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Very Real

5 'Criminal' Songs That Were Used As Evidence In Court

Did you know that some songs have been used in court as evidence? An Oxygen writer checks out these "criminal" tunes.

By Tamara Palmer

While rapper C-BO and metal band Exodus seem like wildly different acts, they have at least one thing in common — their songs were used as evidence in a court of law.

C-BO, seemingly autobiographically, rapped about his pre-trial conference in "Deadly Game."

"D.A. had a proposition / He said if I lose at trial / I'd get 38 with the L on top /But take the deal / he'd give me five with having most of the charges dropped," the song goes.

Exodus tried to go into the mind of the Virginia Tech shooter in ""Class Dismissed (A Hate Primer)": "Hate I need it and it needs me / Hate I feed it and it fed me." 

But can song lyrics boasting about misdeeds or glorifying violence actually be used as evidence in court?

Some states say yes and others have handed down a resounding no. Here are some headline-making cases:

1. “Deadly Game” by C-BO

“Deadly Game” was used in court to prove a parole was violated. Sacramento rapper C-BO (born Shawn Thomas) has a lengthy discography, including collaborations on the late Tupac Shakur’s 1996 album All Eyez on Me. He was arrested at his home in 1998 after the California State Department of Corrections deemed lyrics from his album “… Til My Casket Drops” violated his parole on a 1994 gun charge because they promoted violence towards law enforcement.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the rapper was told by authorities that every song on the album was a parole violation, but most of the attention went to one song — “Deadly Game,” which invited then-governor Pete Wilson to suck on his private parts. It said of police officers, “When they try to pull you over, shoot him in the face, y’all.” Later, in an Ohio courtroom, MTV reported that he rapped his statement to a judge who gave him probation.

“They was really angry about me speaking on the three-strikes law going on in California,” he told East Bay Express in an interview conducted while serving a subsequent unrelated stint at Avenal State Prison in 2005. “I told the police, ‘Before I get a third strike, I might as well shoot him in the face, know what I mean? I’m-a get life anyway, so. . .’ But that’s the mentality of the people who are out here in the streets.”

2. “Class Dismissed (A Hate Primer)” by Exodus

Could a song motivate someone to kill? Exodus, a legendary metal band from Northern California formed in 1979 by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, made headlines in 2014 thanks to the eight-day sentence of one of their fans.

James Evans from Greenville, Kentucky was arrested and thrown in jail for more than a week after posting these lyrics to “Class Dismissed (A Hate Primer),” which is about the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, to Facebook: “Student bodies lying dead in the halls/A blood spattered treatise of hate/Class dismissed is my hypothesis/Gun fire ends the debate.” According to his arrest warrant, those lyrics were an indication that he was threatening to kill people at a local school.

“The band Exodus does not promote or condone terrorists, threats or bullying,” Exodus said in a statement in response to Evan’s arrest. “That being said, the band is somewhat baffled by the fact that this man [is] being charged for what seems against his First Amendment rights of Freedom of Speech.”

3. “187” and “Bodybag” by Lil Boosie

Sometimes even isolated words from songs can be brought up in court in relation to another accusation.

Lil Boosie was found not guilty of murder in 2012, but in a pre-trial hearing for the case, a Louisiana judge decided that the specific words “187” and “murk” from his song “187” as well as the song “Bodybag” (both collaborations with “Bling Bling” rapper B.G.) could be shared in court.

According to Rolling Stone, the songs were later rejected by the jury as circumstantial evidence.

4. “Drug Deala” by Deyundrea Orlando Holmes

This song was, eerily, too close to an actual crime — and helped in its conviction. An aspiring yet unknown rapper named Deyundrea Orlando Holmes was convicted of first-degree murder in 2008 for the 2003 shooting death of Kevin “Mo” Nelson in front of a recording studio in Reno, Nevada. Holmes’ “Drug Deala” contained lyrics describing a similar incident, including, “I’m parking lot jacking, running through your pockets with [a] ski mask on, straight laughing.”

An appeal was filed to the Nevada Supreme Court arguing that the jury should not have been allowed to listen to one of his songs in court. 

The Nevada Supreme Court declared that, while the violent lyrics could not be used to prove that Holmes “is a person of bad character or that he has a disposition to commit a crime,” the song could not be exempt from jury consideration because “the lyrics describe details that mirror the crime charged,” WMGT reported. According to The Australian, Holmes’ sentence of life without parole was upheld.

5. Various songs by Vonte Skinner

Notebooks containing handwritten lyrics helped convict a man for aggravated assault.

In 2014, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered a third trial for Vonte Skinner, who was convicted in 2008 of shooting and injuring Lamont Peterson in Willingboro Township in 2005. His first trial ended in a mistrial, but he was convicted during the second trial after rap lyrics he had written in personal notebooks were read aloud in court. One lyric snippet, later cited by the Supreme Court ruling, read, “Dead drunk in the bar, face lent over the wheel of your car, brains in your lap, tryin’ to comprehend what the f*** just tore you apart, made your brains pop out your skull.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court, overturning the decision in 2014, wrote, “One would not presume that Bob Marley, who wrote the well-known song ‘I Shot the Sheriff,’ actually shot a sheriff, or that Edgar Allan Poe buried a man beneath his floorboards, as depicted in his short story ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’ simply because of their respective artistic endeavors on those subjects. Defendant’s lyrics should receive no different treatment.”

NJ.com reported that Skinner’s third trial in 2015 ended in a conviction on two counts of aggravated assault; the jury deadlocked on the charge of attempted murder. An appeal for a fourth trial was rejected.

[Photo: C-BO at the UGK Concert on February 19, 2006 in Houston, Texas. By Ray Tamarra/Getty Images]