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Emotional testimony, recanting witnesses: Week one of the Tory Lanez assault trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In a Los Angeles courtroom this week, Grammy-winning artist Megan Thee Stallion testified about the shooting incident in 2020 that left her wounded. Canadian rapper Tory Lanez is on trial for allegedly shooting her in the foot after a party in the Hollywood Hills. They've denied each other's version of events on social media, in their music and in emotional testimony. The case is also sparking new debate about the treatment of women in hip hop. NPR's Sidney Madden hosts our podcast Louder Than A Riot. She's been watching the testimony and is with us from outside the courthouse. Hey, Sid.

SIDNEY MADDEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's start with the case that's been made in court this week. First, what have prosecutors laid out?

MADDEN: Yeah. So in the case of the People v. Daystar Peterson, aka Tory Lanez, the Canadian rapper is answering to three felony charges - possession of illegal firearm, negligent discharge of that firearm and then assault with a firearm. That last charge being, in layman's terms, shooting Megan Pete, aka Megan Thee Stallion, in the foot. The prosecution in their opening arguments spelled out all the different ways that they are going to prove that Tory Lanez was the shooter that night.

SHAPIRO: And what's the defense arguing?

MADDEN: The defense, on the other hand, is casting doubt on a lot of witnesses and unofficially trying to assert that Kelsey Harris, Megan's former best friend, who was also in the vehicle that night, was actually the shooter.

SHAPIRO: Kelsey Harris has become a key figure in this trial. She was also a former assistant to Megan Thee Stallion. What role is she playing in all of this?

MADDEN: Yeah. As the third person in that vehicle, Kelsey Harris told prosecutors back in September that she saw that Tory had a gun pulled on Megan. But then this week, in a honestly shocking turn of events, Kelsey took the stand and recanted on everything she said to the prosecutors, mainly that she never saw Megan shot and that she did not see that Tory was the shooter. It's been a really explosive development.

SHAPIRO: Megan Thee Stallion herself testified on Tuesday, and she's been open in the last couple years about the impact all of this has had on her mental health. Tell us more about what she said at this trial.

MADDEN: Yeah. Megan has been very open about the residual effects of this shooting on her life physically and mentally. She even dropped an album earlier this year called "Traumazine" where she was talking about the trauma. But when she took the stand on Tuesday, it was definitely the most emotional testimony that we've seen thus far. She said that she feels dirty, that she's had problems with later partnerships, later relationships, that she has problems with trust. And she even said at one point she felt like she didn't want to be on this earth anymore, and sometimes she wished that Tory killed her.

SHAPIRO: Fans of both artists have made this a very high-profile case. There's been a lot of conversation about misogyny against Black women in the hip-hop industry. How is all of that factoring into the trial?

MADDEN: Yeah. Fans of both rappers have been debating the validity of this case pretty much since the beginning for the past two years. It's been something of, honestly, a mess on social media and the court of public opinion. And I think the undercurrent of this case really highlights how casual misogyny is in hip-hop but also just in America when it comes to believing Black women.

SHAPIRO: And what's next in the trial?

MADDEN: Coming up next week, the prosecution is expected to close their arguments, and then it's the defense's turn to call their witnesses and their expert. They're calling a - their own gunshot residue expert. They're calling officers who were responding to the scene and making the arrest that night. But they're also calling some high-profile celebrities, namely Corey Gamble and Kylie Jenner, because the three parties involved in this were leaving Kylie Jenner's house - so to get more clarity on what the fight was actually about.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR Music's Sidney Madden, host of the podcast Louder Than A Riot. Thanks a lot.

MADDEN: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: And if you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, just those three digits - 988. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sidney Madden is a reporter and editor for NPR Music. As someone who always gravitated towards the artforms of music, prose and dance to communicate, Madden entered the world of music journalism as a means to authentically marry her passions and platform marginalized voices who do the same.