The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Eazy-E’s son thinks Suge Knight killed his father by infecting him with HIV. Here’s why that’s highly unlikely.

Yung Eazy, the son of N.W.A co-founder Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, thinks Suge Knight killed his father.

Yung Eazy, whose real name is Marquise Wright, shared an Instagram post of a now-infamous interview Knight had on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in 2003, his first televised appearance after being released from prison for parole violations stemming from assault and weapons convictions. Knight, 50, is currently awaiting trial for murder after he was captured on video allegedly running over and killing Heavyweight Records co-founder Terry Carter in late January. He also hit another man who survived. The altercation reportedly followed a dispute which originated on the “Straight Outta Compton” set. Knight turned himself in to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s station the next day.

Here’s what Knight told Kimmel, who made a joke about Knight’s notoriously violent reputation by donning a bullet-proof vest while hosting Knight’s segment.

“This the new thing, right? So, if somebody gonna do something to somebody, technology is so high, right? So, you shoot somebody, you go to jail forever,” Knight said. “Kids, you don’t want to go to jail forever, right? So, they got this new thing out, people sell ’em all the time. They get this stuff they call — they get blood from somebody with AIDS — and then they shoot you with it. That’s the slow death.”

In the caption of the photo he posted of Knight, Yung Eazy wrote:

I’ve been known my pops was killed. His death never added up 2 what ppl have always said maybe they think we’re idiots blind to the truth idk….but 4 u new fans, youngsters & ppl who just don’t know much notice in #StraightOuttaCompton Eazy did not get sick until after the studio incident with suge and look how he acknowledged & admits on this interview with #JimmyKimmel injecting ppl instead of shooting them is a new thing that’s done. the truth is out there its just blinded by the fact that Eric had alot of sex #FreeYourMind #RipEazyE #EazyE #F—SugeKnight

Eazy-E died Mar. 26, 1995 of AIDS-related pneumonia.

As Wright Jr. states, the thinking was that Eazy-E’s serial womanizing led to his death. In his 2006 book “Ruthless, A Memoir,” Ruthless co-founder Jerry Heller wrote:

It would be hard to imagine a p—-hound more rabid than Eric Wright. Even before Ruthless kicked into high gear, he had multiple girlfriends. I would sit with him in that little former porn-video office adjacent to Lanark Park and marvel as I listened to him talk to his multiple lovers on the phone, one after another.
“Eric,” I would say to him, sadly prescient, “p—- is going to be your downfall.” He was so smart in every other way. Women were his Achilles’ heel. I couldn’t believe that a guy with so few other weaknesses indulged himself in such a huge one.

Why would Knight have wanted to kill Eazy? In 1991, Knight and two of his goons confronted Eazy at Galaxy Studios at Sounds of Los Angeles Records, according to Heller’s memoir. They brought baseball bats, and they strong-armed Eazy into releasing Dr. Dre, the D.O.C. and Michel’le from Ruthless so they could sign with Knight’s Death Row label. That’s the “studio incident” Wright Jr. is talking about.

In recent days, Heller has changed his tune, and there’s been an renewed interest in the circumstances surrounding Eazy’s diagnosis and death because of “Straight Outta Compton.” He began talking about Eazy’s death while discussing his decision to talk the rapper, whom he called his “best friend,” out of killing Knight, a decision Heller said he now regrets.

“In truth, I should have let him kill Suge Knight,” Heller told The Post. “Suge Knight’s one of the worst human beings on this planet.”

But wouldn’t Eazy have been convicted and sentenced for the murder?

“Naaaaaaah,” Heller said. “Who’s in prison for killing Tupac? Who’s in prison for killing Biggie? Who’s in prison for killing Eazy? Who’s in prison for killing those guys? There’s no going to prison for inner-city things like that. You’re trying to tell me that the FBI couldn’t solve Tupac’s murder? You’re trying to tell me the FBI couldn’t solve Biggie’s murder? Come on. That just insults my intelligence. The most effective law-enforcement agency in the world couldn’t solve those crimes if they wanted to? I’m not going for that one.”

When pressed about his question, “who’s in prison for killing Eazy?” Heller continued: “I still think it’s suspect the way Eazy died. First of all, in July of 1994, I sent him to the biggest doctor in Beverly Hills, who was coincidentally my doctor, for a complete physical, and told him I wanted him completely looked at. I mean, he was very promiscuous. He had, I think 11 children with eight different women. Two of the children, I think, [were born] after he [died].”

