The Irv Gotti Trial: Text Messaging? For Real?

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Ja Rule's shirtless flexing livens up a dull courtroom

"End up like Irv Gotti / Conversations, they got it / Cuz a dumb nigga chirp and wanna talk about it"

-Maceo, "Nextel Chirp"

So, does Irv Gotti deserve his new rep as the poster-boy for being dumb with your portable communication devices? The prosecutors finished presenting their case today, and their last day revolved around a flood of intercepted two-way messages sent among Irv and Chris Lorenzo, Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, and their various associates. This wasn't The Wire; there weren't any elaborate codes or meticulously nebulous word choices in the text messages, and no cops had to sit hunched for hours over any computers piecing all the evidence together. It was all pretty straightforward: Irv telling Supreme that Ja Rule needed "his share," Chris frantically texting Donnell Nichols on a day that Supreme was supposedly in the office and Nichols mistakenly grabbed Supreme's cash bag, Irv inviting Supreme to the Tunnel and Lotus and a Ja Rule video shoot in Miami and telling him that he should come see his "Murder Inc. family." And the prosecution and defense teams argued over which messages were relevant, whether one unidentified e-mail address belonged to either brother, whether someone named "Big John" was in fact a Supreme associate and Murder Inc. employee called B.J. But the real question was whether the text messages meant anything at all. The problem with texting-as-evidence is that text messages don't convey a whole lot of information; some were cut off early or used abbreviated nicknames, and defense lawyer Gerald Shargel pointed out that the transcripts don't convey whether the writers intended any sort of emotion to come across, humor or anger or deep feeling (and yes, emoticons were discussed). Police weren't even sure who'd sent some of the messages. Two-way messaging is inherently a deeply flawed communication technique, and these flaws may prove sufficient to get the Lorenzos off. The messages between Irv and Supreme were vauge the way text messages tend to be: "Can we get it done?", that kind of thing. There was one conversation between Irv's wife Debbie Lorenzo and Supreme in which Debbie said that Supreme's background scares her and Supreme responded that his background was what kept people in line and away from them, but he didn't say, "And that's why your husband is laundering my money" or anything. The messages did establish that the Lorenzos had a close relationship with Supreme, but four days of testimony had already proved that much. I'm not sure any of it firmly established that the Lorenzos laundered money for Supreme.

The messages did establish that Supreme had done plenty of travelling and that his expenses had been paid by Murder Inc. and Def Jam. But Shargel raised the point that much of Supreme's travelling had been related to stuff like video shoots and concerts. If, as Shargel implied, Supreme was simply part of the Lorenzos' entourage, this money may have been legitimately spent. He also pointed out that much of the travelling was in 2002, a few month after Def Jam had bought the Crime Partners soundtrack album from Supreme. Supreme had travelled under assumed names, but the testifying detective told Shargel that he'd had information that Supreme's life was in danger, so the assumed names make sense.

If the prosecution does manage to convince the jury of the Lorenzos' guilt, it won't be the paid-for hotel rooms or the intercepted text-messages that do it. It'll be the handwritten note police found in the Murder Inc. offices apparently budgeting payments to Supreme, and it'll be the testimony of former Murder Inc. employee Donnell Nichols. But Shargel made the point today that the note may not have been written by either Lorenzo and that the payments to Supreme aren't specifically written-out. And, with the defense presenting its case tomorrow, Nichols may be called back to the stand for another humiliating round of character assassination. To me, it looks like the defense's case to lose.

The courtroom was nearly half-empty today, a far cry from day one, when I had trouble even getting in. But Ja Rule was there, wearing sunglasses inside all day and laughing with other supporters in the hallway at lunch. He didn't look nervous today, and neither did the Lorenzos. The judge told the jury this afternoon that the case would probably wrap up on Wednesday and that he might even ask them for a verdict that day, which means that there might be one big-ass acquittal party somewhere in New York Wednesday night.

Voice feature: Tom Breihan on the Murder Inc. trial


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