A Rap Pioneer Goes on Trial for Murder. Was It Calculated or Self-Defense?

In 2017, rapper Kidd Creole was living a quiet life. The artist, who achieved fame in the early 1980s as an original member of watershed hip-hop collective Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, worked at a copy shop in Manhattan. He no longer received attention — let alone the adulation of crowds — but typically minded his own business, sporting earbuds during his daily commute to work. By all accounts, the man born Nathaniel Glover was a normal 57-year-old guy who lived alone in a one-room Bronx apartment.

But around midnight on Aug. 1 of that year, a chain of events thrusted Glover back in the spotlight. Some key facts are agreed upon, but the motivation behind them remains in dispute. He was on his way to work when he had a run-in with a 55-year-old man named John Jolly. Glover stabbed Jolly, who died at the hospital shortly thereafter. The next day, New York City police arrested Glover and charged him with second-degree murder.

For more than four years, Glover has been detained on Rikers Island, a notorious jail complex, awaiting trial. Glover finally had his day in court on Friday, when opening statements began in his case at Manhattan Supreme Court. Authorities have claimed that Glover had no reason to fear Jolly, let alone stab him to death. They intimated that Glover’s actions might have been motivated by homophobia.

Glover doesn’t deny stabbing Jolly, but has insisted he did so in self-defense. His attorney suggested that people would be more sympathetic to Glover’s fear of Jolly — and his reaction — if the former star wasn’t Black. Glover, who was led into court with handcuffs, attentively watched their presentations. He sported a brownish-black suit, with a white shirt and cream-colored tie. The boxy jacket somewhat diminished his already slight physical stature.

Prosecutor Mark Dahl launched his opening statement with Glover’s alleged own words while he was in police custody: “I should have just kept going, “It’s all my fault, as I chose to stab him. I have to take responsibility for that.”

Dahl argued that Jolly, 55, wasn’t a threat. He was leaning against a building on 43rd Street in midtown that night, drinking a beer. He said “hello” to some passersby, and shook others’ hands. At one point, a man with a ponytail — later identified as Glover — walked by. They “exchanged some words,” Dahl said and Glover continued on his way.

Jolly was settling back into his spot when Glover started walking back towards him. “As they get face-to-face, the man sort of turns away from him and starts reaching into his left sleeve — and then the two of them go off [the building security] camera,” Dahl said. They are out of the frame for 14 seconds. Only one man, Jolly, reappears.

Jolly seemed OK at first. But as he made his way toward Third Avenue, surveillance footage showed that a dark spot on his shirt got bigger and bigger. “By the time he got to the end of the block, the entire front of his shirt was covered in blood,” Dahl said. “That was the reason he collapsed on the street.”

Police reviewed surveillance footage and “suspected the man with the ponytail” was involved in the stabbing. They ultimately identified this man as Glover and went to his apartment the next day. At one point, Glover allegedly said: “Yeah, I was expecting you guys. I didn’t think you’d get here this soon, though.”

Glover wound up telling the police everything, Dahl claimed. “He explained how on the night of the incident, he was on his way to work. He saw a man standing alone next to a building. He suspected that the man was gay and was looking for some[one] to hook up with.” The man said something to Glover, Dahl said.

“So he took out his earphones, and said, ‘What did you say?’ And the man simply said, ‘What’s up?’” Dahl continued. “This kind of annoyed Mr. Glover because in his mind…when the man asked him ‘What’s up?’ he must have thought that Mr. Glover was gay, and probably hitting on him, and that annoyed him.”

Glover said something along the lines of “nothing’s up, bro, nothing’s up.” He worried that the man might follow him. So Glover turned and noticed that he was coming in his direction and Jolly remarked: “All I said was, ‘What’s up?’” Glover started to walk away but claimed that Jolly started to follow him.

Glover told police that he was “a little afraid.”

“So he decided to reach into his sleeve and grab the kitchen knife — that he kept attached to his wrist with rubber bands — and quickly stabbed the guy in the chest,” Dahl said, making a stabbing gesture as the jurors looked on. Glover went to work, as if nothing had happened. He didn’t talk to anyone and went to the bathroom, where he “immediately started washing off the knife.” Glover’s bosses told him there wasn’t any work for him that evening, so he went home — making sure to change his clothes and take a different route home.

When Glover got out of the train, he threw his knife into a sewer grate. Glover later showed police where he tossed the knife. “According to him, the man didn’t touch him, grab him, say he had a weapon or anything like that,” Dahl claimed.

Glover’s attorney, Scottie Celestin, painted a far different picture. Glover was a “hard-working man” who, like most New Yorkers, wanted to get to work without incident. “We’re hoping nobody messes with us,” Celestin told the jury.

In Celestin’s telling, as Glover got off the train, he saw a man who seemed off. Glover, who Celestin claims still carries anxiety from being robbed in 2005, hoped he could walk by without anything happening. “He has his earphones in, and the man says something to him,” Celestin said.

“You’re trying to make quick assessments,” Celestin said, snapping his fingers. “Does this person know me? Does he recognize me because [I’m] part of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five?”

“Is a person asking for directions? Is he asking for money? Is he going to harm you?” Celestin continued. “The guy says ‘what’s up?’ Mr. Glover makes the assessment, ‘Hey maybe this guy’s hitting on me.’ He says he’s annoyed — that’s his right.”

“He’s a New York native from The Bronx…He knows to turn around to see if this guy is following me. Mr. Glover is a petite man — and in the statement that he gives, he says, ‘I’m hoping this man doesn’t call his bluff. I just don’t want him to do anything to me,’” Celestin explained of Glover’s position.

With each step Jolly took toward him, Glover’s “annoyance turns to nervousness,” Celestin said. So close is Jolly that Glover can smell his breath. Jolly was bigger, younger, and stronger. Celestin asked jurors to consider why Glover’s fears — and his reactions — weren’t seen as valid.

“What if an Asian NYU student told you he was leaving campus late at night, and he was accosted by a big, Black, homeless intoxicated man?” What if an Indian store clerk were accosted? A white female lawyer? “Would you think that was reasonable?” Celestin asked.

“It’s New York City. It’s [midnight]. Who’s saying ‘what’s up?’ with good intentions?’” Celestin pressed. “This is real life. This is New York. Ladies and gentleman, his fear for his life was reasonable. He knew this man didn’t have good intentions.”

“He knows that ‘what’s up? is an indication that something’s gonna happen.” Celestin also claimed that Jolly didn’t die from stab wounds. When Jolly arrived at the hospital, he was drunk and belligerent, Celestin claimed. Doctors gave him twice the normal dose of Versed — a powerful sedative — to calm him. Right after Jolly gets the Versed, “he flatlines.”

“The label on Versed says, ‘Do not mix with alcohol because it has adverse, deadly reactions,” Celestin said. “Even a normal person, with that level of alcohol, and given that level of that sedative, is going to stop breathing.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, the wound wasn’t fatal. The hospital and their negligence solely killed Mr. Jolly.”

Witness testimony started after opening statements. The trial is ongoing.

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