After two months of contest, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld prosecutors’ decision to admit the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony song “Mo’ Murda” as evidence in the sentencing of a convicted killer.
The seven-member court unanimously found it relevant to play the rap song, from Bone Thugs’ 1995 album, E. 1999 Eternal, in order to provide jurors with insight into Michael Tisius’ mindset when he murdered two Randolph County jailers.
The Missouri Attorney General’s office first submitted the rap song as evidence during the penalty phase of Tisius’ trial in October. Tisius’ had already been convicted of the murders and was awaiting a sentence that included a possible death penalty. Deborah Wafer, the public defender representing the convicted murderer, initially contested the use of the Bone Thugs track as evidence, saying prosecutors failed to show a connection between the lyrics of “Mo’ Murda” and the murders themselves. In court briefs, Wafer stated that Tisius did not deserve the death penalty simply “because rap music is widely viewed as connected to gang violence and illegal activities.” She also contended that using a rap song to connect a person to murder was like using a violent play by Shakespeare for the same purpose. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s Bizzy Bone seemed to agree with this argument.
“You can take anything pretty much out of context,” Bizzy said. “If he drank a fifth of Jim Beam would it have been Jim Beam’s fault? I wrote that song after I watched the news, so how deep does the rabbit hole go? How far do you take the blame game? I’m not the one, the prosecutor isn’t the one, the judge, the defender, aren’t the ones who were in that man’s head when he murdered those people.”
However, prosecutors argued that while the music did not cause Tisius to kill the jailers, it showed that “the appellant [Tisius] ’psyched’ himself up for the murders” by listening to “Mo’ Murda” for 45 minutes before the slayings. “These facts were relevant to show his state of mind,” argued Assistant Attorney General John Morris. “He was listening and repeatedly listening to a piece of music that had very violent overtones.” The Missouri Supreme Court agreed.
“They can use it for whatever they’re going to use it for,” Bizzy Bone said. “Because it’s ultimately the Lord who’s got what’s in store for this man if he committed murder. If you’re man enough to take another person’s life you should be man enough to be accountable for your own actions. What song will you listen to now to get you through this situation?”
Bone Thugs are far from the first artists to have their lyrics wind up in the courtroom. The Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” became a notorious part of the 1969 trial of Charles Manson. In subsequent years, music by Slayer, Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne became the lynchpin in a series of high-profile wrongful death suits — all three acts were cleared of liability. And in 1993, a 19-year-old Texas man tried to dodge the death penalty by blaming the lyrics of Tupac Shakur and the Geto Boys for causing him shoot and kill a state trooper. He was ultimately given the death sentence.
“There are a lot of things he could have listened to on any of our eight albums,” Bizzy said. “Maybe those would have swayed him in a different direction.”