"If you dress nicely and talk well, you can get away with a lot of things."
That statement — read from a letter of testimony written by an underprivileged youth who'd benefitted from attending Clifford "T.I" Harris' King Camp this summer in Atlanta — took on metaphorical meaning as it was read by T.I.'s attorney Dwight Thomas in court today.
But in the end it proved false as U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pannell Jr. sentenced the rapper to serve 11 additional months in federal prison and another year of supervised release for probation violations stemming from his arrest in L.A. on Sept. 1. His new sentence will begin in two weeks on Nov. 1.
T.I. showed up today, with his usual team of expert lawyers, looking plenty sharp in a three-piece, custom-fit gray suit that accentuated his slim physique, along with a white shirt, maroon-patterned tie and pocket square. Even his posture seemed king-like as he sat erect in his chair waiting for the proceedings to begin.
His lawyers, however, proceeded to paint a picture of a vulnerable T.I. who'd succumbed to the disease of addiction after being prescribed oxycodone in January and February of this year to ease the pain of dental procedures that included seven root canals and two extractions.
Taking those pills helped take away the edge of everything else he'd been going through, T.I.'s lawyer Ed Garland argued, and it reawakened his addiction. "He went off the wagon and he failed on his commitment."
As always, the characteristically well-spoken T.I. was articulate when it finally came time for him to speak on his own behalf, but this time there wasn't a whole lot he could say. "I screwed up big time and I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry," he addressed the judge from a statement he'd prepared beforehand. "Although I have faith in God, I'm still scared of you and going back to prison."
"I started with this many problems from my childhood," T.I. said, stretching his arms way out as a guide while standing before the court. "And I've gotten it down to this many problems," he said, bringing his hands closer together. "That problem is addiction. I need help."
But after already issuing a sentence that seemed lenient even by the standards of "celebrity justice" following T.I.'s 2007 arrest on federal gun charges, Judge Pannell wasn't hearing it. After listening to T.I.'s lawyers and U.S. Attorney Sally Yates talk of T.I.'s usage of marijuana, ecstacy, and "purple drank" (a mixture of codeine syrup, Sprite and Jolly Ranchers drunk from styrofoam cups) — not to mention his association with convicted felon Cortez Thomas, who was with him when he got arrested in L.A. and when T.I. got arrested on the original gun charges in Atlanta — he quickly issued a sentence that fell somewhere in between the recommendations of the defense and the U.S. attorney's office.
"The worst thing was this case was an experiment," Pannell said, referring to the year and a day, plus the 1,000 hours of community service that made up T.I.'s original sentence in 2009. "Mr. Harris," the judge said to T.I., "you've dropped a whole lot of smut on top of this."
T.I.'s mother was in the courtroom along with other family members. His wife Tameka "Tiny" Cottle was seated at the first bench behind T.I.'s defense team, next to recording artist and friend Monica, who put her arm around Tiny during the sentencing. Hannah Kang of T.I.'s label Grand Hustle Records was on-hand, and at least one Atlantic Records representative.
When it came time to talk about when T.I.'s 11 month sentence would begin, Judge Pannell said, "If I were in Mr. Harris' position, I'd want to go ahead and get this started to get it behind me." He gave him two weeks before he has to report to the Bureau of Prisons, and "recommend that he serve as close to Atlanta as possible for his family's sake. At that point, T.I. leaned over and whispered something to his lawyer Steve Sadow, who then said, "How about we recommend anywhere else but the place he was at last time."
Outside the courtroom, journalists awaited word of the sentence, but missing among them was the throng of fans and supporters who had showed up two years ago for T.I.'s initial proceedings.
Meanwhile, on the steps of the Richard B. Russell Federal Building facing Spring Street, more reporters and TV cameras waited in hopes that the rapper would exit the building and make a statement. His lawyer Dwight Thomas came, followed by U.S. Attorney Sally Yates. But after talking a man down from a ledge just two days prior, T.I., who stopped to hug several family members and friends while waiting for an elevator at the end of the proceedings, had used up all his words.
"I apologize sincerely to all who I've let down," he'd stated earlier in the courtroom. "It's an inconvenience and I know nobody wants to be here dealing with me and dealing with this. I apologize sincerely."
For more details on the case, read AJC reporter Bill Rankin's story.
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