PHILADELPHIA — Meek Mill pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour gun charge on Tuesday in a deal that spared him additional prison time, resolving a case that followed the rapper most of his adult life and turned him into a high-profile activist for criminal justice reform.
The negotiated plea came after an appeals court threw out the 2008 conviction of the 32-year-old rapper, born Robert Williams, last month.
He had already served about two years in prison in the case, and a judge decided he won’t have to spend any additional time behind bars or on probation.
“I know this has been a long road for you and hopefully this will be the end of it,” Judge Leon Tucker told the rapper, who pleaded guilty to carrying a firearm on a public street.
The plea came after both sides questioned the credibility of the arresting officer.
The defence also accused the trial judge of bias for sending the entertainer back to prison over minor probation violations.
Assistant District Attorney Paul George noted in court Tuesday that Williams had no criminal record before or since his original arrest a dozen years ago but added that “even though he was a young man at the time, he was adult enough to admit he had a gun.”
Williams, who had called his ordeal “mentally and emotionally challenging,” became an activist for criminal justice reform after he was sent back to prison in 2017 for technical probation violations he blamed on his erratic travel schedule. He spent five months behind bars before an appeals court granted him bail.
His conviction was overturned last month after an appeals court found that new evidence undermined the credibility of the officer who testified against the rapper at his trial, making it likely he would be acquitted if the case were retried.
District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office had supported Williams’ appeal and said it could not call the former officer to testify after an internal probe found he’d stolen money on duty and lied about it.
The state “cannot call a witness whose credibility it mistrusts,” prosecutors wrote in a legal brief this year.
The officer, Reginald Graham, has denied the allegations.
Williams served an initial prison term of about a year and several later stints over travel violations and painkiller use.
“The past 11 years have been mentally and emotionally challenging, but I’m ecstatic that justice prevailed,” Williams said last month after his conviction was overturned. “Unfortunately, millions of people are dealing with similar issues in our country and don’t have the resources to fight back like I did. We need to continue supporting them.”
On Tuesday, Judge Tucker encouraged Mill to keep up the work he’s been doing.
“You are a representative of the community that I live in, I grew up in. People depend on you,” Tucker said. “At 32, you have a full life ahead of you. You know right from wrong. … You know what to do. Don’t be persuaded by anyone but yourself.”
The rapper replied, “Thank you.”
He is now free of the close scrutiny of Judge Genece Brinkley, who convicted him after a short nonjury trial in 2008 and called him back to court repeatedly during a decade of court supervision. Brinkley frequently complained that Williams was “thumbing his nose” at her, and once visited a homeless shelter to check up on his community service efforts. She later reprimanded him for sorting clothes rather than serving meals as she had ordered. He said he was directed to the job.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court removed Brinkley from the case as it granted Williams a new trial. Krasner’s office then had to decide whether to retry him or try to negotiate a plea. In his testimony at trial, Williams admitted having a gun but denied that he pointed it at police or was selling drugs at the time.
The rapper attracted support from many high-powered figures and celebrities, and he was a fixture at 76ers playoff games in the spring.
In 2015, a federal jury rejected a lawsuit Williams filed against Philadelphia police over what he called a racially motivated, 10-hour traffic stop that led him to miss the launch party for his 2012 debut album, “Dreams & Nightmares.”
His follow-up albums include the chart-topping “Dreams Worth More Than Money” and last year’s “Championships,” which includes performances from Jay-Z, his mentor, and former girlfriend Nicki Minaj.
On July 24, just hours before the Pennsylvania Superior Court threw out his conviction, Meek Mill and Jay-Z announced they were launching a new label called Dream Chasers Records. His growing business empire also includes an ownership stake in the hat company Lids.