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Sigel acquitted of attempted murder

Rap star Beanie Sigel was swept up by embraces, kisses and applause from family and friends yesterday, minutes after a jury announced that he was not guilty of attempted murder in connection with a 2003 West Philadelphia shooting.

"I'm just thankful for a fair jury," Sigel told reporters after hugging dozens of family members and supporters.It was Sigel's second trial on the charges – in April 2004, a jury weighing the case announced it was hopelessly deadlocked after five days of deliberations.

"I just want to get back to my life. I can chill now. I can get back to my business and my family," said the 31-year-old, whose real name is Dwight Grant. ". . . I feel like I was hit with a bullet when I was charged with this."

These Common Pleas Court jurors deliberated about four hours over two days before announcing an acquittal on all charges yesterday. Some of Sigel's family wept at the jury's decision.

Sigel's mother, Michelle Brown-Derry, jubilantly called yesterday "a good day. . . . You're always emotional when you have 12 people judging your fate."

Sigel was accused of shooting Terrence Speller near 52d Street and Larchwood Avenue in West Philadelphia on July 1, 2003.

However, last week, a key prosecution witness repeatedly contradicted himself – claiming at turns that Sigel shot Speller, then saying he didn't actually see the shooting or see Sigel with a gun.

Speller testified that Sigel shot him twice with a chrome semiautomatic pistol, hitting him in the stomach and left foot. No physical evidence tied Sigel to the crime.

During the trial, Assistant District Attorney Lynn Nichols told jurors that the witnesses' contradicting stories came out of fear for their safety.

After the verdict, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office issued a brief written statement: "We are disappointed with the outcome. We believe the evidence supported the charges."

Defense attorney Fortunato Perri Jr. told reporters: "There was absolutely no evidence to support the charges." He said Speller and the witness accused Sigel because they were motivated by money.

"They wanted to get paid out of this case," Perri said. He told jurors that Speller and the other witness could not be believed. Initially, Speller and the witness, David Aimes, told police Speller was critically injured by an unknown robber.

In May, Speller, 28, sued Sigel seeking more than $50,000 in damages. That lawsuit is pending.

Sigel's retrial, which began Wednesday, lacked the hip-hop star power of last year's event – marked by appearances by rapper Jay-Z and singer Beyonc Knowles at the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center in support of Sigel.

However, recording executive Damon Dash attended the retrial each day and celebrated after the verdict with his arm around Sigel's shoulders.

"This has proven he's an honorable man," Dash said. "I think he's a good example for the rest of the community, you know what I mean?"

Sigel is scheduled to be back at the Criminal Justice Center on Oct. 3, facing trial on a misdemeanor simple-assault charge.

In that case, Sigel is accused of punching a man twice on Jan. 9, 2003, at 18th Street and Wingohocking Avenue, after Sigel and the man exchanged words over a woman.

Defense attorney Perri said, "We're working on resolving that matter."

Sigel was released from a federal prison last month after serving a year on drug and gun charges to which he had pleaded guilty.

Contact staff writer Jacqueline Soteropoulos at 215-854-4497 or jsoteropoulos@phillynews.com.