Georgia Supreme Court to decide whether the use of rap video in Houston County murder trial biased the jury –

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Outside of Club Boss in Warner Robins in the early hours of the morning on July 6, 2019, a security guard was shot and killed after a rap concert by the Alabama artist, NoCap.

The road manager for NoCap, Morgan Baker, was eventually convicted in the death of the security guard and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. 

On Wednesday, Baker’s attorneys are set to argue before the Georgia Supreme Court, and they are asking for the justices to throw out his conviction since the Houston County judge allowed the prosecution to play a 33-second clip of a rap video that showed Baker holding a gun. 

“There was not a single other shred of evidence that Morgan Baker glorified violence, or even possessed a gun,” Baker’s attorneys wrote. “The only evidence that Baker was a gun-toting violent person was the fictional video.”

The clip from NoCap’s “Ghetto Angels” music videos was played multiple times during the trial, according to Baker’s attorneys. The video shows Baker holding a gun and a number of other people dancing and drinking on top of a car. 

According to Mercer University Law Professor Sarah Gerwig, the prosecution played a clip that was contradictory to the core message of the song. Instead, it was the section of the video with Baker holding a gun.

“The rap music video that comes after that is actually kind of a sad song about losing a loved one to gun violence. That portion wasn’t shown to the jury,” Gerwig said. “[It was] the most prejudicial 30-seconds of a prejudicial piece of evidence that plays into a lot of racial stereotypes.”

For Gerwig, the case centers on procedural issues that – especially in this case – have real-world consequences. The question the court will have to grapple with is whether the video unfairly swayed the jury’s perspective of Baker.

“In a lot of ways this is about rules of evidence,” Gerwig said. “The jury will not be able to be unbiased about this defendant [with this piece of evidence]. It puts its thumb on the scale of justice.” 


Baker, a road manager and long-time personal friend of NoCap – whose legal name is Kobe Crawford – was tried and convicted of murdering Tamarco Head, the security guard at the venue who prosecutors said would not let Baker re-enter the club after the show ended. 

They say Baker went out the front door with the rest of the roughly 500-person crowd, but he wanted to leave with the rest of NoCap’s  10-person entourage through the back instead. 

The prosecution argued Baker got mad at Head for not letting him back in, and they got into a confrontation. According to the prosecutor, Baker and another person would end up shooting and killing the security guard only three minutes later. 

Not long after the shooting, Baker was released from NoCap’s entourage and as his road manager.

Back in 2022, a Houston County jury convicted Baker of malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault. Baker’s lawyers said that the use of the rap video may have tainted his conviction since it sent a prejudicial message to the jurors of the case. 

The Argument:

Baker’s attorneys are asking the Georgia Supreme Court to step in. 

The attorneys for Baker point to a number of other cases where the introduction of a rap video was found to violate a defendant’s right to a fair trial. Those decisions were in other states’ Supreme Courts, which means any decisions they make do not apply to Georgia.

However, they used quotations from those cases to help draw a distinction between artistic expression and bibliographical statements. 

“One would not presume that Bob Marley, who wrote the well-known song ‘I shot the Sheriff’ actually shot a sheriff,” according to a case quoted by Baker’s attorneys.

A piece of evidence can be excluded if its probative value – or the usefulness of the evidence to the case – is “substantially outweighed” by the risk of either misleading the jury, confusing the issues or prejudicing the jury.

Baker’s attorneys argue that the inclusion of the video did just that.

According to the appeal, the prosecution was given permission to use the video in the case because it showed that NoCap knew and worked with Baker.

The Georgia Attorney General’s Office and the Houston County District Attorney’s Office both note that NoCap and his management team had not been cooperative and refused to identify members of the entourage, which is why they needed to establish identity.

But Baker’s attorneys argue that with NoCap and Baker both being childhood friends, there was no need to prove identity. According to Gerwig, Baker freely admitted to being at the show and admitted to knowing NoCap.  

Instead, Baker’s attorneys argue the video was admitted because the prosecution wanted to paint a picture of Baker as a “proponent of gun violence.” 

“Use your common sense. And you know why you can say they don’t roll like that?” the prosecutor said during closing arguments. “Go back to that Ghetto Angels video. Right? That’s all they know, the gun violence. They want to promote it. They want to live by the sword, but they don’t want to die by it, right? When it is not convenient.”

