On a cold night last December, Trevell Coleman walked into the New York Police Department’s 25th Precinct, in Harlem, on his own volition and made a startling admission. “I shot and killed someone 17 years ago,” he told a cop in the station, as reported by the New York Post. A botched robbery attempt, .40-caliber handgun, back in 1993.
It would be a story for the papers in any case, but this one was made even more noteworthy by the fact that Coleman has a voice that used to boom out of radios all over the city and a face you might recognize from seeing it on MTV. He is better known as the former Bad Boy Entertainment rapper G.Dep, whose Child of the Ghetto debut album spawned the 2001 hits “Special Delivery” and “Let’s Get It”; the video for the latter helped popularize the Harlem Shake dance.
The confession solved a case that police had left cold for years. Coleman was booked as a pretrial inmate charged with second-degree felony murder and manslaughter—crimes for which there is no statute of limitations. The very next day, though, he backtracked, saying that he didn’t know that John Henkel—the 32-year-old Queens man he shot three times that night on Park Avenue and East 114th Street, near the James Weldon Johnson projects—had died. Henkel’s stepbrother told the Post that he wished Coleman had not come forward, because it has brought back memories of the tragedy for his family.
Now 36, locked up at Rikers Island, Coleman is facing up to life in prison if he’s found guilty. His attorney, Anthony L. Ricco, has said the confession was part of a 12-step program Coleman was undergoing to battle drug addiction. After his rap career fizzled out, he fell into using PCP, or angel dust, heavily and continued after his grandmother who raised him passed away. Numerous stints in rehab couldn’t help him kick the habit, and he wound up abusing the hallucinogen for 10 years. During that time, he amassed a rap sheet of more than 25 arrests—everything from drugs to burglary and grand larceny.
Murder is a different beast, though. Ricco entered a not-guilty plea earlier this year, and although he says a sentence is inevitable for his client, he hopes to lessen Coleman’s time.
XXL visited Coleman at the jail’s George Motchan Detention Center Ceremonial Hall on April 27. Bald-headed, with a stubbly beard, he wore slate-gray Velcro coveralls and black British Knights sneakers as he talked about things like how, in turning himself in, he had to walk away from his wife of six years, seven-year-old twin boys and his 12-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. “I didn’t think about them at the exact moment when I went in,” he said. “Now I think about them, and that’s really what I miss the most. But I knew it was something that I had to do, regardless.” — Mark Lelinwalla
How are you holding up?
G-Dep: I’m good, maintaining, and trying to keep in good spirits. I’m meditating when I can and trying to have some alone time, with the time that they’re giving me.
You were 18 at the time of the shooting. What do you remember about the attempted robbery?
I was just a kid in the street. I had a considerable amount of family.
I wasn’t too destitute at the time. I was just into the street life, so a lot of the things I was doing was just going with the territory.
Take us through December 15, when you walked into the station and confessed.
It was an ongoing thing. It wasn’t one of those things where I said, Okay, I’m going to just do it. I was thinking about it for a while. That day, I did an interview for this public-access show. Right after that, I decided to just go ahead to the precinct.
I remember, in the precinct, when everything transpired, [the police officer] gave me a phone to call my daughter’s mother. I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to have to go down for this, go through the system and all of that.” So that was the first taste of just realizing that it’s a wrap.
How did you make the decision about when to do it? How did you know it was the right time?
I felt like I was going to go through the same thing again—being happy, enjoying food and family—and I still didn’t handle what I thought I needed to. The reason why I probably did that at that time is I wanted…I couldn’t really continue to move on. I couldn’t move on and keep trying to satisfy myself if I didn’t deal with that.
But why confess after 17 years?
I didn’t feel like I could keep going on, living my life—indulging in life and feeling the highs and lows and just basking in what I thought was a good life—knowing what I did affected someone else’s life. It was the fact that I had children that I thought about stuff like that. I didn’t feel it was fair. I just wanted to take care of that, and have some resolve for the situation. I didn’t know what was going to be the outcome, but that was the only way I knew to deal with it.
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