American rapper A$AP Rocky pleaded not guilty to assault charges in a Swedish court on Tuesday, on the first day of a trial that has grabbed the attention of US President Donald Trump and the world’s media.
Known for his song “Praise the Lord,” the 30-year-old performer, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, was detained almost a month ago following a street brawl in the capital Stockholm on June 30. If convicted, A$AP Rocky, who was charged with assault last week, could face up to two years in prison.
On Tuesday morning, Swedish public prosecutor Daniel Suneson read out the charges against the artist and two other men in his entourage. Suneson said they assaulted the victim by kicking and beating him with a whole or part of a glass bottle while he lay on the ground.
The victim told the court he suffered injuries to his arm and head in the fight, as well as broken ribs. “I felt that they would beat me to death,” he said.
A$AP Rocky’s lawyer, Slobodan Jovicic, maintains his client did not commit any crime. The rapper asserts that he was acting in self-defense when he threw the victim to the ground and stepped on his arm.
“Please bear in mind that A$AP Rocky is an international, very well-known artist,” Jovicic said, adding that his client is used to being approached in the street, but that these men were “deeply provoking” and that he acted out of fear.
Both members of A$AP Rocky’s crew, Bladimir Corniel and David Rispers, also deny any wrongdoing.
Magnus Stromberg, a lawyer for the victim, said his client is seeking 139,700 Swedish krona in damages (about $14,600).
The Stockholm District Court was packed with international press and A$AP Rocky’s family members, including his mother, Renee Black, who sat still, staring straight ahead as the charges were read out.
President Trump has appealed for A$AP Rocky’s release, and the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Robert O’Brien, was in court on Tuesday to “support the members of the family and the American citizens.”
O’Brien told CNN he wouldn’t go into details about his conversations with the President about the case, but that Trump “has made it very clear that he wants these individuals to come home as soon as possible.”
Some audience members were audibly sobbing and shaking their heads as Suneson showed evidence, including surveillance footage from the burger restaurant where the fight began.
In photos of the crime scene displayed to the court, a broken glass bottle was visible on the street where the brawl took place and a fragment of what appeared to be the same bottle could be seen stuck in A$AP Rocky’s sweater.
The victim described being “hit” and “stabbed” with broken glass, but Suneson said police did not find any finger prints or DNA on the bottle.
Playing a video clip of the exchange, Jovicic argued that the bottle was broken behind A$AP Rocky’s back as he was “occupied with throwing” the victim to the ground. He claimed that glass shards from the bottle could have been caught underneath his client’s shoe, which may have inadvertently cut the victim.
Jovicic also referred to transcriptions from the footage, when A$AP Rocky could be heard appearing to try to cool tensions: “Listen, listen. We don’t wanna fight you all. We’re not trying to go to jail.”
Footage of the altercation posted by TMZ and clips shared by A$AP Rocky himself, which have been at the heart of the investigation, were also played in court.
The prosecutor suggested that one of the videos shared by A$AP Rocky on Instagram had been edited to omit the moment when his security guard grabbed the victim by the neck and lifted him off the ground.
He also shared text messages exchanged between different members of A$AP Rocky’s team, who spoke about “cleaning up” and “deleting” the videos.
But Jovicic argued the videos painted a different picture — one of “aggressive” and “threatening” behavior by the victim, who he claimed attacked A$AP Rocky’s bodyguard and refused to stop following his crew.
“It is in this context that Mayers fears that there will be another attack on the bodyguard” and decides to throw the victim to the ground, Jovicic said.
Asked by the judge whether A$AP Rocky had stepped on the victim’s arm on purpose, Jovovic replied: “It was intentional.”
As the prosecutor detailed the case against A$AP Rocky, the rapper’s fans were gathered in a nearby room to watch the proceedings unfold on a big screen.
“I’m a big fan of A$AP Rocky,” Marie-Thiella Hakizmana, one of those gathered at court, told CNN. “I think he will be convicted — there is quite a lot of evidence against him. It would be right to convict him, but he shouldn’t get a very long sentence, since he was provoked.”
“I mean, there are laws in Sweden, just because you are a celebrity doesn’t mean you should get away,” she added.
That fact is something that Swedish authorities tried to impress upon Trump after he took an interest in A$AP Rocky’s case, campaigning for the rapper’s release.
The US President previously said on Twitter that he had spoken with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and “offered to personally vouch for (A$AP Rocky’s) bail, or an alternative.”
But Swedish law doesn’t have a bail system and after Swedish authorities refused to release the musician, Trump tweeted: “Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM. We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem!”
In response, Löfven’s spokesperson Mikael Lindström said in a statement to CNN that “all people in Sweden are equal before the law.”
“The Government is not allowed, and will not attempt, to influence the legal proceedings, which are now ongoing,” Lindström said.
Several high-profile celebrities including Kim Kardashian West, musical artists Post Malone and Shawn Mendes, and actress Jada Pinkett Smith have also thrown their support behind the rapper, petitioning for his release using the hashtag “JusticeForRocky.”
The trial, at the Stockholm District Court, is scheduled to continue on Thursday and Friday.
Under Swedish law, A$AP Rocky could face a maximum penalty of two years in prison. However, according to Swedish media, the prosecutors have indicated they do not expect to ask for the maximum penalty.