NEW YORK — After eight days of testimony from prosecution witnesses, Lil' Kim took the stand Thursday (March 10) morning to tell jurors in her federal perjury and conspiracy trial she was "not guilty of any of the crimes" she's charged with.
Instead, the diminutive hip-hop diva, with help from her Manhattan attorney Mel Sachs, portrayed herself as a victim of federal prosecutors who both "badgered" and "intimidated" her when she allegedly lied to a grand jury in 2003 about a shootout that unfolded outside New York's Hot 97 radio station in 2001, minutes after she'd made an on-air appearance (see "Lil' Kim Indicted For Lying About Hot 97 Shootout With Capone").
"[I was] shot at," said the rapper, whose real name is Kimberly Jones. "I felt I was a victim there, and I was being badgered for that."
Wearing a lacy pink dress underneath a white blazer, Jones smiled as she took the stand in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. During hours of questions from both Sachs and prosecutor Cathy Siebel, she held fast to what she'd testified to back in 2003 — that she did not see former manager Damion Butler the day of the shooting incident ("I didn't remember seeing him, that's the bottom line") and that she was unable to recognize a photograph of Suif "Gutta" Jackson ("I was not able to make a positive identify; I just wasn't sure").
As part of a plea bargain offered by prosecutors, Butler and Jackson have admitted to firing at members of rap group Capone-N-Noreaga that afternoon (see "Lil' Kim's Ex-Manager To Testify Against Her In Perjury Case"). The shooting is believed to have stemmed from a beef between Jones and rival Foxy Brown, who dissed Jones on Capone-N-Noreaga's 2000 album, The Reunion.
Prior to calling Jones to the stand, the defense elicited testimony from the entertainer's accountant, Michael Mitnick; Atlantic Records Executive Vice President Ronald Johnson; and Jean Nelson, director of A&R for Kim's Queen Bee Records, concerning the rapper's finances, daily work schedule and business operations.
On the stand, Jones described her modest Brooklyn background and the spur-of-the-moment sidewalk audition for Notorious B.I.G. that led her down the path to hip-hop stardom. (Coincidentally, Thursday's hearing came one day after the eight-year anniversary of her former mentor and boyfriend's murder.)
Of the Hot 97 shooting, Jones said, "I heard 'boom, boom' — just gunshots — and I remembered rushing into the limo. I was shaken by it. I couldn't believe what was happening at that moment. My body just shut down — I was just stunned."
She later testified that on the ride home to her three-story New Jersey townhouse, no one discussed the shooting. "There was just a lot of cursing," she said. She also swore she had not spoken to a single soul about the incident until two and a half years later, when she went before the grand jury.
Jones attempted to disassociate herself from hip-hop culture's sometimes negative reputation, at one point saying, "Lil' Kim is my image; that's who I am when I am rapping. Kimberly Denise Jones is who I am when I go home."
Prior to this morning's action, the jury heard Antoine "Banger" Spain and James "Lil' Cease" Lloyd — Brooklyn rappers who once worked with Jones in the group Junior M.A.F.I.A. — testify that they saw Butler and Jackson at the radio station with her, according to The Associated Press.
On Thursday she testified that not long after the shooting, she had a falling out with Butler, Spain and Lloyd, all of whom had lived rent-free in her home. She became "fed up" after having to continually bail them out of jail, she said. Jones added that running in the same circles with the freeloading trio started to have a negative effect on her career. She said she's erased Butler from her life completely.
The afternoon's most shocking moment came when Siebel opened an unassuming satchel, revealing a TEC-9 gun seized from Biggie's bedroom, she said, during a 1996 raid Jones was present for. Jones had told the grand jury that she'd never seen a gun at Biggie's place. Waving the weapon before Judge Gerard Lynch, away from the eyes of recessed jurors, Siebel requested it be introduced as evidence but was denied after strenuous objections from the defense.
Siebel was unrelenting in her attempts to paint Jones as dishonest and said the rapper told the grand jury that after the raid that she was "shocked" to learn Biggie had guns in his house. The prosecutor, during cross-examination, also presented still images from Hot 97 surveillance camera tapes, showing Butler and Jones together both inside and outside the radio station.
Jones is expected to take the stand Friday morning when the trial resumes. She has pleaded not guilty to the perjury and conspiracy charges and faces up to 30 years if convicted.