A Philadelphia rapper who successfully appealed his conviction in a 2010 murder by arguing that prosecutors had unfairly introduced his violent lyrics to jurors was again convicted Wednesday of the killing – this time by a jury that didn't see or hear his songs.
The verdict against Ronald "Hollow Man" Thomas came just hours after the jury got the case. Common Pleas Court Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd then sentenced Thomas, 33, to a mandatory term of life without parole, the same outcome of his first trial in 2013. Byrd also sentenced Thomas to 8½ to 17 years for three firearms convictions.
Thomas, a member of the North Philly underground rap scene who once appeared in Philly rapper Beanie Sigel's "In the Ghetto" music video, was arrested days after the April 22, 2010, slaying of Anwar Ashmore, 23. Both were members of Team A, a crew of rappers and drug dealers who frequented the Strawberry Mansion section of North Philadelphia.
According to court testimony, Thomas killed Ashmore for his role in the 2009 theft of a brick of cocaine worth $40,000 from a stash house controlled by Thomas.
In September of that year, Thomas, as Hollow Man, released the mixtape "Ear Bleed," which included the lyrics: "Half a brick missing, and it's one of my [N-word], can't point fingers because I don't know who did it. But soon as I find out, I swear that [N-word] finished."
Months later, Ashmore was gunned down near the corner of Stanley and Huntingdon Streets in front of a handful of Team A members, according to trial testimony.
During Thomas' 2013 trial, city prosecutors introduced the song as evidence — and a jury convicted him of murder. A Superior Court panel overturned the verdict in October 2015 after Thomas argued the lyrics were prejudicial and should have not been shared with jurors.
William Ashmore, the victim's father, said Wednesday that he was not surprised that a second jury found Thomas guilty.
"I expected it. It's nothing new to me. … I wish it didn't have to happen, but it is what it is," said Ashmore, 61.
While conceding his son was one of three men who stole drugs from Thomas, Ashmore called senseless both the slaying and the high crime rate in North Philadelphia.
"The sad part is, I knew all of those guys," he said. "So, when it happened, everybody ran to me and said, 'Hollow Man just killed your son.' " After the killing, William Ashmore said, Thomas "had the nerve to go downtown the next day to order up some rest-in-peace T-shirts."
Ashmore said he regrets that his son did not listen to him about staying away from drugs, and that he left behind a daughter, now 9 years old. "I knew what he was about," the father said. "He was about the streets, and I couldn't get through to him."