Speaking directly to the judge for the first time during his felony assault trial in Los Angeles, Tory Lanez declined to testify in his own defense on Wednesday.
The move followed after prosecutors said they had a stockpile of possible impeachment evidence lined up against the rapper charged with shooting Megan Thee Stallion in both feet during an alcohol-fueled fight on a residential street in the Hollywood Hills on July 12, 2020.
The proposed evidence included Lanez’s alleged assault of fellow musician August Alsina in September, which the judge previously excluded, as well as music video in which Lanez plays a butcher chopping up horse meat, and Lanez’s prior “lies about how tall he is,” Deputy District Attorney Alexander Bott told the court late Tuesday.
“I will not testify,” Lanez, whose legal name is Daystar Peterson, told Judge David Herriford shortly before both sides rested and opening statements began Wednesday afternoon.
Prosecutors focused much of their afternoon closing argument on Megan Thee Stallion’s emotional testimony delivered last week, in which the Grammy winner recounted hearing Peterson say “Dance, bitch” before opening fire with a semiautomatic 9mm pistol.
Megan, 27, was struck by multiple bullet fragments during the roadside assault, a doctor testified during the trial. Megan’s former best friend Kelsey Harris and Peterson’s driver Jauquan Smith were present for the incident, but only Harris took the witness stand.
“This is a case about a guy who shot a girl, people saw it, and then he apologized for it,” Bott told the jury, arguing that Peterson, 30, unloaded the weapon over “nothing more than a bruised ego.”
Peterson’s defense lawyer George Mgdeseyan told jurors his client had a right to not testify. He then urged the panel to reject all of Megan’s testimony on the basis she “lied” when she initially told police she stepped on glass and later denied having been intimate with Lanez prior to the shooting.
Peterson has pleaded not guilty to three felony charges in the high-profile case: assault with a firearm causing great bodily injury; possessing a concealed, loaded and unregistered firearm in a vehicle; and the recently added count of discharging a firearm with gross negligence.
If convicted as charged, the Alone at Prom rapper is facing the possibility of 22 years and eight months in prison and subsequent deportation since he is a citizen of Canada.
“If you believe Megan, that’s enough,” Bott said after opening his argument with harrowing quotes from Megan’s trial testimony that he projected on a screen.
“If I would have known that coming out and speaking my truth would come with people agreeing with me (that) I was shot… I wouldn’t have started to lose my confidence, lose my friends, lose myself. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t want to come (out) about it in the first place. I started to feel like, damn, maybe I should be dead,” Megan said in the lines also read by Bott to the jury.
“You know what? Megan did find the courage to come out,” Bott said. “She did find the courage to (say) what the defendant did to her, and after more than two years of this torture, it is finally time for you, members of the jury, to find the defendant guilty.”
He then walked jurors through the “layers” of evidence that make up the prosecution’s case, highlighting the “critical” text message that Harris sent to Megan’s bodyguard Justin Edison within five minutes of the 911 call about the gunfire.
“Help / Tory shot meg / 911” the text bubbles from Harris to Edison show during the trial read.
“She was only thinking about Megan at that time,” Bott said. “I just want to stop here for a second. The defense is asking you to believe that Kelsey Harris shot Megan that night, then was comforting her and (held) Megan’s legs bleeding on her.” He reminded jurors Harris had been drinking heavily in the hours prior.
“Are these the actions of a girl who just shot Megan. Within five minutes of the shooting she sends this text message. Is Kelsey some kind of sophisticated criminal mastermind I didn’t know about, where she’s framing the defendant within five minutes?” he asked. “The defense doesn’t make sense.”
On the subject of Harris’ about-face on the witness stand last week, where she disavowed statements implicating Peterson that she gave to prosecutors during a recorded interview last September, Bott said, “something spooked her, someone got to her, maybe she took one of those bribes.” (During her September statement, Harris recalled Peterson offering her and Megan $1 million to stay quiet about the shooting.)
“Kelsey comes in and pours her heart out,” he argued, saying he and fellow prosecutor, Kathy Ta, “barely” spoke during the 80-minute interview attended by Harris’ husband in person and two of her lawyers on the phone.
Bott also focused on the jail call that Peterson made to Harris about five hours after the shooting at 9:05 a.m. He said it takes “mental gymnastics” to interpret the call as anything other than an apology for wounding Megan.
