Snoop Dogg Acquitted of Murder – Today in Hip-Hop
XXL celebrates 50 years of hip-hop with this moment:
Feb. 20, 1996: Snoop Dogg was acquitted of first and second-degree murder in 1996, for the shooting death of a gang member in Los Angeles.
Snoop's harrowing journey with the judicial system started on Aug. 25, 1993, when Snoop and his bodyguard, McKinley Lee, got into an altercation with a rival gang member, Philip Woldemariam, at Los Angeles' Woodbine Park. Lee was the shooter who shot and killed Woldemariam while Snoop was the driver of a Jeep Cherokee vehicle they were in. Despite Snoop claiming they were acting in self-defense, the two men were indicted on murder charges, conspiracy and manslaughter. Both men obtained legal representation from the late, famed attorney Johnnie Cochran and attorney David Kenner. The murder trial began in November of 1995 and went on for three months.
During the trial, prosecutors accused Lee of being the aggressor in the confrontation by shooting Woldemariam in the back and buttocks. The shooting occurred while Woldemariam tried to flee from a fight with Snoop and Lee at Woodbine Park. Snoop also allegedly tried to destroy the Jeep to cover up the murder.
However, defense lawyers argued that Woldemariam was reaching for a handgun from his waistband when Lee fired from the passenger seat of the Jeep. Additionally, the defense described Woldemariam as a quick-tempered gang member who was angry that Snoop had moved into his territory.
After spending six days deliberating on the case, the jurors ruled in favor of acquitting Snoop and Lee of murder and conspiracy charges. Additionally, the jury was deadlocked on a verdict for the manslaughter charges, so it was ruled a mistrial.
Outside of the courtroom, a relieved Snoop Dogg told waiting reporters that he was happy with the jurors' decision.
"They made the right decision, you know what I'm saying?" Snoop said. "This has been an ordeal that has affected our lives for the past two-and-a-half years. I was just trying to figure out if I was going to be here to raise my son [Corde]."
Snoop's criminal trial ordeal inspired him to record the eerie track "Murder Was the Case," which appeared on his Doggystyle album. An 18-minute music video was filmed for the accompanying Murder Was the Case soundtrack.
Although it was a harrowing ordeal for Snoop Dogg, the acquittal gave him a second chance at becoming one of the most revered West Coast icons in hip-hop.