NEW ORLEANS -- Rap musician Michael Render, better known as Killer Mike, stood up for jailed recording artist McKinley "Mac" Phipps on Wednesday, telling Dillard University students that a prosecutor's twisting of Phipps' lyrics during his manslaughter trial threatens everyone's free speech.
"If we let this stand, what you're going to see is that tool is going to be used to wipe out an entire potential generation of [artists] out of our community," Killer Mike told students of the historically black college in Cook Auditorium.
"It becomes a danger to you ... because it just becomes another tool that prosecutors can now use to ... strip you of your freedom of speech, which is guaranteed to every American," Killer Mike said. "So we must stand with artists like Mac."
Phipps, serving 30 years for manslaughter in the Feb. 21, 2000, shooting death of a fan at a concert in nearby St. Tammany Parish, was convicted by a jury that heard from an eyewitness who now says she lied when she fingered him as the gunman because of prosecutors' threats to charge her, and a prosecutor who misleadingly spliced together lyrics from two Phipps songs, according to a four-month Huffington Post review of Phipps’ conviction published last week. Four other witnesses to the shooting told HuffPost they also were threatened, intimidated or outright ignored by investigators.
The witnesses in recent days have signed sworn affidavits, which Phipps' lawyer plans to use to ask for a new trial.
Killer Mike, who was invited to the Dillard campus by university President Walter Kimbrough to discuss hip-hop ethical behavior and community relations, devoted a significant portion of his lecture to Phipps' case.
"I was a diehard No Limit fan," Killer Mike said, referring to Phipps' recording label. "Mac had some jamming records, seemed like a great guy and all of a sudden he was locked up and convicted of murder and it turns out that at that time many of us fans had heard Mac was not guilty and was essentially being framed."
In the late '90s, Phipps was a young hip-hop artist known as "Mac the Camouflage Assassin." Master P had signed him to No Limit Records, alongside Snoop Dogg and Mystikal. He was a member of the 504 Boyz, and their 2000 album, "Goodfellas," went gold, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
In 2000, when Phipps was 22, he was swept up in the investigation of 19-year-old Barron Victor Jr.'s killing. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
The Mac Story (Story Continues Below)
After reviewing developments in Phipps' case with Dillard students, Killer Mike turned to a HuffPost article published Tuesday that showed how the prosecutor's use of Phipps' rap lyrics inside the courtroom during his 2001 trial may have misled jurors. It was a calculated move in a case with zero physical evidence.
"There is a rapper in jail illegally and his rap lyrics were chopped up spliced and used by the prosecution to indict and find him guilty on a murder he didn't commit," Killer Mike told the students.
MAC PERFORMING ON STAGE: (Story Continues Below)
At Phipps' trial, St. Tammany Parish Assistant District Attorney Bruce Dearing linked Phipps' lyrics to the charges against him.
"This defendant who did this is the same defendant whose message is, 'Murder murder, kill, kill, you f**k with me you get a bullet in your brain.' You don't have to be a genius to figure out that one plus one equals two," Dearing told the all-white jury during closing arguments.
The remarks resonated with jurors.
"I don't listen to that s**t, but the music might have been the problem," juror Robert Hammell told HuffPost. "The rap got his mind all messed up."
Hammell and other jurors didn't know at the time that the lyrics Dearing quoted weren't taken from a single song. They were spliced together from parts of two songs -- "Murda, Murda, Kill, Kill" and "Shell Shocked" -- and some of the words were changed.
Dearing has declined to comment. District Attorney Walter Reed, who led the prosecution, left office in January, dogged by a reported federal investigation into campaign spending and outside businesses. Reed has declined to comment.
The new district attorney, Warren Montgomery, said in a statement last week that his office will answer when Phipps presents the court with evidence.
"At that time, I will fulfill my responsibility to respond to the allegations," Montgomery said.
Killer Mike, after addressing Dillard students in the auditorium, met privately with Phipps' mother, Sheila Phipps, and pledged his support to getting her son a new trial.
Sheila Phipps told HuffPost she was "extremely grateful" for Killer Mike's support.
"I was happy that Mike talked about the case and made the young people at the university aware of it," she said. "I appreciate that he is passionate about this case and is helping get the word out about it. It is people like Mike that give us the energy to keep moving forward."