More than 25 years after the killing of Tupac Shakur became a defining tragedy in hip-hop, a self-described gang member who has repeatedly proclaimed that he participated in the drive-by shooting was indicted on a murder charge, Las Vegas prosecutors said on Friday, reviving a blockbuster investigation that had long stalled.
The man, Duane Keith Davis, has said in interviews and a memoir that he was in the front passenger seat of the white Cadillac that pulled up near the vehicle holding Mr. Shakur after a 1996 prizefight between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon in Las Vegas.
The 25-year-old rapper was shot four times and died in a hospital less than a week later.
A grand jury in Clark County indicted Mr. Davis on one count of murder with use of a deadly weapon, plus a gang enhancement, a prosecutor said in court on Friday. Mr. Davis, whose arrest was earlier reported by The Associated Press, is in custody without bail.
Despite plentiful speculation, evidence and reporting across nearly three decades, no charges had ever been filed in the shooting of Mr. Shakur, who was one of the most popular artists of the 1990s, with tracks that brought poetic gravitas to confrontational gangster rap. But talk of the case was revived in July, when the Las Vegas police executed a search warrant at a home in Henderson, Nev., connected to Mr. Davis.
Marc DiGiacomo, a chief deputy district attorney in Clark County, said in court on Friday that Mr. Davis was the “on-ground, on-site commander” who “ordered the death” of Mr. Shakur and the attempted murder of Marion Knight, the rap mogul known as Suge, who was driving the car holding the rapper.
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Davis had a lawyer.
In his 2019 memoir, Mr. Davis, who goes by the name Keffe D, recounted a gang dispute that escalated after Mr. Shakur and his associates beat up Mr. Davis’s nephew, Orlando Anderson, following the boxing match at the MGM Grand hotel.
“Them jumping on my nephew gave us the ultimate green light to do something,” Mr. Davis said in the memoir, “Compton Street Legend.” “Tupac chose the wrong game to play.”
According to a copy of the indictment filed in Clark County District Court, prosecutors accused Mr. Davis of obtaining a gun “for the purpose of seeking retribution against” Mr. Shakur and Mr. Knight, and of handing off the weapon either to his nephew or someone else in the Cadillac with “the intent that this crime be committed.” Mr. Davis is the only person in the car who is still alive.
Mr. DiGiacomo acknowledged in court that the broad outlines of what had occurred that night were known to the police as far back as 1996.
“What was lacking was admissible evidence to establish this chain of events,” the prosecutor said, noting that Mr. Davis then began to describe his role publicly. “He admitted within that book that he did acquire the firearm with the intent to go hunt down Mr. Shakur and Mr. Knight.”
At a news conference on Friday, the Las Vegas police confirmed that Mr. Davis’s own words reinvigorated their case, starting with a television appearance he made in 2018. “We knew at this time that this was likely our last time to take a run at this case,” Lt. Jason Johansson of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said.
Mr. Davis had avoided directly naming the person who opened fire in recent interviews. But in a taped confession released by a former Los Angeles Police Department detective who investigated Mr. Shakur’s murder, Mr. Davis told the police that it had been Mr. Anderson, his nephew, who was known as Baby Lane.
Mr. Anderson was questioned by officers investigating Mr. Shakur’s death but was killed in a shooting in 1998.
In his memoir, Mr. Davis, who has also been known as Keefe D, said that after the shooting, the men abandoned the car and walked back to the hotel, picking the vehicle up the next day and taking it back to California. It was cleaned and painted before it was returned to the rental agency days later, Mr. Davis said. By that point it was “too late for any forensics to be accurate and reliable,” he noted.
Immediately after Mr. Shakur’s death, there was a flurry of activity in the investigation. More than 20 people were arrested in connection with shootings that the police said were suspected to be related gang attacks.
But as the years went on without any charges, Shakur’s killing — and the death of the Notorious B.I.G., his friend turned rival, six months later — fueled conspiracy theories and accusations that the police had not worked hard enough to bring his killers to justice. The Las Vegas police have cited a lack of cooperation from people close to Mr. Shakur as a reason for the stalled investigation.
The killings became the subjects of books, podcasts, TV series and films, further elevating Mr. Shakur — known for albums such as “Me Against the World,” on which he rapped about a life imperiled by violence, and “All Eyez on Me,” one of the genre’s first double albums — to a mythic role in hip-hop.
The investigation into the death of the Notorious B.I.G. was revived by the Los Angeles Police Department in the mid-2000s, ultimately leading to a re-examination of the Shakur killing. Greg Kading, one of the detectives involved in the inquiry, later wrote a book that detailed how investigators convinced Mr. Davis to cooperate with them through a proffer agreement, meaning he could not be charged with a crime based on any incriminating statements he might make in those interviews.
“I sang because they promised I would not be prosecuted,” Mr. Davis wrote in his memoir.
On the night of the shooting, Mr. Shakur had been traveling in a BMW driven by Mr. Knight toward a postfight after-party at Club 662, a new venue backed by their record label, Death Row Records.
Mr. Davis, a self-described member of the Crips, wrote in his memoir that he, Mr. Anderson and others had armed themselves and waited in the nightclub parking lot, hoping to confront Mr. Shakur and Mr. Knight, who were associated with the Bloods, about the earlier violence.
When the rapper failed to materialize, Mr. Davis said, the group waiting for him left for its hotel, only to encounter Mr. Shakur and Mr. Knight talking to fans at a red light. “As they sat in traffic, we slowly rolled past the long line of luxury cars they had in their caravan, looking into each one until we pulled up to the front vehicle and found who we were seeking,” Mr. Davis wrote.
Mr. Davis said Mr. Shakur’s crew had committed “the ultimate disrespect when they kicked and beat down my nephew” — an attack thought to be retribution for an earlier robbery of one of Mr. Shakur’s friends. In his memoir, Davis described the “strict code” of the streets that its participants “live, kill and die by.”
“Tupac’s and Biggie’s deaths were direct results of that code violation and the explosive consequences when the powerful worlds of the streets, entertainment and crooked-ass law enforcement collide,” he wrote.
Mr. Davis added that he had been considered a “prime suspect” in both killings, and called writing about the events for his book “therapeutic.”
Sitting for an interview with a rap chronicler known as DJ Vlad this year, Mr. Davis was asked whether he was concerned that his disclosures could lead to a prosecution. Mr. Davis, who was incarcerated for roughly 15 years, in part because of federal drug charges, said he was not scared of prison.
“They want to put me in jail for life?” he said. “That’s just something I got to do.”
Joseph B. Treaster contributed reporting from Las Vegas.