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Slick Rick regains legal status

Freedom may be in the offing

Slick Rick
Slick Rick

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Bronx rapper Ricky "Slick Rick" Walters may be close to freedom after a judge concluded the government erred in imprisoning him for nearly a year and a half to await deportation to Britain -- a land he barely knows.

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood cleared the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame inductee to be freed with a 20-page legal analysis of his case that decided the Board of Immigration Appeals should never have reversed an earlier decision to keep him free.

After 17 months in prison in Bradenton, Florida, the 38-year-old Walters was elated when he heard of the decision, sent to lawyers in the case Friday and recorded in federal court in Manhattan on Monday.

"He's very happy and looking forward to getting released," his attorney Alex Solomiany said Monday. "I honestly expected him released today. Right now, I would hope it can happen tomorrow."

The government had sought to return Walters to London, where he was born; his family moved to the Bronx when he was 11.

U.S. immigration authorities tried to exile Walters using a 1996 law permitting the deportation of foreigners convicted of felonies involving violence. Walters served five years for attempted murder after he shot his cousin and a bystander, saying the cousin had extorted money and threatened to kill his family.

The judge ruled that the government denied Walters a fair legal process when the Board of Immigration Appeals vacated an earlier ruling it had reached letting Walters remain in the United States because it was in "the best interests of the country."

The board instead had let the case be reopened with evidence about the number of years Walters had served in prison that the government's trial attorney had two weeks before the board's original ruling, Wood said.

She said that the government is required to present its case fully in the same way that Walters was required to do and that the government should not have been able to reopen the case with supposed new evidence that actually was old.

Herb Haddad, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney James B. Comey, said the civil arm of the prosecutor's office could not immediately comment on the case.

Bill Adler, a publicist for Walters, said the rapper was detained in June 2002 as he returned to Florida after a weeklong gig aboard a cruise ship.

Adler said the government had issued a warrant for Walters' arrest after overturning the immigration ruling in 1997 but did not tell Walters, his lawyer or anyone else.

Only after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the subsequent crackdown on aliens was Walters stopped as he returned from one of his musical trips abroad, Adler said.

As the months have passed with Walters in prison, supporters including comedian Chris Rock, actor Will Smith and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have become more outspoken.

Adler said Walters will return to the Bronx, where he owns a pair of apartment buildings and lives with his wife and two children, to continue a career that includes his solo platinum album, "The Great Adventures of Slick Rick."

Adler called Woods' ruling "a very, very hopeful thing."

"The American justice system," he said, "works sometimes."

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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