Former No Limit rapper McKinley “Mac” Phipps Jr. was granted parole and released from prison Tuesday after spending nearly half his life incarcerated for a fatal shooting at a Louisiana nightclub when he was 22 years old.
Phipps Jr., 43, was released just hours after the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole made its unanimous decision to grant parole. He served 21 years of a 30-year sentence and has maintained his innocence. His case gained renewed attention in 2015 after five witnesses told HuffPost they were intimidated by prosecutors into testifying against him.
“We feel deeply relieved & blessed to have McKinley home,” his wife Angelique Phipps told HuffPost in a text message on Wednesday. “This has been a long time coming and we look forward to this next chapter of life.”
Phipps Jr. said he was thankful for the opportunity when he spoke during an online parole hearing Tuesday morning that was attended by his parents, Sheila and McKinley Phipps, and his wife.
“I’m sorry to all the people that were affected by this situation and I definitely want to say I’m sorry to the family of the victim and just anyone who was affected by this in any way.”
Phipps Jr. said he planned to help with his mother’s business, an art gallery and studio, and work as a painter for a friend’s construction business
In 2001, Phipps was found guilty of manslaughter in the killing of 19-year-old concertgoer Barron “Bookie” Victor Jr. a year earlier at a nightclub in Slidell, Louisiana. Victor Jr. was shot after a fight broke out at an event where Phipps, a rising star signed to No Limit Records at the time, was set to perform.
Phipps, his friends, family and fans have long been adamant he was not involved. In 2015, a series of investigative reports by former HuffPost reporter David Lohr exposed a range of faults in his conviction. This included a confession from a bodyguard, which was discounted by prosecutors, and five witnesses who signed affidavits swearing they were ignored or coerced into false testimony. They came forward after former District Attorney Walter Reed, who led the prosecution, left office. Reed was sentenced in 2017 to four years in prison for corruption and fraud.
Phipps repeatedly fought for his freedom and exoneration; however, a previous application for parole in 2016 was rejected. A more recent legal effort to overturn his conviction stalled after the Supreme Court decided not to retroactively apply its ruling that non-unanimous juries ― like the one that convicted Phipps ― were unconstitutional. Louisiana was one of two states that allowed split verdicts at the time of his conviction.
In February, the parole board voted to grant clemency. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed off on that request in March. A clemency grant recognizes a person’s efforts in self-development; it does not exonerate them for crimes.
Board officials noted Tuesday that Phipps Jr. had a stellar record during his incarceration, had no disciplinary infractions, received technical education certifications and led mentorship programs for younger inmates. He was doing a work-release program in Lafourche Parish when he was paroled.
Phipps Jr.’s release comes with conditions. He will have a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, must stay away from venues that serve alcohol, must participate in 6 hours of community service a month with at-risk youth and meet with his parole officer weekly for the first 90 days.
Angelique Phipps said the Supreme Court’s decision last month was disappointing, but for the moment, they were focused on getting Phipps Jr. settled and off to a successful start in his new chapter of life. They will reexamine the possibility of exoneration in the future, she said.