Governor Pardons Hip-Hop Pioneer
New York Times
May 23, 2008
By Sewell Chan
Ricky Walters, a 43-year-old hip-hop pioneer known for the rap classic “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick” and was convicted of attempted murder in 1991, has received a full pardon from Gov. David A. Paterson. The governor said in a statement that he decided to pardon Mr. Walters, who was released from prison in 1997, to prevent him from being deported to Britain, where Mr. Walters was born and lived until the age of 11.
In 2002, The Times chronicled the efforts to deport Mr. Walters and the efforts of his supporters to prevent that from happening. Mr. Walters is currently living in the Bronx and has not been in trouble with the law since his release from prison. The full text of Mr. Paterson’s statement explaining the pardon is below:
Governor David A. Paterson announced today that he has granted Ricky Walters a full and unconditional pardon of his 1991 attempted murder and weapon convictions, in order to allow Walters to seek relief from deportation from the federal immigration courts. Mr. Walters, who was born in the United Kingdom, was lawfully admitted to the United States at age 11, and he was raised in the Bronx. At the time of his crimes, Mr. Walters was a newly-famous hip-hop artist known as “Slick Rick,” who has since been credited with being a pioneer in the development of hip-hop as a mainstream musical genre. Walters was incarcerated for six years, and was released from prison in 1997.
Mr. Walters has fully served the sentence imposed upon him for his convictions, had an exemplary disciplinary record while in prison and on parole, and has been living without incident in the community for more than 10 years. In that time, he has volunteered at youth outreach programs to counsel youth against violence, and has become a symbol of rehabilitation for many young people. Given these demonstrated rehabilitative efforts, I urge federal immigration officials to once again grant Mr. Walters relief from deportation, so that he is not separated from his many family members who are United States citizens, including his two teenage children.
Mr. Walters faces deportation under a federal statute that mandates the removal of a lawful resident alien upon conviction of an aggravated felony or a weapon offense. For certain offenses removal can be avoided by a governor’s pardon, but for weapon offenses, even after receiving a pardon, a noncitizen must seek discretionary relief from deportation from the immigration court. Mr. Walters was granted such relief by an immigration court in 1995, but that decision was later vacated because the Board of Immigration Appeals issued its decision 33 days after the expiration of a statutory deadline. Mr. Walters has been unable to re-apply for discretionary adjustment of his immigration status because of his attempted murder convictions, but he will be eligible to do so as a result of the governor’s pardon.
In 1991, Mr. Walters pleaded guilty in Bronx County Supreme Court to two counts of attempted murder and eight weapons offenses arising from an incident in which Walters shot his cousin and an innocent bystander, both of whom survived the shooting. Walters’ cousin had made previous threats against Walters, and Walters believed his cousin had arranged at least one previous attempt on his life. Mr. Walters, who was 25 years old at the time of the incident, was sentenced to a term of 3⅓ to 10 years in prison. He was released to parole in 1997, and was discharged from parole supervision in 2000.
In June 1995, an immigration judge terminated deportation proceedings against Walters and granted him a waiver of inadmissibility and an adjustment of status that allowed Walters to remain in this country despite his convictions. The judge’s decision was based on, among other things, the “unusual and outstanding equities” of his case. Later that year, the Board of Immigration Appeals found that this relief “appears to be in the best interest of the country,” but the Board later vacated its decision on a technical ground — that it had no authority to act because on the day of its decision, Walters had served five years and 33 days in prison, 33 days more than statutorily permitted for a waiver of inadmissibility. Walters’s legal challenges to this decision have been unsuccessful, and he could soon be deported, unless the immigration courts agree to reconsider his request for adjustment of status in light of the governor’s pardon.
Mr. Walters, who is now 43 years old, has lived in the Bronx without incident since his release from prison in 1997. He is presently employed as a landlord and rap musician. Mr. Walters has a wife and two children, all of whom are American citizens.