A California appeals court tossed a reputed gang member’s murder conviction, ruling that prosecutors unfairly used a rap video as evidence and citing a new state law that curbs such practice.
Travon Rashad Venable, 34, remains at Calipatria State Prison pending possible review by the state's high court or a potential retrial for his role in the March 5, 2014, slaying of Enon “Bubba” Edwards, who was shot in the head.
Venable was convicted of first degree murder, after prosecutors said he was behind the wheel of the drive-by shooting near Medical Center Drive and West Union Street in San Bernardino, which is about 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
Jurors were showed a YouTube rap video that featured Venable’s younger brother, “Young Trocc" and included appearances by Venable and other members of California Gardens Crips gang, court records showed.
"They could be seen flashing gang signs and displayed guns, drugs, and money," according to the state's Fourth Appellate Division ruling issued on Feb. 17.
"At one point, Venable held a rifle with an extended magazine. One of the lines in the rap was: 'Got word from a bird that they did that [racial slur] dead wrong/Slid up Medical and left that [racial slur] head gone.' ”
A gang expert testified that the video showed that "a California Gardens member shot someone else in the head on Medical Center" and that the group was “claiming ownership” of the slaying, the court said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom this past fall signed into law restrictions on how prosecutors could use such music in their cases.
Rappers Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Too $hort, Ty Dolla $ign, YG, E-40 and Tyga were at a virtual bill signing ceremony to support Newsom's action.
"There’s no question the trial judge’s admission of the rap evidence in this case did not comply with the new requirements for admission of creative expression," the appeals court said.
"There’s also substantial concern that admitting the evidence may have had the precise effects the Legislature sought to avoid. The rap video contains offensive language, including frequent uses of the n-word, depictions of guns and drugs, and references to violent gang activities. Most of the people who appear in the video are young Black men."
This could the first time a conviction could be erased due to that new state law.
"As far as I know this is the first published appellate decision addressing this new state law," Venable's attorney Joshua Siegel said in a statement to NBC News on Friday.
Venable had been sentenced to 129 years to life behind bars, according to the appears court. State prison record show he would have been eligible for parole as soon as October of 2048.
Reps for the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office, San Bernardino Police Department and California Attorney General's Office could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday morning.
Venable’s attorney said his client is aware of the ruling but the lawyer declined any further comment.