French rapper MHD was sentenced Saturday to 12 years in prison for the 2018 murder of a young man in Paris who was rammed with a car before being set upon by a mob and stabbed. Five of his fellow defendants were also jailed over the killing, receiving jail terms of between 10 and 18 years, over what prosecutors said was a fight between rival gangs. Three other men were acquitted. The pioneer of afro-trap -- a mix of hip-hop and African traditions -- MHD rose to fame after becoming a viral sensation in 2015.
The 29-year-old, whose real name is Mohamed Sylla, was charged with homicide in January 2019 and imprisoned. He was released after a year and a half in custody as investigations continued, and released a new album. As Saturday's verdict was handed down, several women in the public gallery burst into tears. MHD hugged one of them, maintaining his composure. Those convicted -- who all pleaded not guilty -- have 10 days to appeal. During his final statement to the court before it retired to render the verdict after three weeks of proceedings, he had again proclaimed his innocence.
"From the beginning, I have maintained my innocence in this case and I will continue to maintain my innocence," he told the packed court. The prosecutor had asked for an 18-year prison sentence for the rapper, acquittals for two of the accused, and jail sentences of 13-20 years for the others. On the night of July 5, 2018, 23-year-old Loic K was rammed by a black Mercedes and then beaten up and stabbed by around a dozen people in a gritty part of the capital's 10th arrondissement. Although the rapper denied having been at the scene, a local resident filmed the incident from his window, and the Mercedes was quickly identified as belonging to MHD.
Other witnesses identified him by his haircut or a sweatshirt by Puma -- for which he was a brand ambassador -- according to investigative reports seen by AFP. The car was found abandoned and burned out in a car park a day after the killing. "A judicial truth emerged despite the law of silence," said Juliette Chapelle, lawyer for the victim's family.
The killing happened in the Cite des Chaufourniers, a low-income estate in the area that the former pizza delivery driver continued to frequent despite his fame. The football-mad performer, who was born in France to Guinean and Senegalese parents, is best known for "Afro Trap Part 3 (Champions League)", a song in praise of the Paris Saint-Germain football club. He had made waves abroad, drawing admiration from global stars such as Drake and Madonna. – AFP