The attorney representing the man accused of shooting and killing Atlanta rapper Dolla in Los Angeles on Monday claims that his client acted in self-defense.
"If somebody has a reasonable perception that he is in danger of bodily injury or death, he has a right to defend himself," Howard K. Price, lawyer for Aubrey Louis Berry told MTV News on Thursday. Price said his client shot at Dolla (real name: Roderick Anthony Burton), 21, at a Los Angeles mall on Monday because he feared for his life when he ran into the rapper and his entourage at the Beverly Center.
Berry was arrested on Monday at Los Angeles International Airport, where he was carrying a loaded 9mm handgun, and charged on Wednesday with two counts of assault with a firearm and one count of murder. According to The Los Angeles Times, police allege that Berry, an Atlanta-based music promoter, had a fight with Dolla at an Atlanta strip club earlier this month, which precipitated Monday's shooting.
However, police disagree with Price's claims of imminent danger, saying no other weapons were recovered from the crime scene and that Burton was not armed. The judge in the case set bail at $5 million (raised from $1 million on Wednesday) in the case and Berry faces life in prison if convicted. Price said he will go to court on Friday in an attempt to get bail reduced for his client, who he portrayed as "a good kid" who did not go looking for trouble.
According to Price, the two men had a fight at the Platinum 21 Adult Entertainment club in Atlanta last month and then happened to run into each other on Monday in Los Angeles at a P.F. Chang's restaurant at the Beverly Center. Price said that Dolla threatened Berry, who left the restaurant after the incident and walked to the mall's valet area to retrieve his car when he noticed that Dolla and two associates were following him. He looked back and thought he saw Dolla reaching for his waistband, presumably to pull out a weapon, Price said. Berry then opened fire.
"He felt his life was in danger because of the previous altercation and what this guy [Burton] is reputed to be, which is [a member of] the Crips [street gang] and the way he conducted himself in the bathroom and the way his crew approached him when they left the restaurant and followed him to the parking lot," the lawyer said. He added that Burton and his associates threatened Berry in the restaurant — though he would not go into detail about the specific alleged threats — and that another verbal encounter followed in the parking lot.
Burton was unarmed at the time, but Price explained that if his client reasonably thought that his life was in danger, then he is not guilty of the murder charge. "If it is unreasonably held [that his life was in danger], but he truly thought that, then the case boils down to no worse than manslaughter," he said. "He did not go there to look for anyone to kill. He was not there to encounter this guy, and this is the weirdest happenstance I've ever encountered in my career, because the videotape of what happened in the restaurant clearly shows my guy coming back from the bathroom and leaving his friends there to go get his car, and shows the other guys following him. If he was seeking to do anything, he wouldn't have left first."
The manager of Platinum 21 told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the fight occurred two weeks ago and that it was over before it even started. "No one seems to know who [Berry] is," said manager Robert "Bull" Shaw.
Police claim that Berry shot Dolla several times. No one else was injured in the incident and the rapper died of his wounds a short time later at nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The AJC also reported that the assault charges stem from Berry taking aim at Dolla's cousin, Wilbert Robinson, and a friend and recording partner, Sidiq Abawi (a.k.a. DM Shabazz). Though Price claims that Dolla was a member of the Crips street gang, the rapper's stepfather told the Atlanta paper that his stepson's street persona was merely a character.
"To us he was just Roddy," said George Viera. "When he was home, you couldn't pry him away. Loved to play with his nieces and nephews, loved to play on the Wii." The family, who are planning a funeral on Saturday for the rapper, said they learned of his murder from his longtime girlfriend, Crystal Jackson, who lives in Los Angeles and is a student at Clark Atlanta University. Dolla was reportedly planning a birthday party for Jackson in Los Angeles, where he was working on his debut album.
His stepfather said Dolla was shot in the back and that the bullet pierced his heart. In addition to finishing the album, Viera said Dolla was planning to go to theology school. "He was very interested in religion. People think rapper, they think hard, but he wasn't that way," said Viera.
Price refuted the claims about Dolla being shot in the back and described his client as an Atlanta resident who often visits Los Angeles for business and to see family, and who has a permit for his weapon in Georgia, and mistakenly believed he had the legal right to carry a concealed gun in Los Angeles. "He has a reason to have a gun there [in Atlanta]," Price said. "He has a permit. He has been victimized physically and there have been robberies on numerous previous occasions. He comes from a decent, wonderful family ... his grandfather was the ex-assistant chief of police of Houston." Price was not clear on why his client, who he described as a college graduate who has never been arrested before in his life, has repeatedly found himself in situations where a gun was necessary for protection. "He was not looking for trouble, I'm not sure how trouble finds him. He's not a gang banger."
Asked why his client fled after the shooting, Price said Berry panicked and, fearing that other gang members might come after him, "he called his sister and in a bad bit of judgment she told him to get out of town and he listened to her and went to the airport. He should have probably turned himself in." Though Price said Berry typically carries his weapon in a lock box, when police approached him at LAX, he told them he was carrying the loaded gun on his person.
Jane Robinson, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, said the evidence for the murder charges was strong enough, "otherwise we wouldn't have charged it," she said. "We only charge what we believe we can prove." Robinson added that her office asked for the unusually high bail because Berry has no ties to Los Angeles and is considered a flight risk. She said Berry is scheduled for arraignment on Friday, at which he will enter a plea in the case.
A representative for Dolla's family had not responded to MTV News' request for comment at press time, but the family said in a statement released Wednesday that it would not be commenting at this time. "There have been numerous false claims of information floating around the 'net and also reported in reputable media outlets," the statement reads in part. "Part of this was due to someone who was not authorized to speak on the family's behalf and who claimed to be the publicist of record decided to disseminate false information on her own and without the consent of the family to several media outlets.
"Due to the circumstances of the situation no other information will be released at this time," the statement continues. "We are grateful for your continued support in these trying times."