KINGSTON, Jamaica -- A Jamaican judge on Thursday sentenced dancehall reggae star Vybz Kartel and three other men to life in prison for the 2011 murder of an associate.
While police in riot gear watched over barricaded streets outside the court in downtown Kingston, Judge Lennox Campbell ruled the entertainer must serve 35 years behind bars before he can be eligible for parole. At that point, the tattooed Jamaican deejay who has dominated the brash reggae-rap hybrid of dancehall for a decade would be 73.
Last month, a jury convicted the 38-year-old Kartel and three co-defendants of killing Clive "Lizard" Williams, who was beaten to death in August 2011 after being lured to Kartel’s house to answer for two missing guns. His body has never been found.
One of the key pieces of evidence in the 65-day trial, one of the longest in Jamaican history, was a text message that police said they retrieved from Kartel’s phone saying Williams had been chopped up in a "mincemeat" so fine his remains would never be located.
On Thursday, dozens of onlookers stood at the street barricades awaiting the sentencing. Some zealous fans yelled in anguish when they heard news of Kartel’s life sentence.
"Wickedness! They take away the ‘world boss,"’ one woman exclaimed, referring to one of Kartel’s nicknames.
Defense lawyer Tom Tavares-Finson said he expected to file an appeal.
When Kartel was convicted last month, the only dissenting juror was arrested on charges of attempting to bribe the panel in an effort to free the music star, whose real name is Adidja Palmer. The juror denies wrongdoing.
Authorities said the case had posed numerous security challenges. Prosecution witnesses and relatives of the victim needed state protection due to numerous threats. Officers were also threatened, including Detective Sgt. Patrick Linton, whose home was attacked with a fire bomb after he testified against Kartel.
Police officials also said intelligence indicated people were paid to gather outside the court to show support for Kartel and "create disorder during the closing stages of the trial."
Kartel is a major star in the dancehall genre and is known for his prolific output and innovative, but often violent, X-rated lyrics. Over the years, he collaborated with international artists including Jay-Z, Rihanna and Busta Rhymes. Rhymes traveled to Jamaica to attend the last day of Kartel’s trial as a show of support.
Although he has been jailed since 2011, Kartel recorded numerous new songs from his cell using a smartphone and co-wrote a book about himself titled "The Voice of the Jamaica Ghetto." He’s long been popular among young Jamaicans, especially those in blighted slums.
As his popularity grew, he increasingly got in trouble with the law. Last year, another murder case against Kartel collapsed after prosecutors failed to produce enough evidence to support allegations that he and two others killed businessman Barrington "Bossy" Burton in 2011.
David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd