Last Thursday the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the rap lyrics written by a man describing the details of a crime he was convicted of are allowable evidence. He had already been convicted of the killing of a Reno drug dealer.
Deyundrea “Khali” Holmes shot Kevin “Mo” Nelson outside of a recording studio in Reno, Nevada in 2003. Holmes was convicted of first-degree murder, and the Nevada Supreme Court upheld the decision with a 2-1 vote.
In 2008, Holmes was arrested and charged following the recovery of genetic evidence off of a cigarette butt that was taken from the crime scene, which matched his DNA. At the time, Holmes was on parole in California. Holmes was tried and found guilty of first-degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
During his appeal, Holmes argued that the jury should not have heard the rap lyrics to one of the eighteen songs he wrote while jailed in California waiting for his extradition to Nevada. The lyrics, from the song “Drug Deala”, referenced the robbery of a necklace and wearing a ski mask. Nelson, a known drug dealer, had been lured to the recording studio where Holmes murdered him under the pretense of a drug deal.
The men, later discovered to be Holmes and Max Reed, were wearing ski masks. When they accosted Nelson and his friend, Kenny Clark, Nelson’s necklace and shirt were both torn off of him, and his pockets were turned out. Holmes then took off his ski mask, told Nelson he was going to shoot him, and killed him. Clark was able to get away and dial 911.
Holmes based his appeal on the grounds that the lyrics, which appear to be about the robbery and murder, were not specific to the crime. He also claimed that the jury could form an unfair prejudice against him based on the lyrics.
The Nevada Supreme Court noted that prior to allowing the jury to hear the lyrics, the judge instructed that the lyrics couldn’t be used to prove that Holmes was either a person with bad character or that he had the disposition to commit crimes. In addition, it was also recognized that the lyrics might have contained exaggerations or other abstract representations. Despite this the court found that the lyrics should not be exempted from jury consideration as the details described precisely mirror the crime with which Holmes was charged.
In addition, the court referenced a precedent that had been set in a 6th circuit decision, which admitted the use of lyrics as evidence in a case concerning the killing of government witnesses.
The dissenting Justice Nancy Saitta found that the lyrics were not sufficient in their depiction of the crime. She found that crime is frequently used in rap lyrics, and that there was not enough knowledge of the crime at hand to make the lyrics admissible.