Judge Reinstates First-Degree Murder Charge Against Cassidy

Rapper faces life in prison, possible death sentence, if convicted.

Cassidy's been sitting behind bars for more than three months -- ever since turning himself over to Philadelphia police, who then charged him with the April 15 murder of 22-year-old Desmond Hawkins. Last month it appeared the rapper's days of confinement were numbered, thanks to a judge's ruling that, in effect, reduced the first-degree murder charge to the third degree -- thus opening the door, for the first time in two months, to the possibility of parole.

But Monday morning (September 12) a different judge, Court of Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner, slammed that door shut and locked it tight. Lerner decided to reinstate the first-degree murder charge against Cassidy, born Barry Reese, meaning he's going to be spending the foreseeable future in a prison cell awaiting trial. That means at this point, Cassidy's only chance for freedom is an acquittal on all charges.

Last week Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Deborah Watson-Stokes prepared an arrest warrant for Cassidy, and then, just a few days later, that warrant was executed and the rapper was arrested again for the first-degree murder of Hawkins. He also stands accused of the attempted murders of two other men, with both charges stemming from the same April 15 shooting incident.

Watson-Stokes had appealed Municipal Court Judge Marsha Neifield's August 16 decision to minimize the first-degree murder count to murder in the third (see [article id="1507726"]"Judge Reduces Murder Charges Against Cassidy, Sets Bail at $2.5 Million"[/article]). She based her decision on ballistics evidence, which seemed to indicate bullets came from both sides during the April shooting. Police maintain Cassidy and two other men, both of whom remain at large, fired shots on three unarmed individuals, killing Hawkins (see [article id="1504372"]"Cassidy Denied Bail, Booked Into Medium-Security Prison"[/article]).

Neifield had set bail for Cassidy at $2.5 million. Had Lerner upheld Neifield's decision during Monday morning's preliminary hearing, he would have posted that amount and been released, ending 13 weeks of incarceration. The next step for Cassidy will be a criminal trial, according to Cathie Abookire, a spokesperson for District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham.

Cassidy faces life in prison -- and a possible death sentence -- if he's convicted on the first-degree charge. According to Watson-Stokes, a jury could ultimately find Cassidy guilty on third-degree murder or manslaughter. "The charge is murder, generally," she explained. "The jury determines what degree of murder it is."

Watson-Stokes said she couldn't characterize the judge's decision as a "victory" for her office. "It's not a victory, it's what's appropriate under the law," she said. "We don't win anything. So no, this isn't a victory. It's what should happen under the law, given these facts. There will be a trial at some point, before a judge or a jury, and the issue will be murder and what degree."

Watson-Stokes said she could not predict when Cassidy's criminal trial would start. A date has not been scheduled as of yet, according to Abookire.

Cassidy's attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., could not be reached for comment.

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