NEW YORK – Rapper G. Dep stunned police by suddenly confessing to a nearly 20-year-old shooting, then went to trial arguing that his admission might have been mismatched to a murder.
The rapper, who flirted with fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was convicted Tuesday in an unusual cold case that he both reopened and ultimately fought, though he never contested his December 2010 admission. Indeed, he and his lawyers characterized it as a bid to unburden and redeem himself.
The 37-year-old rapper hugged his lawyer after hearing the jury's verdict, which leaves him facing at least 15 years in prison at his sentencing, set for May 8.
Regardless, he remains convinced he did the right thing by coming forward, defense lawyer Anthony Ricco said.
"He has a conscience and a heart, and his conscience and his heart brought him to where he is today," Ricco said after court. ". He's probably making the most powerful statement a rapper of his era can make, which is to be accountable and to do the right thing."
Prosecutors, though, saw G. Dep as a man who'd committed a deliberate and deadly crime, then provided the proof years later.
"Eighteen years ago, the defendant made a calculated decision to steal from, shoot, and kill an innocent person on the street," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement.
The rapper, born Trevell Coleman, made his surprise confession in late 2010, almost a decade after his career's brief heyday. As part of rap impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs' roster of talent at Bad Boy Records in the late 1990s and early 2000s, G. Dep scored a rap-chart hit with "Special Delivery," and the video for his "Let's Get It" helped popularize a loose-limbed dance called the Harlem shake.
His career lost steam, and his life spiraled into disarray and a slate of arrests on drug, trespassing and other charges. But he had finished a drug-treatment program and had released a new album online in the months before he went to a police precinct to say he'd fired at someone on a Harlem corner when he was about 17 to 19.
"I couldn't move on and keep trying to satisfy myself if I didn't deal with that," he told the hip hop magazine XXL in a jailhouse interview published in June. " ... I didn't know what was going to be the outcome, but that was the only way I knew to deal with it."
The victim had grabbed the rapper's .40-caliber gun, and he pulled it back and fired at the man three times, G. Dep told authorities in a recorded statement played during his trial. After the gunfire, he said, he rode off on a bicycle, unsure whether the man had been struck. G. Dep didn't testify at trial.
Authorities paired his account with the 1993 death of John Henkel, 32. Henkel was shot three times with a .40-caliber gun at the same corner in October 1993, when G. Dep was nearing his 19th birthday.
"The more you study the evidence . you'll see it just matches up too greatly for coincidence," Assistant District Attorney David Drucker said in an opening statement.
But Ricco questioned whether police had made the right match. He noted discrepancies between G. Dep's statement and Henkel's shooting — including that the rapper said he thought the shooting happened in February or March, rather than the fall, and described the victim as blond and clean-shaven when Henkel had brown hair and wore facial hair.
The rapper, he said, has no way of knowing for certain whether Henkel was indeed the man he shot. He ultimately filled in some of the details from information police gave him, the lawyer said.
G. Dep later turned down an offer to plead guilty in exchange for a guaranteed 15-years-to-life sentence that is now the minimum he faces, Ricco said.
G. Dep is married and a father of three school-age children, the youngest of them 7-year-old twins. His wife and mother wept after hearing the verdict, and his relatives are heartbroken and torn about his decision to speak up, Ricco said.
Henkel's relatives didn't testify at the trial. But one of his brothers followed it through news accounts.
"I'm thankful that the justice system worked for this, for my brother's benefit and my family," Werner Henkel said by phone after hearing of the verdict.
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