The rapper wins an unexpectedly light sentence in federal court.
by Steve Volk
Rapper Beanie Sigel received a sentence of 12 months and a day after
the defense and prosecution spent all their time in court last Friday
squabbling over precisely who was on trial here: the rapper Beanie Sigel
or Dwight Grant, the man?
And if they are one and the same, they argued, should the judge bestow his sentence on the Beanie Sigel of April 2003--the man who ran from police and ditched a handgun along the way? Or on the Sigel who stood before them in court?
As the day began federal court Judge R. Barclay Surrick was looking at a strict set of sentencing guidelines that would have netted Sigel between 30 and 37 months of jail time. The prosecution tried to boost that sentence up. The defense tried to haggle it down. And in the end the defense, led by attorney Cheryl A. Krause, won big.
Prosecutor Curtis Douglas pleaded with the judge to consider Sigel's open cases before he pronounced the sentence. Sigel, he said, still faces a simple assault charge for busting a 53-year-old man's orbital bone and a charge of attempted murder.
Surrick admonished the prosecutor, saying he was surprised Douglas would make an argument so counter to the principles the criminal justice system was founded on: "The last time I checked," said Surrick, "in the United States of America, the defendant has a right to a jury trial."
Perhaps the most compelling defense testimony arrived first, in the unlikely form of Sigel's matronly 56-year-old drug counselor and psychotherapist, Susan Gurman, who told Surrick the rapper "should be applauded for what he's accomplished" in rehabilitation.
"Dwight," she said, calling Sigel by his given first name, "was diagnosed with an opiate [most likely Percocet] addiction and a cannabis addiction."
Sigel has been out on bail for more than a year, and in that time he's failed two urine tests. But Gurman told the judge she considered the failures "slips" rather than "relapses," characterizing Sigel as "learning from his mistakes."
When he performed at Madison Square Garden this past year, she told Surrick, it "was the first time he'd ever performed sober. He was afraid that he couldn't be creative without drugs, but he has found that he can."
His fiance and his mother testified too, explaining that a man who was always close to his family had grown closer and more open with them. "My son and I cried together," said his mother, Michelle Brown-Derry, stopping to stifle her own tears. "And I can't tell you what it meant to me for him to tell me he understands the mistakes he's made--and how they hurt me."
Douglas, in his final plea for Surrick to impose the maximum sentence, portrayed Sigel's family as having a "vested interest" in their "meal ticket," a comment that seemed to still the room, which was filled with the rapper's supporters, including Roc-A-Fella luminaries Jay-Z and Damon Dash. Douglas also offered up some of the rapper's spicier lyrics to counter defense claims that Sigel's a valuable role model.
"Slaughter, torture, pour acid on your daughter," read Douglas. "Your bitch pregnant? Rape her, make her break her water.'"
Then Beanie Sigel himself stood up--as Dwight Grant.
In a speech that lasted minutes, Grant sounded tones both humble and defiant. "I'm strong now, and I can face any sentence you give me, and I can stand here and say that I'm a drug addict and I can tell you that what has happened to me has been good, the way I see it, because it gave me a chance to look at myself ... I want to thank my family for their support, because despite what Mr. Douglas said, I know that their only vested interest in me is love. If I never make another dollar, they'll still love me because they love me, Dwight Grant--not Beanie Sigel."
Finally, citing Sigel's efforts at rehabilitation and his good works in the community, Surrick more than halved the rapper's minimum sentence. Sigel and his family hugged. Many of the rapper's supporters cried. But within a few minutes the uncertain future could be found at the courtroom door, where Brown-Derry stood with her new husband.
"Man," said Brown-Derry, still looking pained and wiped out after her testimony. "If he even think, after all this, about having a negative--"
"Hey," her husband Sam Derry interrupted her. "You just look in his eyes, you can see--he knows he's been blessed."
Steve Volk (firstname.lastname@example.org) has diligently documented Beanie Sigel's recent run-ins with the law.