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Originally published Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 9:51 AM

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Murder trial opens for rapper in '93 NY shooting

A rapper was aiming for redemption when he told police he'd committed a nearly 20-year-old shooting, but there are too many uncertainties to convict him of the killing that police matched with his confession, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Associated Press

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NEW YORK —

A rapper was aiming for redemption when he told police he'd committed a nearly 20-year-old shooting, but there are too many uncertainties to convict him of the killing that police matched with his confession, his lawyer said Tuesday.

But prosecutors told jurors there were enough similarities to find rapper G. Dep guilty.

The murder trial of the onetime rap up-and-comer, born Trevell Coleman, opened Tuesday. Jurors will have the unusual task of deciding what to make of a long-cold case that was reopened only because of his confession, which doesn't square with some key details of John Henkel's 1993 death, although it matches others.

"He knows he did something wrong," and he spoke up because he wanted to do the right thing, defense lawyer Anthony L. Ricco told jurors. But he urged them to scrutinize whether the circumstances of Henkel's death really fit the rapper's admission, and to view that admission as the product of a person moved by conscience.

"Some people would say too late, but I would say it's never too late to seek your redemption," Ricco said.

Prosecutors painted the case as straightforward, if a long time in coming together.

The evidence comes "from pretty much the most reliable source you could have. it comes from the mouth of Trevell Coleman himself," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney David Drucker said in his opening statement. "I think you'll find that the more you study the evidence . you'll see it just matches up too greatly for coincidence."

Henkel 32, was shot in the chest on a Harlem corner.

As part of rap impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs' roster of newcomers at Bad Boy Records in the late 1990s and early 2000s, G. Dep scored a rap-chart hit with "Special Delivery." The video for his "Let's Get It" helped popularize a loose-limbed dance called the Harlem shake.

But his career dwindled after his 2001 debut album, "Child of the Ghetto," and he has said he became a heavy user of PCP, the potent hallucinogen also known as angel dust. He was arrested at least a dozen times on drug, trespassing and other charges.

He was trying to reinvigorate his career, with a new album out online, when he decided to come forward in late 2010.

"I didn't feel like I could go on, living my life - indulging in life and feeling the highs and lows and just basking in what I thought was a good life - knowing what I did affected someone else's life," he told the hip-hop magazine XXL in a jailhouse interview in June.

He first went to a Harlem police precinct in November 2010, but officers took his name and phone number and sent him home, Ricco said. No one called, so the rapper went back the next month. That time, an officer summoned a detective.

G. Dep told authorities the shooting happened when he was about 17 to 19 years old, as he tried to mug a stranger at gunpoint at East 114th Street and Park Avenue. The victim grabbed the rapper's .40-caliber gun, and he pulled it back and fired at the man three times, he said in a videotaped statement partly played at a pretrial hearing in January. He said he rode off on a bicycle and wasn't sure whether the man had been struck.

Looking through old homicide records, detectives found Henkel's death. He was shot three times with a .40-caliber gun at the same location in October 1993, when G. Dep was nearing his 19th birthday.

Other details also matched, including the time of day and the rapper's description of the victim's skin tone and roughly his size and age, Drucker said.

A witness described seeing two suspects flee on bicycles; G. Dep said no one else was involved. Drucker suggested the rapper might be trying to protect an accomplice.

But G. Dep also described the victim as blond, clean-shaven and wearing a green plaid coat, when Henkel actually had brown hair, facial hair and a tan leather coat, Ricco said. The rapper said he thought the shooting happened in February or March, rather than the fall, the attorney said. And police found only one shell casing, though G. Dep recalled firing three times.

Drucker said investigators had pored through years of police computer and microfilm records and found no other incidents, fatal or otherwise, that fit what G. Dep recalled. Ricco responded that many crimes don't get reported.

G. Dep, who's married and has three school-age children, could face the possibility of 25 years to life in prison if he's convicted. Ricco has said prosecutors offered a 15-year-to-life sentence if the rapper would plead guilty, but he didn't take the offer.

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