Sacramento — The tale of the rapper and the prosecutor is a twisted one now, bent into strange shapes by scandal, celebrity and murder music, but once it was a story of straight lines and simple roles.
When they first met in 1994, the rapper, Anerae Brown, was one of four gang members on trial for a spasm of early-morning violence that had left a grandmother dead in her home. The button-down Pete Harned was the star of the Sacramento County district attorney's office and savvy enough to know that he would win convictions if he could put the 17-year-old rapper's lurid music on trial as well.
The judge allowed Harned to play Brown's music twice in court. The music, recorded under the stage name X-Raided, was brash, explicit and relentlessly violent. In one especially damning line, Brown declared he would be "kicking down doors" and "killin' mommas." Harned argued that this was practically a prediction of the slaying of Patricia Harris. The community activist had been shot through the heart in March 1992 when gang members stormed her home searching for rivals, and police said Brown was the ringleader. When the music was played in court, Harned was confident he read victory in the jury's horror.
The trial had been a complex one with a separate jury for each of the defendants, but finally, four years after the crime and his arrest, the verdict came back guilty for X-Raided. The rapper was shuttled off to prison and, presumably, a 31-year sentence of obscurity and heartache. Harned buckled his briefcase on a key career victory and embraced Harris' relatives. The epic length of the case had left the family fuming, and they viewed Harned as their lone crusader in the legal system.
There was no reason for Harned to think he would ever see X-Raided again. But four years later, a letter with a prison postmark reconnected them in a way that would stun the Harris family if they had known.
Today, the 28-year-old Brown sits in Corcoran State Prison and fills his hours and notebooks with rhymes of gang life. His music is no idle handiwork. Despite the efforts of his jailers and the California attorney general, Brown while behind bars has managed to covertly record and release nine albums, the most recent in July. The modest sales make him unknown to most music fans, but X-Raided is an underground hero to some and a celebrity of the prison yard. "The music," he says, "takes me over these walls."
Indeed, the inmate may enjoy more freedom than the man who prosecuted him.
Harned is no longer a prosecutor; he lost that beloved job amid scandal. He restarted his career as a defense attorney in a sad closet of an office located one right turn away from the offices of the Sacramento district attorney. He spends his days now defending accused killers and robbers, but two years ago he quietly began a side project in business law, specifically the music industry. In his moonlighting role, he has one client: X-Raided, the rapper and murderer. The attorney even has an X-Raided CD perched beside his law books."I just can't stand rap music and I don't have to listen to the stuff to work with it," the attorney said. "But I had to put it there. Isn't that something? I'm so proud of him."
For a man six years into a 31-year sentence, Anerae Veshaughn Brown gets around: Folsom, Salinas Valley, Mule Creek and, the latest state prison, Corcoran, north of Bakersfield. "They keep moving me because they say I cause trouble," he said in an interview just before his move last year to Corcoran. "I disagree. Trouble causes me."
Brown chuckled and squinted in the sun beating down on Mule Creek's outdoor visiting area. It's air-conditioned inside, but also as noisy as a middle school cafeteria, so prisoners looking for quiet conversation with their girlfriends and wives sweat outside in their starched denim. The couples hold hands and pace the fenced perimeter in slow procession.
Brown has rounded features and a certain shyness. He seems far removed from the scowling young man who insisted on testifying at his own trial and defiantly said, yes, he was a violent gang member and, yes, he was proud of it. (Said Harned, with a smile: "He was speaking honestly, at least, but I don't think it was necessarily a wise course of action.") He hopes his music will fund his freedom. "Money speeds up everything. I want my albums to make enough to pay Johnnie Cochran or an affiliate of his to help me. I just need to get my music out there. I'll be the biggest story in hip-hop."
Asked about his latest work, X-Raided knitted his eyes, bobbed his head to a beat no one else could hear and began rhyming:
Might survive with black eyes and torn clothes
Or meet my end in the pen, servin' a sentence for sins committed
If I lose my soul I'll send my men to get it
Never break the law again, player, but I intend to bend it