A jury acquitted rap star Snoop Doggy Dogg and his former bodyguard McKinley Lee of murder and assault in the 1993 shooting of a gang member today, but continued to deliberate manslaughter charges in the death of 20-year-old Philip Woldemariam.
The 24-year-old rapper, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, showed little emotion as the jury foreman read the partial verdict in court, nodding to acknowledge congratulations from family and friends.
"I have been praying to God for this," Broadus said quietly a few minutes later, holding his 1-year-old son amid a crush of news cameras and beneath a winter downpour. "For the last few months, I've been trying to figure out if I'd be able to raise my son, you know what I'm saying?"
Defense attorney David Kenner, who called only one witness to make his case, said the partial acquittal had completely cleared his client's name. "What happened today was a just and proper result," he said at a news conference. "We are anxious for the verdict on the remaining charges . . . and we're very optimistic that they will be resolved."
If convicted of the remaining charges, the defendants face three to 11 years in prison.
After deliberating for more than a week, the seven-man, five-woman jury acquitted Broadus and Lee on charges of first- and second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit assault. But they remained deadlocked on charges of voluntary manslaughter and a separate charge against Broadus of accessory after the fact. The jury will continue its deliberations Wednesday, focusing on whether Broadus and Lee felt a reasonable fear for their lives when they shot Woldemariam.
The jury appeared to have accepted the defense argument that Broadus and Lee acted in self-defense in the altercation on Aug. 25, 1993, at a Los Angeles park.
Woldemariam, who had a gun in his waistband at the time of the shooting, was shot in the side and the buttocks during the confrontation with Broadus and Lee, who were in Broadus's black Jeep. Woldemariam's friend Dushaun Joseph testified reluctantly that he saw the young gang member lift his shirt as if to go for his gun just before getting shot. But three prosecution witnesses said they did not see Woldemariam with a gun, and that he was shot as he fled.
Prosecutors, who refused to comment after today's verdict, had argued that it was absurd to think that Lee fired in self-defense if Woldemariam was shot in the back. "It's not logical," Deputy District Attorney Robert Grace told jurors during closing arguments. Playing off lyrics of one of the rapper's songs, "Murder was the Case," he said: "Murder is the crime they committed. Murder is the crime they committed."
But there were serious inconsistencies in the eyewitness accounts describing the shooting, which defense attorneys Kenner and Donald Re relentlessly pointed out to the jurors. In his closing arguments, Re noted that one witness said the Jeep went in one direction while another said it went the opposite way; he also reminded jurors that one witness insisted that another was not even present to see the crime.
Also damaging to the prosecution was the fact that Woldemariam's friends who were with him at the time of the shooting, Joseph and Jason London, initially lied to police, saying Woldemariam was unarmed. Later they recanted, saying they had panicked and wanted to talk to other gang members before speaking to police.
But however contested the details of the case, it seemed clear from the testimony that a simple dispute over saving face had escalated out of control. Woldemariam and his friends exchanged insults and gang signs with people standing outside Broadus's house early in the evening; the reasons defense attorneys gave for why the rap star went to the park if he wanted to avoid trouble were unclear, but they said there was ample room for reasonable doubt to acquit both defendants.
The shooting occurred just as Broadus's career as a rapper was starting to soar. Within months, his album "Doggystyle" shot to No. 1 on the rap charts. Though criticized for its offensive language and degrading references to women, the album became one of the biggest sellers of 1994 with more than 4 million copies sold.
Broadus isn't the first rapper to run afoul of the law. Tupac Shakur, who visited the trial frequently in support, was convicted of sexually abusing a fan in a New York City hotel room three years ago and is currently free on $1.4 million bail pending an appeal. "Doggystyle" producer Dr. Dre, whose real name is Andre Young, served a five-month work-release sentence for violating probation on a 1993 assault that left a man with a broken jaw.
Immediately after the verdict, Broadus gave a live interview to MTV News, then fought his way through dozens of waiting reporters and news crews to a waiting car.
Outside the courthouse, Lee, 25, said he was greatly relieved. "I feel great," he said. "I just thank God for this."
Jury members declined to talk to reporters. The Woldemariam family, who immigrated to the United States from Eritrea in 1979, was present daily during the trial, but did not attend today's verdict. The Associated Press contributed to this report. CAPTION: Calvin Broadus, or Snoop Doggy Dogg, in a Los Angeles courtroom for the verdict yesterday.