Before premiering his upcoming, Jay Z-produced Amazon series, “Free Meek,” on August 9, Philadelphia-based rapper Meek Mill had a far greater show to deal with. And one with twice the drama and character arcs.
On Tuesday, Mill and his lawyers stood before three Pennsylvania Superior Court judges in a Philadelphia courtroom to ask that his 2008 conviction on gun and drug charges be tossed out and a new trial be set. Even before Tuesday’s hearing, lawyers on both sides had already agreed that the most damning testimony during the initial 2008 conviction was based on poor evidence from, and credibility issues with, “a bad cop,” in the words of Mill’s appellate attorney, Kim M. Watterson — and that such testimony be thrown out going further. The sole witness at the original trial was the now-retired Reginald Graham, who later was placed on the Philadelphia district attorney’s office “do not call” list due to his history of misconduct.
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Though clearly pleased and smiling, Mill and his lawyers did not speak on the way out of the Center City courthouse. Instead, Van Jones, the CEO of REFORM Alliance, spoke for Mill and on behalf of REFORM, stating confidently that Mill’s conviction would be overturned completely within two months.
“I have been in criminal justice for 25 years, and I have never seen a district attorney’s office be calling for a new trial at the same time the defendant is calling for a new trial,” said Jones. “We are one step closer to justice. This hearing was an extraordinary moment where you have attorneys on both sides saying that a new trial should go forward.”
Also in the mix at the July 16 hearing: a long held request for fresh adjudication. Mill’s original 2008 judge, Genece Brinkley, sent Mill back to prison in 2017 after she found he’d violated his probation with minor technical probation violations and returned him to prison for 2-4 years. Brinkley had also denied Mill’s continued bids for a new trial, stating in court papers that she did not believe Mill’s lawyers or the D.A.’s office had sufficiently proved the evidence used to secure his original 2007 arrest was tainted.
State prosecutors have been on Mill’s side for some time, as they did not oppose his release on bail after the rapper got thrown back in prison for a few months in late 2017, and even argued that Brinkley had exhibited bias against the entertainer.
What made the July 16 hearing fascinating was that the prosecuting body, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office — led by controversially liberal D.A. Larry Krasner — also agreed that the police officer was an unreliable witness, and that Brinkley had repeatedly shown bias in her decisions. One of the three Pennsylvania Superior Court judges even told Mill (resplendent in an all-black suit and Dior pin) and his attorneys that if the appellate court ruled the rapper should be granted a new trial, procedural guidelines required that his case would be transferred to a judge other than Brinkley.
In keeping with the mission of the REFORM Alliance to dramatically reduce the number of people who are unjustly under the control of the criminal justice system, Van Jones said outside the courthouse that Mill wasn’t just doing this for himself but for countless other incarcerated souls victimized by that same system.
It ain’t over yet, but it’s far closer to having Mill remove the stain of a decade-plus conviction from his record.