An aspiring Burlington County rap artist, standing trial on attempted-murder charges, sprang to his feet and shouted a string of obscenities when the man he is accused of shooting began his testimony Wednesday in a Mount Holly courtroom.
"He pulled a gun out. . . . He started shooting," Lamont Peterson, formerly of Willingboro, said, looking down, in response to questions from Assistant County Prosecutor Erin Deitz. Peterson was shot multiple times and paralyzed from the waist down in the Nov. 8, 2005, incident in Willingboro.
"Stop [obscenity] lying, man!" Vonte Skinner yelled. "I didn't do nothing to you."
"I'm a dead man. I'm half-dead," Peterson, 32, said, his voice trembling, as he was wheeled from the courtroom while sheriff's officers rushed to restrain Skinner.
After Skinner's outburst, Superior Court Judge Jeanne T. Covert briefly dismissed jurors from the courtroom and warned Skinner that further outbursts would lead to his placement in a room where he could observe proceedings, but not be present. The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday.
The case is nearly a decade old and in its third trial.
Skinner's first trial ended with a hung jury, and the second in 2008 led to a conviction and 30-year prison sentence overturned by the New Jersey Supreme Court last summer. The high court said the admission into evidence of violent rap lyrics he had written four years before his arrest had prejudiced the jury. The lyrics, seized from Skinner's car after he was detained, were artistic expression and not relevant to the charges, the court ruled.
The case was among about 20 across the country dealing with the admissibility of rap lyrics at criminal trials.
Last week, when Skinner's third trial started, he raised yet another legal issue, telling Covert he wanted to dismiss his lawyer and defend himself.
Covert suggested that Skinner discuss his differences with his lawyer, Raymond Burke, before she decided whether he could act as his own attorney
Skinner changed his mind about defending himself, and a jury was selected.
Skinner, 36, of Burlington Township, is charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault, accused of shooting Peterson in the head, neck, and torso at close range.
Deitz said that the two men were drug dealers in a small gang and that Skinner was the "muscle." Skinner allegedly ambushed Peterson after summoning him to a quiet neighborhood in Willingboro because the gang leader had believed Peterson was skimming the profits.
Burke, Skinner's attorney, is expected to argue that his client was present during the shooting but was not the triggerman. Skinner is being held in the Burlington County Jail on $101,000 bail.
On Wednesday, Peterson testified that he and Skinner sold cocaine and crack, and that Skinner had "chirped him," or texted, multiple times that November night to tell him to meet him in Willingboro. Peterson testified that after he parked his car at the meeting place, Skinner walked toward him and shot him.
The 13 pages of handwritten rap lyrics found in Skinner's car focused on gangs, guns, and murder.
But the Supreme Court justices unanimously agreed with an appellate panel that the lyrics should not have been read to a jury in Skinner's 2008 trial. The lyrics had "no probative value as to any motive or intent behind the offense with which he was charged," the court said.
In the lyrics, Skinner called himself "the Threat" and wrote: "Yo, look in my eyes. You can see death comin'. Look in my palms, you can see what I'm gunnin' with."