The minor media tempest prompted by two news articles raising questions about the 2001 manslaughter conviction of rapper McKinley Phipps Jr. intensified Thursday when Phipps’ parents appeared on the steps of the Justice Center in Covington to plead for a new trial for their son, who is serving a 30-year sentence.
Phipps’ parents, McKinley Sr. and Sheila, urged newly minted 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery to take a fresh look at the case, in which they say witnesses who testified against their son were bullied into lying on the stand by prosecutors working for Montgomery’s predecessor, longtime DA Walter Reed. One of those witnesses, the Phippses said, confessed to the shooting but was ignored by detectives. Phipps’ attorney, Rémy Starns, said he was collecting affidavits and building a case for Phipps’ innocence.
The witnesses’ recent statements have appeared in two news articles, one published by the New Orleans-based website The Lens in collaboration with the Medill Justice Project at Northwestern University, and the other by David Lohr, of the Huffington Post. In those articles, some who were at Phipps’ 2000 rap concert recanted their testimony in the case and said they were pressured by authorities to testify against Phipps.
One witness, Yulon James, testified at trial that she saw Phipps fire the shot that killed 19-year-old Barron Victor Jr., according to the Huffington Post story. But James has since said that wasn’t true and that she “didn’t see anything,” the story said. She told Lohr that she was “stalked” by representatives of Reed’s office.
James is coming forward now because Reed is no longer in office, according to the Huffington Post story.
Indeed, the fact that there is a new DA in Covington has given new hope to the family that the case might get a fresh look. But Montgomery issued a statement Thursday urging the family to seek relief from the courts, rather than his office.
“Certainly no one wants to see an innocent person remain in jail. But there is a procedure for correcting injustices for those who feel they have been treated unfairly. That procedure is to petition the court with evidence. The court will evaluate the credibility, reliability, and relevance of the evidence. At that time, I will fulfill my responsibility to respond to the allegations,” Montgomery said.
St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain, also criticized in the articles, refused to comment Thursday.
Phipps’ parents said their son, who had been signed by Master P’s No Limit record label, had a promising rap career ahead of him before his 2000 arrest and his conviction the next year.
During the news conference, Phipps’ sister Tiffany Phipps Cave read a statement from the rapper.
“I did not kill Barron Victor Jr. and it is my hope that the evidence brought forth is more than enough to support that claim,” the statement said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.