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Rappers who threatened Pittsburgh police sentenced to prison

| Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, 1:09 p.m.

An East Liberty man asked the Allegheny County judge sentencing him to see him as a high school graduate and aspiring musician rather than his hip hop persona, “Mayhem Mal,” who posted a rap video online threatening to kill Pittsburgh police officers.

“As a rapper, you have to own an image,” said Jamal T. Knox, 19. “I have to be this person to be successful.”

Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning sentenced Knox to two to six years in prison and two years of probation for drug charges, fleeing police and terroristic threats.

The judge sentenced Knox's cohort, Rashee Beasley, 22, of Garfield — Knox's producer and accomplice, who goes by the rap name “Soulja Beaz” — to one to three years in prison and two years of probation for fleeing police and terroristic threats.

Both men will be credited with about 11 months for time served.

Police accused Knox and Beasley of making the rap video and posting it to Facebook and YouTube in November 2012. The song referenced convicted cop killer Richard Poplawski and two police officers who arrested them on gun and drug charges seven months earlier. Knox and Beasley's attorneys argued the speech was protected under the First Amendment. Manning disagreed.

“This isn't about freedom of speech,” Manning said. “It clearly was intimidation of witnesses. It clearly was terroristic threats.”

Civil rights attorneys, however, said the duo may have a case for an appeal since there was no “clear and present threat” to the officers.

“It's close to the line,” said Downtown attorney Samuel J. Cordes. “They were expressing a view, however unpopular that it may be. On the other side of the coin, they did it while awaiting trial about the officers who were going to testify against them.”

Knox's attorney, Almon S. Burke Jr., said he was not sure his client will appeal.

Assistant District Attorney Rachel Fleming argued that the men should receive long sentences because of their lifestyle of “drugs, guns and money.” Fleming said the men fled from police in a stolen car, in which officers found drugs and a gun. Knox was convicted on drug charges. Both men were acquitted of gun charges.

Knox said his rap career, for which he has gained some local and national notoriety, started from his interest in poetry, which he used as an outlet for anger problems. Knox said he writes about issues that include relationships, his family, God and his frustrations with police.

“Your honor, I take full responsibility for all my actions. I want to let the whole Zone 5 police district know the song on YouTube was not intentional,” he said. “I'm sorry if any officers felt threatened. ... I apologize for putting the police in danger.”

Beasley didn't address the court, other than to say he had “stage fright.”

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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