Rapper McKinley Phipps Jr., who was jailed for 21 years and one day for a crime he claims not to have committed, may soon be granted clemency following the Louisiana parole board’s unanimous vote in favor of his release.
Phipps, known to hip-hop fans as “Mac,” was convicted in 2001 of manslaughter in filming 19-year-old spectator Barron “Bookie” Victor Jr. at a nightclub in the parish of St. Tammany. Phipps’ legal team fought to commute his 30-year sentence after a series of investigative reports from former HuffPost reporter David Lohr revealed flaws in his conviction.
The Louisiana Pardons and Parole Board on Monday recommended that Phipps be immediately eligible for parole. It now goes to the office of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) for approval. If approved, Phipps will have to appear before the parole board again.
“Today has been a good day. It’s sort of the start of the road to freedom, but there are still some basics to go. McKinley’s wife Angelique Phipps told HuffPost. “It’s a start. One more step.”
“Not only is it amazing for us, but I believe it also gives hope to those who find themselves in comparable situations. Our goal is in sight and we will reach the finish line, ”she said.
While there is no timeline for the governor’s decision, Phipps’ family are optimistic it will be swift as concerns remain over the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
“This governor is incredibly fair. He seems to be doing the right thing when it comes to reforming the criminal justice system here, ”said Angelique Phipps.
Angelique was present at Monday’s hearing – held at bay via Zoom due to the pandemic – as were her husband’s parents, Sheila and McKinley Phipps. Phipps Sr. became noticeably emotional after the board made its decision.
At the time of filming on February 21, 2000, Phipps was a 22-year-old rising star with No Limit Records. He was at the Mercedes Club in Slidell to perform when Victor was shot and killed. Phipps has been behind bars ever since.
“During his time at Elayn Hunt Correctional, McKinley served as a certified mentor for a number of groups, was appointed and maintained as a trustee, volunteered with the mental health and hospice units, served as president of the Music Association, completed several upgrading courses, and began her college education, ”Angelique said in a statement read to Monday’s hearing.
A team of lawyers from Spell & Spell took over Phipps’ case in 2015 after Lohr’s investigations into the HuffPost revealed a series of issues with his conviction. The prosecution did not use forensic evidence and did not acknowledge another man’s confession. Several witnesses told HuffPost they were pressured into lying by authorities. Phipps’ rap lyrics were used against him at trial to portray him as someone capable of committing the crime.
Buddy Spell and his partners Annie Spell and Tara Zeller filed for clemency in 2016 which was ultimately denied. Two years ago, Phipps himself filed a petition, Angelique said.
After a long process, during which she “called the parole board office every week,” Angelique learned in December that her husband would have his hearing in February.
Spell told HuffPost that it was a deeply moving day.
“It’s huge. It’s wonderful,” he said. “I screamed and cried.”
Phipps has been free from work in an establishment in Raceland in the parish of Lafourche since the beginning of the month. Reliving the night of the shooting at the parole board on Monday, Phipps said he saw a commotion on the dance floor and heard a gunshot. He ran to the front door to look for his mother, and they left together, he said, adding that he later learned that a man had been killed.
Russell Baker, a close childhood friend of Phipps who was with him that night, told HuffPost that it had been a long and painful struggle over the years that followed, and that he will not feel relief. until he can finally see his friend again with his family.
“It’s been essentially 21 years since this happened. At first my faith was strong and I knew that no innocent man would be sent to prison for life. I knew for a fact he was innocent, ”said Baker. “My faith in the justice system has taken a hit.”
He said he will always be sympathetic to the victim’s family, but that won’t change what happened to his friend.
Erik Nielson, professor at the University of Richmond and co-author of “Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics and Guilt in America”, was part of the team fighting for Phipps’ freedom. Nielson has conducted extensive research that has criticized the use of lyrics to seek criminal convictions against black performers.
“Everyone is very optimistic that this is by far the biggest obstacle,” he told HuffPost of Monday’s verdict. “His whole family has been tireless. Her parents were so devastated by the process.
But there is still a lingering uncertainty, he said. “It’s not over until he’s out.
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