Did Rap Videos Unfairly Lead To Murder Conviction? Supreme Court To Decide

WWJ News
December 11, 2019 - 7:52 am
jamal bennett

Jamal Bennett (Photo: Michigan Department of Corrections/2017)

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(WWJ) - A Grand Rapids man is blaming his murder conviction on rap videos used as evidence in his trial.

The Michigan Supreme Court is hearing arguments Wednesday over Jamal Bennett's conviction. 

Bennett, 24, was found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2013 shooting of a man at a birthday party and was sentenced to 30-100 years in prison. He claimed the shooting was in self-defense, but the jury disagreed.

At trial, the prosecutor admitted two rap videos in which Bennett talks about guns and violence and elicited testimony from several witnesses regarding Bennett and his friends' gang affiliation. The prosecutor said in the closing argument that the videos and testimony were evidence showing the "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality of Bennett and his friends and the "lifestyle" they lived. 

Bennett's attorneys argue that he should be given a new trial, saying the court never should have allowed the videos and gang-affiliation testimony as evidence. 

The Michigan Court of Appeals has twice upheld Bennett's murder conviction. Even though the court agreed the "unfairly prejudicial" music videos should not have been shown to the jury, it ruled a new trial wasn't warranted due to the overwhelming amount of other evidence against Bennett, including testimony from multiple witnesses who claimed they saw the shooting. 

The Supreme Court will address whether the Court of Appeals erred in concluding: (1) that the error in admitting the rap videos had no affect on the outcome at trial; (2) that the error in admitting the gang-affiliation testimony was not plain error; and (3) that the erroneously admitted evidence, in conjunction with the prosecutor's closing argument, did not constitute impermissible character evidence. 

Bennett remains in custody at the Alger Correctional Facility. His earliest release date is December 2046.