NEW YORK – When rapper G. Dep turned himself in for a nearly 2-decade-old shooting, he told police he wanted to clear his conscience.
He found out Tuesday what the consequences would be: 15 years to life in prison, the minimum term for his murder conviction. A judge, prosecutors and even the jury foreman said he deserved credit for coming forward when he'd never been suspected in the long-cold case.
"It may not be the best legal strategy, but, certainly, it was the right thing to do," Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus said, "even though it landed you in the situation you're in now."
With that, the 37-year-old rapper — who had a brush with fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s — walked slowly out of the courtroom, looking back at his wife, mother and a couple of longtime family friends in the audience. He didn't speak at his sentencing, but his lawyer, Anthony L. Ricco, said G. Dep was at peace with his decision to speak up.
"He was in search of his redemption and his honor, and some might say that he achieved that," Ricco said after court.
The sentencing capped a case with uncommon contours from the moment the rapper revived it by walking into a police stationhouse in late 2010. He told police he'd shot someone while trying to rob him on a street corner years earlier.
Then came an unusual trial in which he acknowledged confessing but argued that police might have mismatched his account to the October 1993 shooting of John Henkel, 32.
G. Dep was convicted last month — a decision jurors made "with a heavy heart," foreman Jim Nelson wrote to Obus in a letter asking for leniency for the rapper, born Trevell Coleman.
"I, and I believe many others, have been moved by Mr. Coleman's story and by what he did in listening to his conscience and coming forward after all these years," wrote Nelson, the editor-in-chief of GQ magazine. His name was redacted in court records but appeared in an editor's letter he wrote about the case in the magazine's June issue. ("We found him guilty, because he was, and no one's excusing anything," he noted there.)
G. Dep became part of rap impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs' slate of up-and-comers at Bad Boy Records in the late 1990s and early 2000s. G. Dep had 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 before his career dwindled.
"He achieved some fame in the music industry. ... But that success was not able to overcome that sense of remorse and guilt that he had about what he had done one night in his teenage years," Ricco told the judge Tuesday.
The rapper sank into drug use and a roster of arrests on drug, trespassing and other charges.
But he finished a drug-rehabilitation program and had released a new album online in the months before he went to tell police he'd fired at someone during an attempted holdup on a Harlem corner when he was about 17 to 19. He said he'd fled on a bicycle, unsure whether the man had been hit.
Authorities paired details in his account — including the location, gun caliber and rough timeframe — with Henkel's death.
Ricco, meanwhile, pointed to discrepancies, including in G. Dep's description of the man he'd robbed. He has said the rapper plans to appeal.
During the trial, prosecutors portrayed G. Dep as a man who coldly shot a stranger. But at the sentencing, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney David Drucker emphasized the rapper's choice to come forward.
"He had no ulterior motive, nothing to gain, other than within himself," Drucker said.
G. Dep, who has three school-age children, told MTV News last month he has "no ill thoughts towards anybody" about the trial and outcome.
"Someone was taken from (the Henkel) family, so I can't feel like I was robbed in any kind of way," he told the network by phone from jail.
Henkel's relatives didn't attend the trial or sentencing. One of his brothers, Werner, has said he's thankful the justice system saw the case through.
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