A Philadelphia judge declared rapper Cassidy guilty Tuesday afternoon of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of 22-year-old Desmond Hawkins and sentenced the rapper to 11 and a half to 23 months behind bars, plus probation. According to defense attorney Fortunato Perri, Cassidy will get seven months' credit for time he's already served and be eligible for parole "in the near future."
Cassidy was also convicted of two counts of aggravated assault and possession of an instrument of crime for his involvement in the shooting. Perri said that police seized "a large amount of ammunition from [Cassidy's] house," some of which matched ballistically with shell casings that were recovered from the crime scene. Judge Jane Greenspan based her decision on the fact that "although he didn't start the problem, he may have helped to escalate the situation because of his access to the ammunition," Perri explained.
"You could be a leader in the community," The Associated Press quoted Greenspan as saying before handing out her sentence. "All those guns — that's why Desmond is gone now, because of all those guns."
After the judge read the sentence, Cassidy "expressed a great deal of relief and remorse," Perri said. "Obviously, he's happy to know that he's going to be released from prison soon and can get back to recording and spending time with his family. It's been a difficult seven months for him."
Cassidy has been incarcerated since turning himself in to Philadelphia police in June (see "Cassidy Turns Himself In On Murder, Weapons Charges").
The rapper's first-degree murder trial began Monday with him waiving his right to a trial by jury, leaving his fate in the hands of Judge Greenspan — a move that worked successfully for the defense, in that Cassidy was convicted on the lesser charge.
Cassidy (real name: Barry Reese) faced life in prison — and a possible death sentence — if convicted of the first-degree charge. He was accused of the murder of Hawkins and the attempted murders of two other men, with both charges stemming from the same April 15 shooting incident (see "Cassidy Denied Bail, Booked Into Medium-Security Prison"). In August, the charge was briefly reduced to third-degree murder, but the original charge was reinstated the following month (see "Judge Reinstates First-Degree Murder Charge Against Cassidy").
Hawkins was shot in the back while sitting in a van that was parked in an alleyway behind Cassidy's home in Philadelphia's Cedarbrook neighborhood. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Hawkins and a group of his friends drove to Cassidy's house seeking retribution for a fight that had broken out hours before, outside a nearby pharmacy. The fight, according to the prosecution, was between Hawkins' friend, Roberto Johnson, and a member of Cassidy's crew.
According to Monday's testimony, shots rang out as soon as the van pulled into the alley. Witnesses did not agree on who fired the first rounds, but ballistics evidence indicates that bullets came from both sides: 30 were fired into the van and at least 12 shot from the van. Police maintain Cassidy and two other men, both of whom remain at large, fired shots on three unarmed individuals, killing Hawkins.
Johnson testified that he'd been outside the van, urinating in someone's backyard, when the first shots were fired. "They drive past," he said, referring to his friends, and "I [got] myself together. ... When I heard the gunshots, I ducked behind a car." He added that the shots seemed to be coming from behind Cassidy's residence, and that they "carried on" for what seemed like "forever. I can't give an exact time frame, but it seemed like a long time."
The paper reported that during cross-examination, Johnson told Perri, that he'd made the trip to Cassidy's home to settle a score and that he was not armed at the time of the shooting. Johnson admitted that he would shoot someone if he felt his own life was being threatened.
According to the Daily News, Perri implied during his cross that it was Johnson who fired the opening salvo that incited the shootout. Prosecutor Deborah Watson-Stokes affirmed her position that the shooting was premeditated; she claimed Cassidy planned the ambush and had stationed four of his cohorts at different spots in the alleyway.
The prosecution called another witness, Joseph Newkirk, who had told police he'd seen Cassidy fire a gun the night of the shooting. But on the witness stand, Newkirk's account changed: He told the court that police intimidated him into making false statements about the incident.
[This story was originally published at 12:01 pm ET on 01.24.2005]