To rap star N.O.R.E., the Bronx gang members he befriended weren't criminals.

To rap star N.O.R.E., the Bronx gang members he befriended weren't criminals.

The rapper, who formerly went by the stage name Noreaga and whose real name is Victor Santiago, testified yesterday (Jan. 10) on behalf of Darryl Henderson, who has been on trial for the past month in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on charges stemming from the Jan. 21, 2002 triple murder a block and a half from Yankees Stadium. Henderson faces a possible death penalty if convicted.

N.O.R.E. said he met Henderson in the Bronx in 1998 or 1999 and brought him on concert tours as a roadie, where he ran errands such as ordering food and beer for the performers.

He said he also befriended members of Murder Unit, a Bronx street gang, but did not know that some of them had violent histories, sold drugs and carried weapons. "Hard-core hip-hop tends to sell more records," N.O.R.E. said, noting the advantage of a rough edge in the business. "It's about selling an image."

The rapper said he took members of Murder Unit on tour with him to give them a chance in the business.

In opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney David M. Rody said Henderson and two other members of Murder Unit committed the murders to steal 30 kilograms of cocaine worth more than a half-million dollars.

He said two of the victims were stabbed more than 20 times and all three had their throats slashed. Within three days, Rody said, the three killers had fled to Miami, where they were "drinking, partying, posing for pictures and spending the money they made from the stolen cocaine."

Defense attorney David E. Patton has told the jury that his client did not kill anyone and has never been in a gang, though he did sell drugs. On the witness stand, N.O.R.E. described his touring life as a wild party in which he sometimes smoked marijuana before he performed and regularly chased women.

Rody repeatedly attacked N.O.R.E.'s memory, which seemed sketchy about the facts whenever violence erupted near him but firm in the recollection that Henderson was never in the middle of it.


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