The L.A. Times reported there were six mothers and seven children receiving payments from Ruthless shortly after Eazy’s death in March of 1995, but Heller told the Post that “no one really knows for sure how many children he had.” Eazy’s widow, Tomica Woods Wright, was pregnant when Eazy died, and they had another child who was a year old at the time. None of Eazy’s known sex partners, including Wright, have ever said publicly that they were infected.

“None of the mothers were HIV-positive. None of the children were HIV-positive,” Heller said. “So, he went there, he got a complete physical, he got 100 percent clearance. Then when he started getting sick, sometime after his trip to New York, end of ’94, beginning of ’95, he went to the hospital and he went to Cedars [-Sinai]. They brought in doctors from Norwalk Hospital to treat him. Now, why would anyone bring in doctors from Norwalk to Cedars to treat somebody? … Cedars is certainly one of the top hospitals in the world, and have the finest doctors. That’s always been suspect to me.” According to journalist Carter Harris, who reported on Eazy’s last days for Vibe, Eazy’s friends checked him into the emergency room at Norwalk Community Hospital on Feb. 16, 1995. He was released Feb. 19 and on Feb. 24, still wheezing, he was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

On their face, the circumstances seem to support Wright and Heller’s skepticism. But according to an official with Whitman Walker Health, a Washington-based clinic that specializes in HIV/AIDS care, it’s entirely plausible for Eazy to have impregnated his wife while infected with HIV, and have both her and their child remain negative.

“Even without treatment, only about one-third of children are born HIV-positive to an HIV-positive mother,” said Justin Goforth, the director of community relations for Whitman Walker Health. Goforth is a registered nurse who has been living with HIV for 23 years. “Even with no treatment for anybody — the mother or the child — still about two-thirds of babies are born HIV negative.”

But what about the fact that none of the mothers of Eazy’s children have said they were infected?

“By an order of magnitude, literally, it’s easier to get HIV through receptive anal intercourse than it is through vaginal intercourse,” Goforth said. “If no one’s engaging in anal sex at all in a relationship between a man and a woman, it’s very plausible that for quite a while, for years, that the female partner could not get infected.”

The key to understanding this, Goforth said, is viral load.

People who are infected with HIV who go untreated tend to experience very high viral loads in the early stages of infection, and that’s when their T-cell count drops. But then after that, there’s a period of latency that can last for years when their viral loads are quite low. The lower the viral load, the more difficult HIV transmission becomes, especially through vaginal intercourse.

“It’s about average that someone lives about eight to 10 years from day of infection to death without treatment,” Goforth said.

“Far more people are infected by people who are in the first year or so of their infection because their viral load is really, really high,” Goforth said. “They’re still healthy. They’re still having sex. Then their viral load drops off pretty dramatically for a few years, and then it starts climbing back up pretty dramatically. But then, that’s when they’re feeling sick, and so we don’t see a lot of people infected at that point because they’re not feeling well enough to be sexually active.”

At that point, Goforth said, it’s typical for someone to have an extraordinarily low T-cell count — which is how Eazy was portrayed during his hospitalization in “Straight Outta Compton” — and a very high viral load. Working backward, Goforth estimated Eazy could have been infected anywhere between the mid ’80s to the early ’90s.

“It would surprise me if none of his partners during that early period of time got infected,” Goforth said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if people that were with him for the middle part of the years of his HIV infection didn’t get infected. I’ve been doing this since the ’90s and have seen that happen and have had couples sit in my office like, ‘I don’t understand. How can he have HIV and I don’t have HIV?’ It definitely happens.”

So what if Suge Knight managed to find someone with a high viral load, collect their blood and stick Eazy with a needle?

“Needle sticks are an extremely difficult way to get HIV,” Goforth said. “They’ve got good data because of health-care workers like myself being stuck by needles by people that are known to be HIV-positive. So a needle stick itself, if the blood is known to be HIV-positive, it’s about a third of a percent chance of getting HIV from a needle stick. But that’s really different from sharing injection drug needles where you’re actually injecting a decent volume of the other person’s blood into you. That’s different than a stick.”

So did Suge Knight kill Eazy-E via HIV injection? It’s highly unlikely given the timeline of their studio confrontation and the visible progression Eazy’s illness. It’s far more likely that Knight was happy to insinuate that he had something to do with Eazy’s death because it would bolster his image as the Voldemort of West Coast rap.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Yung Eazy as Eric Wright Jr. His name is Marquise Wright. The post has been updated.