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Saturday, 17 March, 2001, 07:01 GMT
Puffy: The road to innocence
Sean Combs walks through the crowd after being cleared
Time to smile for Puff Daddy and his fans
By Jane Hughes in New York

Sean Combs could never have guessed that a spur-of-the-moment outing to a New York nightclub with his then girlfriend Jennifer Lopez would turn his life upside down.

Sean Combs and Jennifer Lopez
Sean Combs was with Lopez at the club
But when they decided late on the evening of 27 December 1999 to head into Manhattan from his luxury beach house in Long Island, they set in motion a train of events which does not even come to an end with his acquittal.

Puff Daddy, as he is better known, and his singer and then film-star girlfriend, were in party mood when they arrived at Club New York.

It was Sunday night, rap night at the club, and he knew a lot of the people there.

Within minutes, he was dancing on a table in the VIP area, a champagne bottle in each hand, dispensing drinks to friends and acquaintances.

Bar bill

When they decided to leave a couple of hours later, the bar bill came to $4,000, which Puffy Combs paid.

But as he headed for the exit, a confrontation broke out.

Puff Daddy fans
His fans believed only one verdict was possible
Some said they saw money thrown in the rapper's direction, a hip hop insult meant to imply that he had "sold out".

Gunfire began ricocheting around the club, and pandemonium broke out.

In the confusion, Sean Combs fell to the floor, terrified that the shots were aimed at him, then scrambled to get outside, all the while asking where Jennifer Lopez was.

One of his entourage quickly found her, they all climbed into a car, and they drove away at high speed.

Speechless

Less than half a mile away, they were stopped by police, a gun was found in the car, and they were all arrested and hauled off to police cells.

Puff Daddy said he was speechless with shock.

And so began the saga that has cast a cloud over his name for the last year.

Sean Combs was charged with illegal weapons possession and with attempting to bribe his driver.

Police said he had offered his chauffeur $50,000 to take the blame for the gun in the car during a whispered conversation at the police station.

His trial last for six weeks.

Contradictory evidence

Sixty witnesses were called and they offered a wealth of contradictory evidence.

Some were suing Puff Daddy for large sums of money, and in his summing up, the rapper's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said the trial had turned into a case of "Who wants to be a Millionaire?".

He called them liars, hoping to profit from a conviction.

The prosecutor, Matthew Bogdanos, warned the jury not to be dazzled by Puff Daddy's fame.

The star took the gamble of giving evidence himself.

But his gamble paid off.

Calm and cool

His calm, cool, assured denials that he had ever had a gun, and his coherent description of the events of the fateful night convinced the jury of his innocence.

They decided there was not the evidence to find the rapper guilty.

But it does not end here for Sean Combs, though.

Several people have brought lawsuits against him, alleging injury or emotional distress.

In total, they are seeking $1bn in damages.

That spur of the moment night out to Club New York will probably dog the rap star for many months to come.

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See also:

08 Mar 01 | Entertainment
'Witness tampering' at Puffy trial
06 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Puffy 'rival' will not testify
28 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Lopez stays out of witness box
22 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Puffy in new 'bribe' accusation
15 Feb 01 | Entertainment
The making of America's hippest couple
14 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Puffy and Lopez split
08 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Third witness 'saw Puff Daddy armed'
01 Feb 01 | Americas
Puff Daddy 'never carried gun'
30 Jan 01 | Americas
Puff Daddy in the dock
14 Jan 00 | Entertainment
'Puffy' hires OJ's lawyer
14 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Jury to consider Puffy verdict
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