“The defense will say he never admits to doing the shooting. Right. He’s on a recorded line.”
He said Harris was outside the hospital where Megan was being treated but couldn’t enter due to strict Covid restrictions at the time.
“The first call he makes in custody is to Kelsey. What’s on the forefront of his mind? The event that put Megan in the hospital. He says, ‘Yo, bro, regardless, I know she’s probably never ever gonna ever talk to me ever again. I just want you to know, I was just so fucking drunk. I didn’t even know what was going on,'” Bott told jurors, reading from the call transcript.
Bott asked jurors if it was plausible that Peterson was just talking about a “romantic entanglement” involving himself and the two women, especially considering a subsequent line in the call transcript where Peterson says, “I don’t even remember what we was even arguing about.”
When the prosecutor turned to neighborhood witness Sean Kelly, he said Kelly, the only independent witness called to the stand, recalled seeing Peterson with an object in his hands, “shouting a torrent of abuse” and firing shots that caused a woman to “fall in the middle of the street bleeding.”
Bott said even if jurors believe Kelly’s testimony that an initial muzzle flash appeared to come from one of the women, they could still convict Peterson.
“If anybody thinks, despite the evidence, that they have a whiff of an idea that Kelsey shot a round, even though Mr. Kelly never says that, this trial is about what the defendant did. Kelsey Harris is not on trial. It’s about what the defendant did. And Sean Kelly clearly states that the defendant fired rounds at the victim,” Bott said.
In his dueling closing argument that will continue Thursday, Mgdesyan said the prosecution’s case was “full of holes,” requiring “speculation” on the part of the jury.
He questioned why prosecutors didn’t call Kelly as their own witness and argued it wasn’t until Kelly got on the stand as part of the defense case that he reported for the first time that he saw Peterson shooting.
The defense lawyer further attacked Megan’s testimony, saying the “Savage” singer changed her description of which direction she walked in when she exited the vehicle because if she had walked southbound instead of northbound, and if Peterson had been in a rear passenger seat, there wouldn’t have been an open door for him to shoot over, as she described. (During testimony Wednesday, LAPD Det. Ryan Stogner said he didn’t recall Megan specifically telling him she started walking southbound before the gunfire erupted.)
“Megan Pete is a liar,” Mgdesyan argued Wednesday.
He said Megan and Harris got into a violent fight when Peterson revealed he’d been romantic with both women, and that Peterson was trying to grab the gun away from Harris after she fired the first shot.
“My client was trying to save the Black woman they’re talking about,” Mgdesyan argued.
The defense lawyer asked why the judge allowed Harris to invoke her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination if she was an innocent bystander who also was assaulted by Peterson, as prosecutors allege. That decision by the judge led prosecutors to offer Harris a “use immunity” deal that meant anything she said on the stand couldn’t be used against her in a possible future criminal case.
“(And) why not give her transactional immunity?” Mgdesyan asked, referring to the higher level of immunity that Harris sought but was denied. Transactional immunity would have allowed her to testify without any jeopardy of ever being charged with anything related to the shooting.
“Kelsey was upset her friend was not being loyal,” Mgdesyan argued, saying the text she sent to Megan’s bodyguard five minutes after the shooting was “self-serving.”
The defense lawyer is expected to finish his closing argument Thursday morning. Prosecutors are set to give a rebuttal, and then jurors are due to begin deliberating.
On Tuesday, Bott told the court that if Peterson took the stand and opened the door to his criminal history or statements about his relationship with Megan, prosecutors were ready to confront the “Luv” singer with his previously excluded social media posts, rap lyrics, his connection to Megan’s Houston record label 1501 Entertainment and his prior brushes with law enforcement.
The jurors already heard that Peterson was arrested in Florida in 2017 and placed on a diversion program that was terminated in April 2017.
But they never heard about the alleged assault on August Alsina or that Peterson allegedly punched “Love & Hip Hop” star Prince Michael Harty in Florida last year.
Regarding the video for Peterson’s diss track “Cap,” in which he plays the role of a butcher slicing up a horse leg, Bott said the song “is clearly directed at Megan.” Bott further said Peterson’s “lies” about his height could have been fodder for cross-examination related to the rapper’s “credibility.”