'03 victim testifies Sigel shot him

Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)

In a quiet voice, Terrence Speller, 28, testified yesterday that rap star Beanie Sigel was the gunman who critically wounded him in 2003.

Speller told jurors that he was walking with a friend near 52d Street and Larchwood Avenue in West Philadelphia when he exchanged words with a woman Sigel had been dating.Then Sigel drove up in a Cadillac Escalade, Speller said during the first day of testimony in the retrial of the rapper. The first trial ended in a hung jury.

“He asked, 'Who? Which one?' And I guess they pointed to me,” Speller said. “And he started walking toward me with a gun in his hand.”

Speller told jurors that Sigel shot him twice with a chrome semiautomatic pistol, hitting him in the stomach and left foot.

But when a police officer arrived about a minute later, Speller said, he did not identify Sigel as the person who shot him.

“I didn't really want to tell what happened. . . . I wanted to make sure I was all right and my family would be all right,” Speller explained. He told the officer that someone had tried to rob him, and instructed his friend to give police the same story.

Sigel, 31, whose real name is Dwight Grant, has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and related charges.

During his opening statement yesterday, defense lawyer Fortunato Perri Jr. told jurors that Speller has given at least three versions of the July 1, 2003, shooting, and suggested that Speller and the other witness could not be believed.

During cross-examination, Perri highlighted those inconsistencies and questioned Speller about the amount of marijuana and mixed drinks he had had in the hours before the shooting.

Speller, who was hospitalized in critical condition after the shooting, said he was concerned for his safety when – lying bleeding on the ground – he lied to the officer.

“You decided to make up a lie with your last, dying breath?” Perri asked, incredulously.

“Yes,” Speller replied.

Perri, hinting that Speller was after money, also questioned him about a lawsuit he filed in May against Sigel seeking more than $50,000 in damages.

In her opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Lynn Nichols told jurors that she would prove Sigel's guilt.

“The defendant shot Terrence Speller in front of a crowd of approximately 15 to 20 people. . . . He left him lying in the street bleeding, and no one in the crowd tried to lend Terrence Speller a hand,” Nichols said. “The only thing on Terrence's mind, at that point, was his safety.”

She said Speller identified Sigel as the gunman the next day, after surgery that saved his life.

Sigel, dressed in a charcoal suit, white shirt and dark tie, sat intently listening to testimony with his hands folded on the defense table.

Seated behind him in the courtroom were nearly two dozen family members and friends – including hip-hop recording executive Damon Dash.

During the first trial last year, rapper Jay-Z and singer Beyonc Knowles appeared at the Criminal Justice Center in support of Sigel.

Yesterday, signs on the courtroom doors notified spectators that Common Pleas Court Judge Karen Shreeves-Johns would not permit members of the audience to wear clothing from Roc-A-Fella records or Sigel's State Property fashion label.

Nichols told jurors: “This case is not about the defendant being a rapper. It is not the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against Beanie Sigel. . . . He is not entitled to any special treatment because he had some notoriety.”

Perri told jurors that he agreed that the case was not about celebrity.

“This is about a man, in the United States of America, whose liberty is at stake,” Perri told the jury. “If you are true to your oath, the only verdict in this case is not guilty.”

The trial is scheduled to continue today.

Contact staff writer Jacqueline Soteropoulos at 215-854-4497 or jsoteropoulos@phillynews.com.

This content is no longer available at Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)