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Brooklyn rapper, gang leader Ra Diggs loses appeal in murder, drug case

Court says using music lyrics, videos as evidence is fair game

February 15, 2019 By David Brand Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Second Department Appellate Division on Monroe Place.Photo: Rob Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle
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A federal court of appeals on Friday upheld the conviction of Brooklyn gang leader Ronald “Ra Diggs” Herron, who ruled the drug trade at two Brooklyn public housing projects and allegedly described real-life murders in his rap lyrics.

Herron appealed his 2014 conviction on the grounds that “music and promotional videos related to his rap music career were erroneously admitted into evidence.” Federal prosecutors used the lyrics to bolster the case against Herron, who was charged with murdering several rivals in the Wyckoff and Gowanus Houses and ruling the drug trade from the late-90s until 2011.

Ronald Herron, or rapper Ra Diggs. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York

Though the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit acknowledged that the First Amendment “limits the government’s ability to regulate the content of speech,” the court cited case law and said the Constitution does not “prohibit the evidentiary use of speech to establish the elements of a crime or to prove motive or intent.”

Herron boasted about murders and drug deals in lyrics and music videos, including in the Waka Flocka Flame song “Live by the Gun,” on which Herron has a featured verse.

“Ask my n—- Uncle when I murder with the chopper/N— shot me five times, two days later, the n—- died. N—- shooting at the five is committing a suicide,” Herron rapped.

Herron was convicted of murder, weapons possession, racketeering, robbery and drug offenses connected to his leadership of “Murderous Mad Dogs Bloods” gang after a five-week jury trial. He was sentenced to life in prison in April 2015 and is incarcerated at a supermax facility in Colorado, according to court documents.

Herron partnered with the successful Brooklyn rapper Uncle Murda — whose real name is Leonard Grant — on a number of songs.

Grant testified that rappers exaggerate their activities in their lyrics. As an example, Grant told prosecutors during cross-examination that he once rapped about refusing medical attention after getting shot in the head, though in reality, he visited a doctor for treatment.

In 2014, the ACLU counted 18 cases that similarly considered rap lyrics against people charged with crimes, The New York Observer reported. In 80 percent of those cases, prosecutors presented the lyrics as evidence in court, NPR found.

Herron also appealed his conviction on the grounds that he was denied the right to provide witnesses who would testify in his favor, that the court presented cell-site evidence his attorney had tried to suppress and that his convictions were “improperly considered crimes of violence.”

The court said each argument was “without merit.”

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