Project Pat's Team Claims Judge Was Biased, Files For New Trial

Rapper serving over seven years for firearm possession convictions.

Lawyers for Project Pat are aiming to spring the jailed "Chickenhead" rapper out of prison early.

Pat, whose real name is Patrick Houston, is serving the confinement portion of his seven-year sentence in a Mason, Tennessee, prison after being convicted on two counts of possessing a firearm while on parole (see "Project Pat Sentenced For Firearm Possession).

In a brief filed to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyer John E. Herbison asked for a new trial, claiming that the judge who sentenced the rapper was biased and that the proceedings were legally flawed.

Herbison complains that judge Robert H. Cleland was swayed by lyrics from Project Pat's 2000 album, Murderers & Robbers. Before sentencing the rapper, the judge said he took into account a booklet of Project Pat's graphic lyrics, which the prosecution had presented during the case.

"The sentence was enhanced because of the lyrics," Herbison said. "That raises problems. Clearly there's the First Amendment right to perform music and to sing or recite particular lyrics."

Herbison also contends that the prosecuting attorney disregarded an agreement he made not to bring up Project Pat's song lyrics during the trial. The supposed violation occurred when Tobert Carruthers, one of the witnesses for the defense, was being cross-examined.

Herbison also claims the judge urged the jury to downplay testimony by Carruthers and another witness, Clarence Edwards, who both claimed the firearms in question belonged to them and not to Project Pat. Both witnesses were childhood friends of the rapper. During the case, a Nashville police officer testified that Houston said the guns were his, and he owned them for self-protection. Cleland told the jury they should take into account that childhood friends might be more motivated to lie than would an officer of the law.

The request also contends that the judge should not have told the jury to disregard defense claims that the police had no legal right to search Project Pat's vehicle and that the prosecution was erroneously allowed to mention that Houston was on parole at the time of his arrest, a fact the defense considers irrelevant to the case.

"The totality of the circumstances of the trial rendered the trial fundamentally unfair," Herbison said.

Herbison said he hopes to receive a briefing schedule from the appellate court in the next few weeks, but that his argument to determine whether there will be a new trial probably won't be scheduled for months.

Project Pat was convicted by a federal jury in Jackson, Tennessee, in March and sentenced to 51 months of confinement and three years of supervised release for each count of possession a firearm as a felon (see "Project Pat Facing 10 Years For Firearm Conviction). He was arrested in January 2001 when Memphis police pulled over his Cadillac Escalade and discovered two loaded revolvers under a front floor mat.