FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Fulton County prosecutors dropped murder charges against a former Russian mobster turned FBI informant.
District Attorney Paul Howard called Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland with the news. Howard had previously credited Strickland with helping break the case, and had subpoenaed Strickland to testify at Mani Chulpayev's trial in the murder of rapper Lil' Phat.
Chulpayev will soon have his freedom, and the Georgia State Supreme Court ruled two of his statements to police must be stricken. The opinion also put his final statement and much of the evidence gathered from his discussions with police in doubt. Promises made to Chulpayev by his FBI handler were key in the courts finding that the statements were involuntary.
"Our case against him was essentially gutted," Howard told Strickland. "It's still our feeling that he was involved in the death of this young man."
An Alabama gang member is doing life for gunning down Lil' Phat at Northside Hospital in 2012 in a murder for hire over stolen drugs.
Others involved are sentenced anywhere from eight to 30 years.
Chulpayev once told Strickland he wanted to testify at his murder trial, but he'll soon be released after waiting two years to face a jury.
"This defendant, Mani Chulpayev, got away with murder," said Howard.
Chulpayev has consistently maintained his innocence. The rapper was shot in a car Chulpayev, a one-time Atlanta car dealer, had leased the victim.
Chulpayev is expected to be transferred to DeKalb County, where he faces theft charges relating to the car business.
He's also being ordered to pay $30,000 to car customer Travis Jones. Jones' tip first triggered Strickland's investigation, which later became part of a Nightline segment with ABC's chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross.
Chulpayev's FBI handler, Dante Jackson, remains under investigation. Jackson used Chulpayev as an informant without official sanction from Jackson's superiors.