Rap musician Verenzo Holmes might be the only Augusta criminal ever to sing his way into jail.
Richmond County investigators were looking for evidence to connect the rapper to a summertime shooting that put an unintended target in a coma. Officers searched his home and found what they needed lying on his couch: freshly written rap lyrics boasting of the crime.
"This is written while he thinks he's getting away with it," said Charlie Weigle, one of the assistant district attorneys who successfully prosecuted Mr. Holmes and co-defendant Jeffery Foat.
"That's why the rap songs are icing on the cake. If you had any inkling of a doubt, you can't doubt it now."
Police knew victim Delshon Flournoy was shot with a .30-caliber carbine, which isn't a typical street gun. It's a military gun, a 16-inch weapon that looks like an assault rifle.
"It's sort of like a short rifle with no stock. It typically has a clip on it 5 or 6 inches long," Mr. Weigle said. "It's kind of a scary-looking gun."
Investigators were sure they had their man when they read lyrics to Mr. Holmes' song Another Thug Paid the Price:
"I'm unharmed, refuse to grind unarmed, .30-caliber handle fake hardheads perfectly."
From another song: "The cartridge of the .30-caliber, regenerates my anger, as I bust, flex the trigga finger, verbal bullets, bullets toward the danger, Augusta stranger."
Ballistics expert Chris Robinson testified in court that in 1,500 examinations he had conducted on weapons, only three involved .30-caliber guns. Investigator Jim Gordon spent 10 years collecting evidence at crime scenes and said he had never come across that type of weapon.
The evidence was solid in a case investigators desperately wanted to solve.
Mr. Weigle gave this account of the crime:
Mr. Flournoy went to a home on Chestnut Street on July 22, 1999, to pick up tools to fix a friend's car. He was inside with his girlfriend, her sister and two small children.
Outside, his friend James Miller and his mother, Mary Flournoy, were waiting for him in a car.
On the porch, three acquaintances of the residents were hanging out. One of the porch-sitters was Sanquam "Bug" Sullivan, who held a 9 mm semiautomatic gun.
The group was talking about how Mr. Sullivan had fought with his girlfriend that morning. She accused him of taking money from her. He slapped her.
It was about 12:30 p.m. when Mr. Holmes and Mr. Foat - the brother of Mr. Sullivan's girlfriend - walked to the house with guns, looking to get back at Mr. Sullivan for the assault.
Sitting in a car, Mr. Miller heard one of the shooters say, "Whatcha gonna do now?"
Mr. Foat pulled a chrome-plated revolver and started shooting at Mr. Sullivan from just 8 feet away. Witnesses said Mr. Holmes started shooting as well, running down the street as he fired toward the porch.
Mr. Sullivan shot back at least five times before he and the others fled unharmed through the house.
Mr. Flournoy wasn't so lucky. Hearing a commotion, he had peeked out the door to see what was happening. He was backing away when a bullet pierced the walls of the home and found his head, causing injuries that would paralyze him and rob him of speech.
Three years later, Mr. Holmes took the witness stand and denied being involved in the shooting. Mr. Foat did too.
But the proof was there.
Mr. Foat was identified by residents of the home. Mr. Holmes was identified by his rap lyrics.
Prosecutors displayed the descriptive lyrics on an overhead projector for jurors to see. They compared them point by point to the details of the crime.
On the stand, Mr. Holmes admitted to writing the words. At one point, he sang them.
At the end of the trial, jurors convicted him and Mr. Foat. A judge sent them both to prison for 25 years.
"Apparently, he was achieving some legitimacy in the rap world," Mr. Weigle said. "(But) I think it really shuts the door. It makes it impossible to believe that Verenzo Holmes was not guilty."
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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