Despite being found guilty of assault, American rapper A$AP Rocky was released last week after a judge said that he and two co-defendants could walk free. CHRISTINA ANDERSON and ALEX MARSHALL tell the story of his Swedish trial…
Christina Anderson and Alex Marshall
“There is a God,” said Rocky’s mother, Renee Black, on her son’s release. Rocky’s arrest and jailing a month ago precipitated an outpouring of support and anger, with celebrities, fans, congressmen and eventually President Trump demanding his release. Mr. Trump went so far as to send his special envoy for hostage affairs to the trial. But the Swedish authorities ordered Rocky to remain in jail as a flight risk before and during his trial, which ended on Friday. The judge, Per Lennerbrant, did not require Rocky or his co-defendants, Bladimir Emilio Corniel and David Tyrone Rispers, to remain in Sweden, and by nightfall, Rocky had already boarded a flight out of the country. He also posted a message on Instagram thanking the court and his supporters, saying that it “has been a very difficult and humbling experience.”
Though the men were found guilty when a verdict was handed down on 14th August, their release was a victory in itself, following weeks of international diplomatic pressure that seemed, to Mr. Trump’s critics at least, disproportionate to the circumstances. The president called Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, to ask for his help, and after Mr. Trump was rebuffed, he went on a brief Twitter tirade against Mr. Löfven and the Swedish nation.
Anne Ramberg, secretary general of the Swedish Bar Association, said in a telephone interview that the decision to release the three men was not unusual. She would not comment on the merits of the case, but said that their release would normally be a sign that they will be found not guilty, or if they are convicted, that they will be sentenced to time served.
During closing arguments on Friday, a prosecutor argued that Rocky, a thirty-year-old rap star from New York whose real name is Rakim Mayers, should be found guilty of assault and sentenced to six months in jail, saying the rapper had no justification for attacking a man who had been following him on a Stockholm street in June. “I don’t think anything other than jail is possible,” said the prosecutor, Daniel Suneson. On Thursday, Rocky told the court that he acted in self-defence when he threw, punched and kicked Mustafa Jafari. He, along with Mr. Corniel and Mr. Rispers, who also were captured on video participating in the fight, said they had used reasonable force against Mr. Jafari, who had been refusing their entreaties to leave them alone. Rocky could have called the police, Mr. Suneson said, noting that he was also accompanied by a bodyguard at the time. “They used more violence than what was required to defend themselves,” Mr. Suneson said. “It was excessive.”
“They used more violence than what was required to defend themselves,” prosecutor Daniel Suneson said. “It was excessive.”
Slobodan Jovicic, Rocky’s lawyer, also took a firm line in his summation. “My client should be found not guilty and freed today,” he said. Mr. Jafari had tried to hit Rocky’s bodyguard and had thrown a pair of headphones at him before Rocky struck him, Mr. Jovicic said. Before the closing arguments on Friday, the court heard from several witnesses. One supported Rocky’s account of the incident, while others contradicted it. Rocky’s bodyguard, Timothy Williams, said that he had noticed “something green” in Mr. Jafari’s hand — the use of bottles in the scuffle was a major theme during the trial — and that Mr. Jafari, who was accompanied by a friend, swung a punch at him. “It hit me lightly,” Mr. Williams said. “Then Rocky came to my defense because he saw it was a situation of two against one.”
Other witnesses recalled the events differently. Khadra Mohamed and Farhia Ali witnessed the fight, and Ms. Mohamed recorded part of it. Both said they had not seen Mr. Jafari attacking anyone in Rocky’s group, though Ms. Mohamed said it was also possible she had missed it. Ms. Mohamed said she saw Rocky throw Mr. Jafari. “His two friends then jumped in and started to hit him while he was on the ground,” she added. She was filming on Snapchat at the time, and that clip has been widely circulated online. But the video did not show all of the attack, she claimed. “They continued to hit him some more,” Ms. Mohamed said.
Throughout the three-day trial, the prosecution and defense returned repeatedly to the question of whether a bottle played any role in the incident, which could be considered an aggravating factor in determining the length of any sentence. Mr. Jafari said he believed he had been hit behind his right ear with a bottle, and though prosecutors said that Rocky and Mr. Corniel had been seen holding bottles (Rocky said he picked one up only to move it out of the way), no one at the trial was able to say who, if anyone, hit Mr. Jafari with a bottle. Mr. Jovicic, Rocky’s lawyer, argued that Mr. Jafari hadn’t been hit by a bottle at all. To make his case, he used a prop: a green glass bottle of Monistrol cava, a cheap sparkling wine, which he placed in front of the judge. He said it was the same type of bottle as one found smashed at the scene. Mr. Jafari suffered a cut to his head, Mr. Jovicic said, but having a bottle like that smashed against your head would result in a graver injury.
“I would like to get a proper shower,” Rocky told the judge on his release. “And then take it easy with my mother and friends.”
CHRISTINA ANDERSON and ALEX MARSHALL write for The New York Times.
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This article has also been published in The New York Times.