murder with a deadly weapon. He is due in court next week.
The grand jury also voted to add a sentencing enhancement to the murder charge for gang activity that could add up to 20 additional years if he’s convicted.
Hundreds of pages of transcripts released Friday provide a view into the first month of grand jury proceedings, which began in late July with testimony from former associates of Mr. Davis, friends of Shakur and a slate of retired police officers involved in the case early on. Their testimony painted a picture for the jurors of a deep, escalating rift between Shakur’s music label Death Row Records and Bad Boy Records, which had ties to Mr. Davis and represented Wallace.
“It started the whole West Coast/East Coast” rivalry that primarily defined the hip-hop scene during the mid-1990s, one of Mr. Davis’ former associates testified.
Mr. Davis denied an interview request Friday from jail, and court records don’t list an attorney who can comment on his behalf. Phone and text messages to Mr. Davis and his wife on Friday and in the months raided their home in the nearby city of Henderson on July 17 were not returned.
In a statement Friday, Sekyiwa “Set” Shakur, the rapper’s sister, described the arrest as a victory, but in a measured tone.
“This is no doubt a pivotal moment. The silence of the past 27 years surrounding this case has spoken loudly in our community,” she said. “It’s important to me that the world, the country, the justice system, and our people acknowledge the gravity of the passing of this man, my brother, my mother’s son, my father’s son.”
“I know there’s been many people who did not believe that the murder of Tupac Shakur was important to this police department,” Sheriff Kevin McMahill said at a news conference Friday. “I’m here to tell you, that was simply not the case. It was not the case back then, and it is not the case today.”
He added, “every single victim, every life that is lost is important and remains a priority to this police department.
On the night of Sept. 7, 1996, Tupac Shakur and Death Row Records founder Marion “Suge” Knight were in Las Vegas to watch a Mike Tyson heavyweight title match. Outside the fight just after it ended, the men were involved in a brawl with Mr. Davis and his nephew, Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, with whom Shakur had feuded previously.
Later that night, Shakur was sitting in a BMW that Knight was driving when a Cadillac pulled up next to them and gunfire erupted.
Shakur was shot multiple times and died a week later at the age of 25.
Mr. Davis, in his memoir, said he was in the front passenger seat of the Cadillac and had slipped a gun into the back seat, from where he said the shots were fired.
He implicated Anderson, saying he was one of two people in the backseat.
Anderson died two years later. He denied any involvement in Shakur’s death.
The rapper’s death came as his fourth solo album, “All Eyez on Me,” remained on the charts, with some 5 million copies sold. Nominated six times for a Grammy Award, Shakur is still largely considered one of the most influential and versatile rappers of all time.