NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A reputed drug kingpin was convicted on murder charges in Brooklyn on Thursday in a case that featured amateur rap videos of him rhyming about carrying guns and settling scores with bullets.
As WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported, Ronald Herron – whose goes by the rapping name Ra Diggs – was found guilty by a jury in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
Prosecutors said Herron boasted of his violent exploits in his songs and videos, calling himself the leader of the Murderous Mad Dogs – a faction of the Bloods street gang.
Before trial, the defense had argued Herron’s recordings were constitutionally protected free speech that should be off-limits. But the judge ruled that the recordings could be used as evidence to establish Herron’s identity as the leader of the gang faction.
With its guilty verdict, the jury rejected his defense that his lyrics were not a reflection of real life. The jurors found Herron guilty of racketeering, and the murder of three rival drug dealers to solidify his power and terrorize the Gowanus Houses public housing development.
Herron testified that he decided to leave his life of crime and pursue a hip-hop career in 2007 after serving a six-year prison term for drug dealing. He described pursuing a rap career using lyrics that drew on his experiences growing up in a drug-plagued housing project.
The defendant testified the lyrics from one of his videos seen by the jury — “See if he was smart he would’ve shot me in the head / ‘Cause I can get you shot from a hospital bed” — were a reference to a person who wounded him in a shooting. But he insisted he never actually took revenge on anyone, calling the lines exaggeration and hyperbole.
But prosecutors said the Ra Diggs act was just a cover for his life as a gang leader and a crack dealer.
There were plenty of witnesses to the three killings for which Herron was convicted, but they were allegedly threatened and refused to testify in his earlier trials in state court, Cornell reported.
Ra Diggs crowed about those victories in a rap song with the words “Twice I went head to head with (then-Brooklyn District Attorney) Charles Hynes’ Office and I never lost, I’m a boss.”
The case is the latest battleground in the debate over whether rap lyrics constitute criminal evidence. The American Civil Liberties Union has said that in 18 cases nationwide in which courts considered rap music evidence, they were admitted about 80 percent of the time.
Sentencing is set for Oct. 1.
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