Will rap music be convicted in Texas?

June 22, 1993|By Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN, Texas -- Fourteen months after an inner-city Housto teen-ager aimed his 9mm gun at the neck of a Texas state trooper outside Victoria and pulled the trigger, the question before the court is this: Does life imitate rap?

The answer will reverberate nationwide from the Austin courtroom -- from the boardrooms of the record industry to the mean streets of gangster rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur. It will be felt from the small Texas town of the trooper's widow to the jail cell of Ronald Ray Howard, a reputed cocaine dealer and seventh-grade dropout who killed the officer.

It's a high-stakes case that has raised numerous legal questions. They include how far the mantle of the First Amendment stretches and whether a rapper and his music distributor, like any other manufacturer, should be held liable for a product that ++ the slain trooper's widow, Linda Davidson, contends led to her husband's death.

Howard's own life hinges on whether explicit anti-police lyrics of "gangsta" rappers like Tupac, Gangster NIP and the Geto Boys -- his favorites -- played a role in the April 11, 1992, murder of Trooper Bill Davidson.

If so, should Howard, 19, convicted of capital murder June 8, get life in jail instead of the death penalty because of such influences?

A Travis County jury deliberated only 26 minutes before convicting the slim, quiet teen-ager. Now that jury must decide whether to sentence him to death or to life imprisonment.

The punishment phase began last week with the blasting beat of "gangsta" rap, played by the defense.

In a lawsuit, Ms. Davidson and her two children seek damages from Tupac, Interscope Records and Time Warner Inc. for gross negligence in writing and distributing music intended to "incite immediate lawless action."

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