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Rapper who admitted 1993 NYC shooting faces trial

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JENNIFER PELTZ | April 7, 2012 01:04 PM EST | AP

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NEW YORK — Almost a decade after a brief turn on rap's fast track, G. Dep was aiming toward a comeback. But then he went to a police station to reveal a damning secret: He'd shot a stranger while trying to mug him 17 years before.

He's now slated to go on trial on murder and other charges, despite a confession he hasn't disputed making – indeed, he's called it a relief. His lawyers, who have said the rapper turned down a plea deal that called for 15 years to life in prison, have suggested he'll question whether years of PCP use factored in his client's admission.

G. Dep, 37, a married father of three school-age children, faces the possibility of 25 years to life behind bars if he's convicted in a case that was dormant until he spoke up in December 2010. Victim John Henkel's own family has criticized the rapper's decision to come forward, saying it needlessly stoked the relatives' pain.

Regardless, the rapper doesn't regret it, his lawyer says.

"Conscience drove him to do something. ... He thinks he did the right thing," defense lawyer Anthony L. Ricco said after a hearing this winter.

"There's a lot of people who think he's a fool for doing this. He doesn't think he's a fool," Ricco said. "He says this has been like a blessing. It's saved his life."

Jury selection is scheduled to start Monday. Ricco and fellow G. Dep lawyer Neville Mitchell didn't return calls this week; the Manhattan district attorney's office declined to comment. G. Dep, who is being held without bail, has pleaded not guilty.

Henkel, 32, who was married and had three children, was shot in the chest three times outside a Harlem apartment complex around 1 a.m. on Oct. 19, 1993.

At the time, Trevell Coleman was 18, a Harlem youth years away from his rise in rap as G. Dep, short for "Ghetto Dependent."

Coleman made his way into hip-hop impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs' stable of talent at Bad Boy Records in the late 1990s. His debut album, "Child of the Ghetto," came out in 2001.

G. Dep scored a rap-chart hit with "Special Delivery." The video for his "Let's Get It" helped an athletic, wriggly dance called the Harlem shake percolate out of clubs and into pop culture.

But G. Dep's career soon stalled. His life spiraled into disarray and drugs, particularly PCP, the potent hallucinogen also known as angel dust. By late 2010, his record included at least a dozen arrests on drug, trespassing and other charges. His wife would later tell Vibe magazine that he insisted one time that he was Jesus, another time that she was a police officer.

Still, he was hoping for a turnaround. He went through a drug rehabilitation program in summer 2010, according to an interview that year with the hip-hop magazine XXL, and released his second solo album, "Ghetto Legend," online that fall through Coral Springs, Fla.-based Famous Records. A single featuring him – "On My Way," by rapper Chi King – was poised for release by Detroit's Protekted Records in January 2011; proceeds are going to Henkel's family, Protekted CEO Jon Gornbein said.

Even as G. Dep tried to regain his footing, "he had some demons that I could feel he was fighting," Famous Records' CEO Jeffrey Collins, recalled by phone this week. "And maybe this was his answer."

The rapper turned up at the police precinct Dec. 15, 2010, shortly before the first gig Famous Records had arranged for him, Collins said. G. Dep calmly explained that he had shot someone after demanding money on a street corner about 20 years before, two detectives said at a court hearing in January.

"He said that he felt bad and that it was eating him up," Detective Dave Feliciano said.

Poring backwards from 2000 in a homicide logbook, investigators matched Henkel's death to the rapper's account, which included the location and the caliber of the gun. He told authorities he fired after the victim grabbed the weapon.

"I pulled it back to me, and then I fired. I fired, um, three times," then fled on a bicycle, the rapper said in a videotaped statement partly shown at the hearing. He said he hadn't seen whether the victim was wounded.

While acknowledging that G. Dep unburdened himself about something that had haunted him, Ricco has indicated he'll ask jurors to scrutinize the confession through the prism of a person racked by extended PCP use.

"These are events that actually occurred, but are (the statements) accurate and reliable? That's for a jury to decide," he said after court in January. Police said the rapper at times used "we" when describing the shooting but also insisted no one else was involved, the lawyer noted.

While G. Dep told police he hoped his admission would help Henkel's relatives, one has said it did the opposite.

"Finally, we're not always thinking about it ... and now it has to be dug up all again," stepbrother Robert Henkel told the New York Post after the arrest. He didn't immediately respond to phone messages this week.

G. Dep told XXL in a jail interview last summer he was somewhat surprised by how people have reacted to his confession.

"But then I can't," he said, "expect everyone to understand."

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