PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Rapper and criminal-justice reform crusader Meek Mill took one step closer to vindication Tuesday, with his attorney questioning the credibility of the sole witness in his decade-old criminal case and prosecutors conceding the former police officer couldn’t be put back on the stand.
Defense attorney Kim Watterson argued before a three-judge panel that Mill’s 2008 drug and weapons conviction should be thrown out on the grounds that the cop who arrested him has since been discredited as a reliable witness.
Eight years after testifying against Mill, Philadelphia Police Officer Reginald Graham was named in an Internal Affairs report that said he stole money recovered in a drug bust and then lied about it in an FBI investigation of the incident.
Forced into retirement by the revelation, the disgraced narcotics officer was later added to the Philadelphia district attorney’s do-not-call list of police officers who could not be used as witnesses due to credibility problems.
Graham’s lack of credibility alone entitles Mill to have his sentence vacated – or at least retried – under the Post-Conviction Relief Act, his Los Angeles-based attorney argued Tuesday before a standing-room-only crowd in the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
Speaking on behalf of the prosecution, attorney Paul George presented precious little in the way of rebuttals to Watterson’s arguments, quickly conceding that the commonwealth would not call Graham as a witness if Mill’s case were retried.
A new trial without the witness whose story put Meek behind bars for his original charges would “certainly” yield a different outcome, Watterson said.
The easy accord between the two sides made it seem all but certain that the Billboard chart-topping hip-hop star will at least be retried, and possibly cleared of wrongdoing.
The rapper’s 2008 criminal charges first came under national scrutiny in November 2017, when Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Genece Brinkley sentenced him to a controversial two to four years in prison for a probation violation.
The multiyear bid, apparently handed down in large part because the rapper was bagging clothes instead of feeding the homeless during a court-ordered community service session, was seen as unduly harsh by critics.
Strong public outcry over that punishment both increased Mill’s growing celebrity and put a spotlight on the credibility of the judge who sentenced him and has overseen his case since day one.
With Superior Court Judge Jack Panella opening the proceedings by asking both sides to stick to facts relevant to Mill’s Post Conviction Relief Act petition, potential bias from the Court of Common Pleas judge’s chambers wasn’t a huge topic of discussion in Tuesday’s arguments.
But Brinkley’s alleged “over-involvement” in Mill’s case – which included her unprecedented homeless shelter visit to “check up” on him during his community service hours and the multiyear prison sentence that followed – was occasionally cited as another piece of evidence for why the rapper deserves a new trial.
Watterson said that Brinkley “essentially has acted as a prosecutor at times” throughout the legal drama and that any appearance of partiality in a case creates legal grounds for a judge to step down.
Brinkley had refused for months to bow to public pressure to recuse herself from Mill’s case, even amidst rumors that she had made personal requests of the rapper including a “shout out” in one of his songs.
Speaking on behalf of Mill’s entire legal team, which includes attorneys from several states, Watterson said Tuesday that she is seeking an order vacating her client’s original sentence, which would also invalidate his 2017 probation violation charge.
It is unclear when the three-judge panel, which also included Judges Judith Olson and Kate Ford-Elliott, will decide on whether to throw out Mill’s conviction.
A huge crowd awaited the rapper as he exited the downtown Philadelphia courthouse after his hearing. Both fans and reporters chased him down for comments and photos as he got into his car, even though his handlers said that he would provide neither.
Mill emerged on the hip-hop scene in 2012 with well-received debut album “Dreams and Nightmares” on rapper Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group label.
His latest album, “Championships,” was released last November and debuted at number one on the Billboard charts.