More Rap Lyrics Showing Up in Court

The Associated Press
Thursday, December 21, 2006; 12:12 AM

NEW YORK -- When police arrested Ronell Wilson, his pockets were stuffed with the type of violent poetry that boys have been scribbling in notebooks since the advent of gangsta rap.

In his lyrics, Wilson called himself "Rated R," warned any challengers to wear a bulletproof vest, and boasted of leaving .45-caliber slugs in the heads of his enemies.

The clumsy verses may never land Wilson a record deal, but to prosecutors, they were solid gold.

Wilson went on trial in federal court in Brooklyn this month on charges he murdered two undercover police officers, and the government presented the lyrics to a jury as evidence that the 23-year-old is a remorseless killer.

Prosecutor Morris J. Fodeman asked jurors to take special note of one stanza: "Ain't goin' stop to I'm dead."

The jury convicted Wilson on Wednesday, and he now faces a possible death sentence.

The use of rap lyrics at trial is a tactic that has been embraced by prosecutors across the country in recent years.

In cases ranging from small-time robberies to high-profile murders, investigators have discovered that the lead suspects are also wannabe rappers who have written ultra-violent fantasies about murdering and raping their way through life.

Violent lyrics have not been central to the cases, which were built on such evidence as confessions, eyewitness testimony and DNA and other forensic findings. But prosecutors have used rap lyrics to help establish motives and shed light on defendants' characters. Some have brought up the lyrics only during sentencing.

Introducing such writings into evidence is not always easy. But in many instances, there is enough of a resemblance between art and life to persuade a judge to say yes.

The result can be disaster for defendants.

In October, a jury convicted a reputed gang member of murdering a 17-year-old boy in Chico, Calif., after hearing two tracks from a rap CD he had co-written under the street name "Young Saint." The recording warned that rivals would die "looking at my barrel with your very last breath."

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