Two men accused of making a rap video that threatened two Pittsburgh police officers last year were found guilty this morning on charges including witness intimidation and conspiracy.
Rashee Beasley, 22, of Garfield, and Jamal Knox, 19, of East Liberty, will be sentenced Feb. 6 by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning.
The two men were accused of making a rap video posted to YouTube in November 2012. The song specifically referenced two Pittsburgh officers by name -- two of the same officers who were involved in arresting the men seven months earlier on gun and drug charges.
The defendants argued during a non-jury trial before Judge Manning that they were not responsible for posting the video to YouTube, and even so the song was protected speech under the First Amendment.
Judge Manning disagreed.
"It is abundantly clear to me that the conduct of the defendants here is not protected by the First Amendment because it far exceeds what the First Amendment allows," the judge said. "They did, in fact, attempt to intimidate and communicate a threat. The rap video, by its very nature, is a communication."
Both Beasley and Knox were found guilty of intimidation of witnesses, terroristic threats and conspiracy.
Judge Manning did not, however, believe the video caused any actual harm to the officers, and he found the men not guilty of retaliation.
In the case against Knox and Beasley that led to the video, Judge Manning found Knox guilty on the drug charges, but found both men not guilty for illegally possessing a firearm that was found inside the stolen car in which police found them.
The prosecution argued a concept called "constructive possession" -- that the gun could be attributed to either or both men because it was in the vehicle in which they were traveling.
During the investigation, DNA was collected from the firearm, but the defendants' DNA was never collected, and so no match was ever made.
"If that had occurred, it would be proof beyond any reasonable doubt of who possessed the firearm," Judge Manning said.
But, he continued, "I believe that the failure of the commonwealth to properly test evidence they had before them creates reasonable doubt."
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620. Twitter: @PaulaReedWard.