When Cassidy entered a Philadelphia courtroom Tuesday morning, he faced the possibility of life in prison — or even the death penalty — if convicted. But by the time his preliminary hearing concluded, and before he was carted back to jail, things were starkly different for the rapper, whose real name is Barry Reese.
Municipal Court Judge Marsha Neifield reduced Cassidy's first-degree murder count Tuesday afternoon (August 16) to murder in the third, after ballistics evidence presented in open court revealed that the April 15 shooting that killed 22-year-old Desmond Hawkins and injured two others was not, as police alleged, one-sided (see "Cassidy Denied Bail, Booked Into Medium-Security Prison").
"We were able to show today at the preliminary hearing that the deceased and his friends were actually firing shots in the direction of Cassidy and the guys he was with," said the rapper's defense attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr. "We established, through the ballistics evidence, that there were shots being fired both ways. So based on that, the judge concluded that there wasn't enough evidence for a first-degree murder case, but she held him on third-degree murder."
In Pennsylvania, first-degree murder is defined as as intentional killing when it is committed by an intentional killing. Third-degree murder encompasses all other homicidal acts.
"This really isn't the time to raise the issue of self-defense, but now, there's clearly evidence in the case that that's going to be part of the case," Perri said. "We're not conceding that Cassidy fired a weapon that night, but the judge decided there's no evidence that there was a specific intent to kill anybody — it was something that sprang out of an incident that looks like it was some kind of an altercation or fight that escalated into gunfire both ways."
Neifield set bail at $2.5 million, but Cassidy need only raise 10 percent of that amount for his release. Tuesday marked Cassidy's 60th consecutive day in prison, and his stint behind bars is far from over. The judge's bail order was stayed to permit the prosecutor's office ample time to appeal Tuesday's decision; a deadline for that appeal was set for September 5, but Cassidy could be released next week.
The prosecution can appeal the charge reduction to a higher, Common Pleas Court judge, Perri said. If the district attorney's office is successful in its appeal bid, it could refile the first-degree murder charge against Cassidy. Perri said the prosecution could decide as early as Monday whether they plan an appeal.
Assistant District Attorney Deborah Watson-Stokes told The Philadelphia Inquirer she will appeal the ruling.
The weapons, conspiracy and two attempted-murder counts that have been filed against Cassidy in addition to murder remain unchanged.
Perri said considering his client now faces a much less severe punishment if convicted — 20 to 40 years in prison — today's ruling was a victory.
"Today was a win, and we expect to keep winning and we expect to win the case at trial," he said. For the last 60 days, Cassidy has been "anxious. He's frustrated. He wants to get back to work. He wants to be exonerated in this case and it's a process for him. He's upbeat and he's looking forward to getting back to work and seeing his fans again."