Snoop Doggy Dogg, one of the nation’s preeminent rap artists, was acquitted along with his bodyguard Tuesday of first- and second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of a gang member at a Palms park.
Jurors also acquitted the 24-year-old rapper, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, and bodyguard McKinley Lee on one charge each of conspiracy to commit assault in connection with the August 1993 death of Philip Woldemariam.
But the panel deadlocked on a lesser count of voluntary manslaughter against each man, and on a charge against the rapper of conspiracy after the fact.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul G. Flynn polled the jurors to find out if any thought there was a chance of reaching a verdict on the remaining charges. After one juror told the judge she thought there was a possibility, Flynn sent the five-woman, seven-man panel back to the jury room to continue deliberations. The jurors, who had spent six days deliberating, adjourned after an hour and are expected back in court at 9 a.m. today.
When the first not-guilty verdict was read, supporters of the defendants clapped and yelled, “Thank you, Jesus!”
Lee sank back in his chair and sighed, and Broadus held his hands as if in prayer and bowed his head. Afterward, the two men clasped hands. Lee turned to his attorney, Donald Re, and said, “Thank you very much.”
With MTV providing video coverage of the event, the mild-mannered Broadus left court smiling and clutching his 2-year-old son, Corde. Flanked by bodyguards, the 6-foot, 4-inch Broadus--whose pinstriped suit made him appear more like a businessman than a “gangsta” rapper--made his way through a throng of reporters and photographers before stepping into a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce.
“They made the right decision, you know what I’m saying?” said Broadus, who along with Lee remained free on $1 million bail. “This has been an ordeal that has affected our lives for the past 2 1/2 years. I was just trying to figure out if I was going to be here to raise my son.”
The foreman said that the panel took 15 ballots on the manslaughter charges and that the latest produced a 9-3 split, but he did not say whether the panel favored acquittal or conviction on manslaughter. Unanimous agreement is required for a verdict.
He also said the jury was deadlocked on the charge of conspiracy after the fact, which stems from allegations that Broadus attempted to destroy evidence in the Jeep Cherokee he was driving on the evening of the shooting.
Prosecutors portrayed the killing as a coldblooded murder, saying Woldemariam was shot in the back and buttocks after he tried to flee from a confrontation with Broadus and Lee at Woodbine Park. Defense lawyers, however, argued that Woldemariam was going for a gun in his waistband when Lee fired from the passenger seat of the Jeep. They described Woldemariam as a hotheaded gang member who was angry that the rapper had moved into his territory.
The victim’s relatives, who accused the defense of waging a smear campaign against Woldemariam, attended most of the trial. On Tuesday, however, they chose to wait at home for word of the verdicts, a court representative said.
When contacted by phone, family members refused to comment on the decision. Prosecutors also declined to discuss the case.
“You can guess how we feel,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace, adding that prosecutors will release a statement after the jury reaches a decision on the remaining two counts.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, applauded the decision of the jury, made up of five African Americans, five whites and two Latinos.
“We think the jury reached the absolute correct verdict,” said Marcia Morrissey, who served as co-counsel to Broadus. “We hope with further deliberations they will acquit on the other two counts. Clearly they are taking a long, hard look at the evidence and decided it was not sufficient.”
Added defense attorney David Kenner: “We have a hard-working jury that worked their way through to a just conclusion.”
Hours before the verdicts, Flynn had denied a jury request to tour Woodbine Park. The judge told attorneys that such a trip could mislead the jury because the park has been remodeled since the shooting. He also said he was worried about the panel’s safety.
Broadus, whose music is often laced with violent imagery, became famous several years ago after releasing “Doggystyle,” which sold 4 million copies in the United States. Like the lyrics of the rapper’s songs, the case showed how quickly a disagreement could turn violent on the city’s gang-ridden streets.
According to testimony from two of Woldemariam’s friends, the problems started outside Broadus’ apartment, where several people had gathered. Someone in the group apparently flashed a gang sign at Woldemariam and his friends as they were driving by. Angered, Woldemariam told the group they were in the territory of his gang--the By Yerself Hustlers--and to “F--- y’all.”
Several people jumped into Broadus’ Jeep and followed Woldemariam and friends Jason London and Dushaun Joseph for several blocks. After the Jeep turned onto a side street, Woldemariam and his two friends decided to go to Woodbine Park to eat takeout food.
Shortly after they sat down, however, the Jeep drove up and Woldemariam engaged in a verbal altercation with Lee and a backseat passenger.
Joseph testified that he saw Woldemariam reach for a gun before Lee fired the fatal shot. He and London acknowledged under lengthy questioning by the defense that, as Woldemariam lay dying, they took the gun from him in an attempt to improve the chances that the rapper and his bodyguard would be convicted of murder.
Prosecutors called two dozen witnesses to the stand during the trial, which began in mid-November. The defense called only one witness, relying heavily on the recollections of Joseph.
In his closing arguments, Grace urged the panel not to hold Broadus above the law because of his star status. The rapper’s celebrity, however, was hard to ignore.
Occasionally, other rap stars would drop by to offer support. During closing arguments, Tupac Shakur, Hammer and Devante, who performs with Jodeci, joined the head of Broadus’ label, Death Row Record’s Suge Knight, in support of Broadus.
“We mourn for the Woldemariams, but we’re thrilled that Snoop won’t be going to jail,” said Sheena Lester, editor in chief of RapPages magazine. “Snoop is a kind and a gentle brother. I hope this trial taught people that there is nothing glamorous about gangsterism. I hope it helps people to separate the music, which is cool, from the reality, which is not.”
Times staff writers Chuck Philips, John L. Mitchell and Paul Johnson contributed to this story.