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Lawyers Debate Whether Rap Lyrics Can Be Used As Evidence In NYC Murder Trial

Ronald Herron, who also goes by the name Ra Diggs, is a rapper and reputed gang leader.

Ronald Herron, who also goes by the name Ra Diggs, is a rapper and reputed gang leader.

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Jurors at the New York City trial of an alleged drug kingpin could be hearing his amateur rap rhymes as evidence against him.

Prosecutors have asked a judge to allow them to use the lyrics at the trial of Ronald Herron, of Brooklyn. Federal jury selection began Tuesday in Brooklyn.

The government says gritty recordings by Herron, who uses the rap name Ra Diggs, bolster allegations he was a stone-cold killer. One is titled “Live by the Gun, Die by the Gun.”

Defense lawyers have argued that their client’s work is a constitutionally protected expression of free speech that has no place in the case.

They compare it to Johnny Cash singing in “Folsom Prison Blues” that he “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”

In New Jersey, the state’s Supreme Court is weighing a similar debate. Judges heard arguments earlier this month in the case of a man whose attempted-murder conviction was overturned because the trial judge allowed the jury to hear violent rap lyrics he wrote.

Vonte Skinner was convicted of shooting a rival multiple times in 2005 in Burlington County, leaving the man partially paralyzed. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

During the trial, prosecutors read 13 pages of rap lyrics attributed to Skinner. The writings, many describing violent acts, were penned three or four years earlier.

An appeals court overturned the guilty verdict, writing that caution must be exercised when allowing prior writings as evidence in a trial.

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