The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Fight over lyrics at New York murder trial of rapper 'Ra Diggs'

  • Print

NEW YORK, N.Y. - When he wasn't busy being what prosecutors portray as the ruthless leader of a violent drug gang, Ronald Herron was moonlighting as a rapper known as Ra Diggs.

Herron's gritty body of work, including music videos with titles like "Live by the Gun, Die by the Gun," has become a point of contention as his murder case nears trial in federal court in Brooklyn. Jury selection began Tuesday.

In court papers, the government and the defence have debated whether the recordings are evidence of real crimes committed by one of the city's highest ranking Bloods or are constitutionally protected — and inadmissible — expressions of free speech that his lawyers have likened to Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."

In one video, Herron brags about wearing body armour, saying, "I'm gripped up, I'm vest upped ... I'm ready for war man, on all fronts." Both sides are awaiting a ruling on whether the government can show jurors portions of that recording and 12 others gathered during the investigation of a narcotics dealing enterprise.

It's a legal question that isn't isolated to Herron's case.

In another case ending in a conviction last year, a Manhattan judge allowed prosecutors to show amateur rap video starring a defendant charged in a string of armed robberies, agreeing that it was evidence he had access to guns. The video, inspired by "The Joy" by Kanye West and Jay-Z, showed the defendant driving the getaway car in a staged hold-up.

Earlier this month, New Jersey's Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the trial judge in a drug-related shooting case should have barred prosecutors from reading 13 pages of the lyrics to jurors, including one in which the defendant boasted about "four slugs drillin' your cheek to blow your face off," that were written before the crime.

In the Herron case, prosecutors allege he lived his lyrics in a criminal career that began with his arrest as a teenager on robbery and weapons charges. By the late 1990s, he rose to a leadership role in a Bloods faction called the Murderous Mad Dogs that sold crack cocaine out of a housing project in his Brooklyn neighbourhood, they say.

In 2001, Herron was charged in a fatal shooting. He was acquitted of murder but convicted of drug possession and sent to prison until 2007, when he went back to his neighbourhood, reclaimed his turf and resumed killing rivals, prosecutors say.

One of the killings was payback for the 2009 shooting of one of Herron's top lieutenants, nicknamed Moose, authorities said. Herron chased the shooter into the courtyard of a housing project and pumped several bullets into him, they said.

A video from a documentary-style series titled "Ra Diggs TV" shows the wounded Moose recovering in a hospital bed and talking to Herron about the fate of the man who shot him. Herron is heard saying, "See you soon at a cemetery near you, man."

The defence has argued that the videos are fictional works of art expressing the 32-year-old Herron's views on the hardships of inner-city life. They cited studies in academic journals that have concluded rap lyrics, when allowed as evidence, often are misinterpreted to the point of prejudicing juries.

Among the Ra Diggs rhymes cited by defence papers: "I ain't working no slave at no age ... And it's like in this day and age, if I ain't get paid, then the hammer's getting cocked and something's getting spray."

Comparing the videos to Johnny Cash singing in "Folsom Prison Blues" that he "shot a man in Reno just to watch him die," the lawyers argued that their client's recordings "cannot be fairly construed to mean the words express admissions of personal conduct, acts or even the author's true beliefs."

The government has countered by saying that Herron "built a drug-dealing enterprise through ruthless violence and intimidation, terrorizing a community in the process, then wrote about it, highlighting his real-life criminal conduct to burnish his credentials as a real-life gangster." Making those admissions rhyme and putting them to music "does not inoculate him against their use against him a trial."

The jurors will not be hearing a performance by Herron of a different sort: U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis rejected his request this week to give his own opening statement.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Drew Willy says team couldn't get anything going

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Goslings enjoy Fridays warm weather to soak up some sun and gobble some grass on Heckla Ave in Winnipeg Friday afternoon- See Bryksa’s 30 DAY goose challenge - May 18, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Weather standup. Sundog. Refraction of light through ice crystals which caused both the sun dog and and fog along McPhillips Road early Wednesday morning. 071205.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Will you miss Grandma Elm?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google