A man who for years has said he was a critical player in the gang-orchestrated shooting of the rapper Tupac Shakur pleaded not guilty on Thursday to a charge of murder with a deadly weapon, following an indictment that thrust the dormant case back into public view.
The man, Duane Keith Davis, known as Keffe D, has spoken and written about how he was inside the vehicle from which shots were fired at Mr. Shakur in 1996.
Wearing a dark blue inmate’s outfit and cuffs on his wrists and ankles, Mr. Davis, 60, looked directly at the judge as he entered his plea, asking for clarification when the prosecutors said they did not plan to ask for the death penalty in the case.
His arraignment had been delayed for weeks because he previously did not have a lawyer to represent him. At Thursday’s hearing, Mr. Davis was represented by the public defender’s office, though he told the judge that he hoped to retain Ross Goodman, a high-profile defense lawyer whose parents have both served as the mayor of Las Vegas.
Two public defenders assigned to Mr. Davis, Robert Arroyo and Charles Cano, declined to comment after the hearing. Mr. Goodman told reporters that he still supported Mr. Davis and hoped to represent him. “There are people who are trying to get the financial resources together to hire me,” Mr. Goodman said.
In a news conference after Mr. Davis’s arrest in September, the police said he had been a leader of the South Side Compton Crips when he directed the shooting of Mr. Shakur after his nephew and fellow gang member, Orlando Anderson, was beaten up by Mr. Shakur and his associates earlier that night. The instigating attack had taken place at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, where members of two warring gangs — along with some of the top players in gangster rap — had converged on a Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon prizefight.
The investigation into the killing stalled in the years after Mr. Shakur’s death. The police attributed that to a lack of cooperation from witnesses, but some considered it a failure to properly devote resources to solving the murder of a young Black rapper who had risen to the top of his industry by the age of 25.
The killing continued to be a source of intrigue for rap fans and internet sleuths, and Mr. Davis began sharing his account of the events in Las Vegas with filmmakers, YouTube interviewers and readers of his 2019 memoir, “Compton Street Legend.” In the book, Mr. Davis describes obtaining a .40-caliber Glock pistol just before he and a crew of Crips sought revenge for the beating of Mr. Anderson.
It was Mr. Davis’s own words about his involvement that reinvigorated the case, the authorities said. The case against him ramped up in July, when the police searched his home in Henderson, Nev.
Clifford Mogg, a retired homicide detective who started looking into the case in 2018, around the time that Mr. Davis gave his first public interview on the subject, told grand jurors that in the search, investigators recovered Mr. Davis’s cellphone, a copy of his book and two bins of photographs and other materials, including a photo album with news clippings related to Mr. Shakur’s murder.
Mr. Davis, who has spoken publicly about his career in the drug trade in great detail, has been in and out of prison for the past 40 years, in part on federal drug trafficking charges.