GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Rap videos that were shown to a jury in a murder trial have resulted in the state Supreme Court overturning the conviction.
It is rare for a case to be overturned in its totality. However, the justices on the Michigan Supreme Court say rap videos shown to a jury crossed the line and unfairly tainted a jury.
Derecko Martin, a 30-year-old father of four, died after being shot multiple times at a house party near Eastern Avenue and 33rd Street on March 16, 2013.
The shooter was then 18-year-old Jamal Bennett, who claimed he shot Martin because he was assaulting his friend.
But former Kent County Prosecutor Joshua Kuiper convinced a jury in 2015 that Bennett was guilty of second-degree murder because Martin posed no immediate threat to him.
The prosecution also used rap videos to show the jury that Bennett was involved in gangs and shot the victim as part of that lifestyle.
Bennett is seven years into a 32 to 102-year prison sentence. But on Friday, the state Supreme Court sided with an appellate attorney that the rap videos were prejudicial.
Juries are supposed to convict only on the evidence of the specific crime and not on whether they think the defendant is a bad person.
“The videos were played again and emphasized in closing, so overall, I think the jury saw those videos about five times,” said state appeals attorney Christine Pagac.
Now, the prosecution says the videos were a mistake.
“We’re not challenging the Court of Appeals’ decision that this evidence shouldn’t have been admitted. We are just arguing that this evidence was harmless in light of the other untainted evidence here,” said Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Alison Freed.
The justices asked the prosecution what the purpose of the videos being shown throughout the trial if not to convince the jury that the defendant was a gang member predisposed to commit violence.
“Look at the lifestyle depicted here, look at the conduct we’re alleging, this is the kind of things people who make rap videos do, right?” said Justice David Viviano.
Now the ball is in the Kent County prosecutor’s court.
“We do plan to retry this case, we’re trying to reach out to the family,” said Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker.
Bennett will be returned to the Kent County Jail to await his next trial that could be several months down the road as the prosecution rebuilds its case with a new prosecutor.
“I think it was a portion, obviously we’re not going to use that portion at this point and time, but it by no means is a critical portion that we’re scratching our heads as to how we’re going to proceed,” Becker said.
Bennett will not be released from prison in part because he is still serving an 8 to 20-year sentence for perjury for lying in this case that remains in effect.