Rappers convicted
of rape get new trial

Their defense argued that the
prosecution made racial remarks

By Leila Fujimori

A state appeals court ordered a new trial for two members of the rap group Abyss, convicted of raping a 17-year-old girl in Waikiki four years ago, because of racial remarks by the prosecutor.

The Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the Circuit Court abused its discretion when it failed to declare a mistrial in 2000 because of misconduct by the prosecutor in the case against Habib Shabazz, Mario Crawley and four others.

The case created a stir in May 2000 when Circuit Judge Sandra Simms sentenced Crawley, then 28, to two 10-year terms for sexual assault in the second degree and attempted sexual assault in the second degree. Meanwhile, Simms sentenced Shabazz, then 22, to a year in prison for one count of second-degree sexual assault, gave him credit for time already served and released him.

In his opening statements on March 1, 2000, Deputy Prosecutor Chris Van Marter identified the rape victim as "a young local woman born and raised here in Hawaii."

He then described the suspects as "six African-American males."

Michael Green, representing Crawley, immediately objected, saying the comments were racist, and called for a dismissal or a mistrial.

"He's repeatedly stated this was a young local woman," said the defense lawyer. "And then he adds to the fire that now she's surrounded by six African-American males, and that's about as racist as you can get, pinning a local person against six black men."

The prosecutor, in his own defense, said: "I think the evidence will show that she was a young, local woman. As far as the defendants, the evidence will show that in court."

The judge asked the prosecutor to refrain from that kind of argument, and denied the motion for a mistrial.

The Intermediate Court of Appeals stated in its written opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court prohibits racially biased prosecutorial arguments.

The justices opined the prosecutor's references to race might have contributed to the convictions of Crawley and Shabazz.

The state argued that the defense did not prevent the 17-year-old victim from referring to the men in racial terms, using the term "black dudes."

The state also argued that the ethnicity and gender of the judge, who is black, made her "well qualified to determine whether the statements were racially prejudiced or improper."

Green called the argument racist.

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