A Pennsylvania appeals court on Wednesday overturned rapper Meek Mill’s 2008 conviction in a drug and gun case that has kept the rapper on probation for a decade and made him a celebrity crusader for criminal justice reform.
On Wednesday, the appeals court ordered a new trial and judge in the case of the Amen rapper.
The unanimous three-judge panel said new evidence that undermines the credibility of the officer who testified against Meek Mill at his trial made it likely he would be acquitted if the case were retried.
City prosecutors have backed the defence bid for a new trial and confirmed they do not trust the officer, who has since left the force and was the only prosecution witness at the 2008 non-jury trial.
The Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Office said in a statement that it is pleased the appeals court “validated our position that Robert Rihmeek Williams deserves a new trial before a court that has no appearance of partiality.”
Still, District Attorney Larry Krasner said Wednesday his office needs time to decide whether to drop the case and declined to comment further.
The 32-year-old rapper is now free of the court supervision he’s been under for most of his adult life.
WATCH: Meek Mill launches drive to reform U.S. prison system
Meek Mill, whose real name is Robert Rihmeek Williams, said he had had trouble notifying probation officers about his travels as required because of the erratic nature of the music industry.
A little more than a year ago, the Issues rapper spent five months in prison over technical violations of his parole.
“I’d like to thank the Pennsylvania Superior Court judges for their wisdom and transparency in reviewing my case, unanimously overturning my conviction and granting me a new trial,” Meek Mill said in a statement.
“The past 11 years have been mentally and emotionally challenging, but I’m ecstatic that justice prevailed.”
He continued: “This positive outcome wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my family, my attorneys, Jay-Z, Desiree Perez, Michael Rubin, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and my supporters who have stood with me through the ups and downs.
“Unfortunately, millions of people are dealing with similar issues in our country and don’t have the resources to fight back like I did. We need to continue supporting them. I’m committed to working with my team at the Reform Alliance to change these outdated laws and fix our broken criminal justice system.”
WATCH: Rapper Meek Mill speaks at rally in his own honour prior to court appearance
Reginald Graham, the officer who wrote the search warrant in Meek Mill’s case and testified at his trial, left the Philadelphia Police Department a few years ago after an internal probe found he had stolen money and then lied about it.
The officer testified at trial that Meek Mill pointed a gun at him during his 2007 arrest outside his home in southwest Philadelphia.
The Uptown Vibes rapper, who was 19 at the time, denied pointing a gun at police.
A police colleague who took part in the arrest later said Graham lied about Meek Mill brandishing a gun.
“Rather, (he) observed Williams attempt to discard his weapon,” President Judge Jack A. Panella wrote in Wednesday’s opinion, concluding the new evidence was so strong “that a different verdict will likely result at a retrial.”
Panella said: “Williams’ right to be tried before an impartial judge is necessary in this case because the trial judge heard highly prejudicial testimony at the first trial, which was a bench trial, and made credibility determinations in favour of a now-discredited witness and against Williams.”
Assistant District Attorney Paul George said Graham wouldn’t be called at a retrial due to questions about his credibility and because of its “legal, ethical and constitutional obligations.”
Graham was investigated, but not charged, by the FBI in a separate corruption probe. The six city drug squad members indicted were all acquitted at a 2015 trial.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court also overturned the trial judge’s parole violation findings and, in a rare move, pulled her off the case because “she heard highly prejudicial testimony … and made credibility determinations in favour of a now-discredited witness.”
Common Pleas Judge Genece Brinkley had kept the Intro rapper on probation for 10 years and sent him back to prison for several short stints for violating parole.
He has been called back to court repeatedly over concerns about his travels and, in one instance, his use of painkillers.
On July 24, Meek Mill tweeted: “I’m not on probation right now… new label deal with jayz!!! Today was lit already.”
He was making reference to the new record label he’s launching in a joint venture with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.
The two rappers celebrated the launch of Dream Chasers Records on Tuesday at the Roc Nation headquarters in New York City, signing contracts at a small press conference and popping champagne to celebrate the partnership.
“Of course, I had offers to do a lot of business with other people, but the relationship we’ve built from (Roc Nation) believing in me through my whole career, through my ups and downs, and the morals they showed to me and my team when it wasn’t in their best interest to have showed it — I feel comfortable going through this right here at home,” Meek Mill said.
“We’re ready to work. We’re just starting the beginning of a new chapter, a new page.”
Meek Mill will lead Dream Chasers as president, overseeing the label and staff.
Jay-Z said he and Meek Mill not only bonded musically but in other areas as well.
“His integrity, his honesty, his sense of responsibility,” Jay-Z said about Meek Mill. “Everything that he’s done leading up to this point, it showed that he can carry that weight for the next generation of people. Everybody can sign some artists, make some money and brag about how hot they are … (but) for us, we look at the big picture. For us, it’s way beyond signing hot artists and having a hot record.”
The pair joined forces earlier this year to form a coalition that lobbies for changes to state probation and parole laws called the Reform Alliance.
“We come from the same neighbourhoods, been through the same things,” said Jay-Z, who grew up in the Marcy Projects public housing complex in Brooklyn. “We’re some of the few that made it through … (and) that responsibility is not lost on us. We haven’t made it to this point just to be like, ‘Let’s just irresponsibly live our life.’ We had fun, don’t get me wrong. It’s fun, too, but there’s a responsibility that we carry for the entire culture.”
Meek Mill added: “Me coming out of prison this time, I signed up for a bigger responsibility. I always felt like I had a responsibility to lead the culture as much as I can. I always say Jay-Z and others that came before me was like a snowplow for people like myself. They made it easier to walk through the snowstorm. I want to continue to be a snowplow for the next generation coming behind me.”
The Levels rapper is also set to release a five-episode documentary series on Aug. 9 on Amazon Prime Video titled Free Meek.
Free Meek follows his fight for exoneration in his legal case and his work with the Reform Alliance.
—With files from the Associated PressFollow @KatieScottNews
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