NEW YORK (AP) — A reputed New York City drug kingpin was convicted on murder charges Thursday in a case that featured amateur rap videos of him rhyming about carrying guns and settling scores with bullets.
A jury reached the guilty verdict against Ronald Herron in federal court in Brooklyn.
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 a Bloods faction called the Murderous Mad Dogs.
Herron testified that he decided to leave his life of crime and pursue a hip-hop career using the name "Ra Diggs" 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 in Brooklyn.
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.
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 was set for Oct. 1.