In the appeal, Baker’s attorneys argue the use of a “fictional” video showing Baker waving around a gun doesn’t mean Baker is a violent person, which they say is the very point the prosecution was trying to make in their closing arguments.

“It no more proved Baker’s violent character than the Godfather movie proves that Marlon Brando is violent, or The Onion Fields proves that James Wood is a homicidal maniac. This is obvious,” Baker’s attorneys wrote. “Yet, that is precisely how the prosecution used the video during the course of the trial.”

According to the attorneys, the government has to balance the role that evidence plays in the prosecution’s case against “its extremely prejudicial effect due primarily to the artistic conventions of depictions of violence, opulence, misogyny and profanity.”

“The prosecutor’s use of the video was never for identity. It was used to prove that Morgan Baker was a violent, gun-toting danger to the community as illustrated by the video,” Baker’s attorneys wrote. “Hard blows are permitted at trial. Foul blows are not.”

The State’s Response:

But according to the Houston County District Attorney’s Office, the video was absolutely crucial to understanding why Baker acted the way he did.

“Morgan Baker fancied himself a big shot. After all, he was a long-time friend of NoCap, the successful and popular rapper,” the DA’s office wrote. “So when a bouncer threw Baker out of a Warner Robins nightclub following a NoCap concert, Baker felt disrespected and became enraged.” 

They argued in their filing with the Georgia Supreme Court the video helped pinpoint Baker as one of the suspected shooters, it demonstrated he fashioned himself a big shot, and it also demonstrated Baker and the entourage had access to firearms. 

 They were trying to demonstrate the “tight association” between Baker and NoCap, according to the District Attorney’s Office. In the video, he was close to the center, right next to NoCap, and it helped demonstrate he was likely with the entourage on the day of the shooting. 

The video also showed Baker’s importance to NoCap’s inner circle, the District Attorney argued.

“The rap video had essential value in establishing Baker’s motive for the shooting — that he was a somebody because of his close friendship with NoCap and he was not going to be pushed around by a small-time club bouncer,” the DA’s office wrote in their court filings. 

Plus, they argue the gun in the video also appeared to match descriptions of the murder weapon, which investigators had been unable to find. 

The Court’s Considerations:

Baker’s attorneys, the Houston County DA’s Office, and the Georgia Attorney General clashed on a number of legal issues in the nearly 100 pages of legal filings. 

The attorneys for Baker seized on inconsistencies between a witness’s original account to police and what she said at trial. She originally said she didn’t see Baker shoot the gun, but testified in court that Baker was the one who fired the shots, Baker’s attorneys wrote.

The Attorney General’s Office also argued that the woman’s testimony lined up with the testimony and forensic analysis from a GBI’s firing examiner.

After the fight between Baker and the security guard, the Attorney General’s Office pointed to testimony showing Baker and another man walking by three women who heard them say something to the effect of “Don’t worry about it. We gonna get them” shortly before the shooting.

According to Gerwig, these disagreements will play an important part in the Court’s consideration, because the Court has to weigh any possible prejudice stemming from the video against the strength of the case.  

“There is this question of harm,” Gerwig said. “Trial courts make mistakes all the time, they’re human. But in light of the totality of the evidence, if this was harmless error, the Supreme Court would not have to send it back.”

If the court agrees the evidence was weak and the video prejudiced the jury, as Baker’s attorneys argue, the justices can order a new trial. 

If the justices agree with the District Attorney’s office that the case was a slam dunk, the justices will be able to affirm Baker’s conviction even if they decide the decision to include the video was improper.

However, Gerwig thinks that the prosecution’s use of the video to show motive seems to indicate the prosecution attempted to use the video to prejudice the jury against Baker and demonstrate a “propensity” for crime.

“To me, this is too prejudicial,” Gerwig said. “The jury was unable to be fair and unbiased after the presentation of this clip.”  

Whether the justices decide for or against Baker, Gerwig thinks that the Georgia Supreme Court should provide some more guidance on the use of rap videos at trial. 

“Judges have been considering these issues as long as we have had rules of evidence,” Gerwig said. “I think it would be helpful if the Supreme Court provides guidance because these issues keep coming up in Georgia and in other jurisdictions.”

She added: “If other states haven’t taken it up yet, it is just a matter of time.”

The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments from both sides on Wednesday, and Gerwig said that it will likely take a couple of months for a decision to be handed down. It will be live-streamed online here

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