Los Angeles rap singer Dasean Cooper, a member of Da Lench Mob, was sentenced to 29 years to life Friday for the 1993 murder of his girlfriend's male roommate.
The sentencing of Cooper--a rapper and lyricist whose group rose to fame as proteges of superstar rapper Ice Cube--was the harshest punishment yet in the seemingly endless string of entanglements between rap artists and the law.
A jury last year convicted Cooper, known to the rap world as J-Dee, in the murder of Scott (Pearl) Charles, 23. Prosecutors said the murder grew out of a fight between the two men.
Charles--one of two men who lived in the same house with the rapper's girlfriend--allegedly told the girlfriend that Cooper was dating other women.
Cooper, 26, along with Terry (T-Bone) Gray, was one of two members of Da Lench Mob who was arrested and charged with murder in two separate incidents, stalling what appeared to be a blossoming music career.
"The real tragedy in this case is that his rap career was just taking off," Cooper's defense attorney, Richard Walton, said before the sentencing.
After Torrance Superior Court Judge James R. Brandlin pronounced the sentence, prosecutor Marc A. Chomel said in an interview that Cooper had a familiarity with guns and violence through his association with a group that specialized in what is popularly called gangsta rap.
"This is not a story about rap music," Chomel said during courtroom arguments Friday. "It's a story about a kind of rap music: gangsta rap."
He cited songs such as Da Lench Mob's 1992 single "Who You Gonna Shoot Wit Dat" as an example of how the murder was "life imitating art."
Cooper--who dropped his head into his hands when Brandlin sentenced him--was the first well-known rapper to be convicted of murder, and one of a string of rap artists to have serious criminal charges leveled against him, including superstars Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur. Cooper has been in custody since shortly after the June, 1993, murder.
Adario Strange, senior editor of Source magazine, which is devoted to rap music, said Cooper's sentencing would "further legitimize white people's image that most black men are violent and dangerous," he said.
The prosecution alleged that after Cooper and Charles argued outside a house party in Inglewood, Cooper and his girlfriend left and circled the block, picking up two friends before returning to shoot Charles five times as Charles tried to flee. (Since he has been in custody, Cooper has married another woman.)
The rapper, who prosecutors say was in violation of a house arrest for a weapons conviction at the time of the murder, maintained his innocence.
His lawyer argued unsuccessfully Friday for a new trial on the grounds that the district attorney did not inform the defense about a young woman who turned out to be a surprise witness for the prosecution.
The woman--who both defense and prosecution attorneys felt was one of the most compelling witnesses at the trial--said she was driving away before the shooting.
She testified that through her rear-view mirror she saw Cooper get out of his car holding a gun. The woman's testimony was controversial because she had told police earlier that she had not seen Cooper with a gun. Prosecutors asked Friday that she not be identified in print because threats have been made against her.
Defense lawyer Walton also argued that Cooper had not received a fair trial because of the negative images associated with rap music and because there were no African Americans on the jury.
"We've heard a lot about 'three strikes,' " Walton told the judge at the sentencing, referring to the California law requiring 25-year-to-life sentences for virtually anyone convicted of a third felony. "Well, Cooper had two strikes going against him going into the trial. . . . He was a black going to trial with a jury with no blacks on it . . . and he was a rap singer and a lyricist."
Cooper was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder conviction and four years for using a firearm, but will be credited with nearly three years for time served with good behavior.
Cooper's group mate, Gray, is scheduled to go on trial this month in the murder of one person and wounding of another at a Los Angeles bowling alley. He is free on bail and performing with the group.
The Source's music editor, Jeremy Miller, said Cooper's severe sentence is indicative of how the judicial system is dealing with rap artists.
"They are probably trying to make an example of (rappers) because they have so much influence on young people," Miller said.