PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Over a year after his incarceration sparked a national outcry for criminal-justice reform complete with its own hashtag, rapper Meek Mill returns to court Tuesday to push for a retrial.
Mill, whose full name is Robert Rihmeek Williams, garnered national attention in November 2017 when he was sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating probation from a 2008 drug- and firearms-possession case.
After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the rapper’s release on bail last April, Philadelphia prosecutors requested that Mill be retried on the 2008 charges before a new judge.
Mill, 32, has long pushed for a new trial on the basis that the name of the police officer who arrested him appeared on a list kept by prosecutors of cops they would not call to testify at trial because their credibility was in question.
The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News dug up more dirt on the officer, Reginald Graham, in March 2018 article, saying he retired on the heels of a report from Internal Affairs that found he stole money in a drug bust and later lied to the FBI about it.
Graham arrested Mill on drug and gun charges two years after this bust, according to the report.
Apart from Graham’s credibility, supporters of Mill have questioned whether the rapper faced bias from Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Genece Brinkley, who had overseen Mill’s case since he was charged in 2008.
In sentencing Mill to jail time, Brinkley claimed at the 2017 hearing on Mill’s probation that the rapper was violating the terms of his court-ordered community service by bagging clothes instead of serving meals.
“Every time I do more and more and more to give you break after break after break to help you, you basically thumb your nose at me and do just what you want the way you want,” Brinkley said at the time. “So … I’m going to give you a sentence of incarceration. This sentence is absolutely necessary to vindicate the authority of the court.”
Mill’s lawyer, Joe Tacopina of Tacopina & Seigel in New York, has said Brinkley became inappropriately involved in the rapper’s case over time.
In a May appeal brief, even District Attorney Larry Krasner noted that the visit Brinkley paid Mill at the homeless shelter where he was performing community service was not one the judge made for other defendants.
Krasner said the trial court “abused its discretion” in imprisoning Mill.
Both Mill and DA Krasner have requested that a different judge preside over Mill’s retrial, should the Superior Court grant such relief after Tuesday’s hearing.
It was a few years after his arrest that Mill burst onto the hip-hop scene with a hit 2012 studio album “Dreams and Nightmares” and a guest verse on the Mariah Carey single “Triumphant (Get ’Em).”
Mill’s recent stint behind bars propelled him farther into prominence, with his cause being championed by high-profile figures including Philadelphia 76ers minority owner Michael Rubin and rapper-turned-mogul Jay-Z, who also signed Mill to his Roc Nation artist management team.
Although unsubstantiated in court documents, Tacopina has alleged in at least one public statement that Judge Brinkley pressured to Mill sign with her friend’s record label, and also requested a “shout-out” in one of his songs.
Both alleged requests went unfulfilled, fueling public speculation that the judge had an ax to grind with the rapper.
Brinkley has long denied that she mishandled Mill’s case.
Meek’s latest album “Championships” debuted in November at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 charts.