JAMAAL SIMMONS, a North Philadelphia-based gangsta rapper known as Steel, has plenty to say on YouTube, where his homemade videos feature him celebrating guns, violence, even murder.
In one video Simmons, 28, boasts: "Where I'm from it's either go hard or go to the morgue." In another, Simmons threatens a fellow rapper: "Your life's on the line; I'm gonna put the hit out."
Wearing a pair of large, circular-frame eyeglasses in court Wednesday, Simmons didn't look much like a gangsta rapper and didn't speak about the real-life murder that a Common Pleas jury convicted him of in January.
Rodney Barnes, 46, a Philadelphia Housing Authority carpenter, was shot in the head July 25, 2009, while getting tools from his truck near 24th and Norris streets at the Raymond Rosen Manor public housing complex.
Trial evidence indicated that the gunman emerged from a van driven by Simmons and attempted to shoot rap rival Richard Taylor, but instead shot Barnes. After the shooting, the gunman got back into the van and Simmons sped away, witnesses said. Barnes, an ordained minister, husband of 23 years and father of four, died 12 days later.
Simmons, who has never told authorities who the still-at-large gunman is, apologized to Barnes' family "for their loss" and asked Judge Carolyn Engel Temin not to be "swayed by the publicity on the case or any other factors" in sentencing him.
Temin sentenced the non-snitching rapper to 15 to 30 years in state prison for his convictions on third-degree murder and related crimes. She said the sentence was warranted because, while Simmons has no prior convictions, he has not revealed the name of the shooter and he did not explain in a presentence letter why he chose to participate in the shooting.
"Divine justice escapes no one," Shirley Barnes, the victim's widow, said after leaving the courtroom. "I would appeal to him that if he knows who the shooter is, that he should just give him up. Or, that the shooter himself would just turn himself in."
Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson asked that Simmons be sentenced to at least 30 to 60 years behind bars.
"He was in on the kill. They stalked their prey. They meant to kill somebody that day, they just didn't kill the right person. They killed an innocent bystander," Gilson said. "They took an innocent man away from his family."
Defense attorney Janis Smarro declined to comment. n