Crime: First-Degree Murder, Voluntary Manslaughter
Verdict: Not Guilty
In 1993, at 22 years of age, Snoop Dogg was hip-hop's most-hyped rap artist. Fresh off high-profile guest spots on Dr. Dre's The Chronic the previous year, he was mere months from releasing his debut LP when, in August 1993, he was involved in an altercation in Palms park in Lakewood, California that led to the death of Philip Woldemariam.
Woldemariam was driving by Snoop's house, where Snoop and a group of other people had gathered. Gang signs were flashed. According to the LA Times, Woldemariam, who was a member of By Yerself Hustlers street gang, responded: "Fuck y'all!" Snoop's crew followed the victim and two of his friends to Palms park, which is where things got messy.
Woldemarian was killed, and Snoop’s bodyguard McKinley Lee was the shooter. Soon, Snoop and Lee were both sought out by police for the crime. (Snoop had driven the vehicle after the shooting took place, and was accused of being an accomplice.) Lee claimed self-defense.
Snoop’s solo debut Doggystyle was released three months later, on November 23. By May 31, 1994, it had been certified four-times platinum. He performed “Murder Was the Case” at the 1994 VMAs in early September of that year, proclaiming his innocence at the end of his set.
Eventually, Snoop and Lee were acquitted, but not before the trial became the most high-profile one in hip-hop history, as well as a showcase for hip-hop celebrities: MC Hammer, Devante of Jodeci, and Suge Knight all made appearances.
The case wasn’t resolved until 1996. According to the testimony of Woldemariam’s friend Deshaun Joseph, Woldemarian reached for his gun before Snoop’s bodyguard McKinley Lee shot him. Both Joseph and Woldemarian’s other friend, Jason London, admitted that they had taken Woldemarian’s gun from the crime scene in order to better the odds of a conviction for Snoop and Lee, which likely helped the jury reach an acquittal.
After the not guilty verdict was read, Snoop bowed his head and clasped his hands in prayer.