Pioneering rapper Ricky "Slick Rick" Walters, who spent more than five years in prison on a 1991 attempted murder conviction and faced threats of deportation years after rehabilitating his life, was granted a full and unconditional pardon Friday by New York Gov. David Paterson.
Walters, 43, has been under threat of being sent back to his native United Kingdom, although he has lived in the United States since he was a child. In a statement, he expressed gratitude to Paterson and his lawyers, and hoped that he could finally put the turmoil behind him.
"This has been a long and difficult road and I am happy for this to be settled once and for all," Walters said. "I look forward to enjoying this time with my family and friends and to continue leading an honest and productive life."
In announcing the decision, Paterson noted Walters' commitment to helping young people.
The eye patch-wearing star behind '80s rap classics like "La-Di-Da-Di" and "Children's Story" was a successful rapper when he was convicted of shooting his cousin and another man in 1991. Both survived.
Although he had completed probation requirements in the attempted murder case and resumed his musical career, he was arrested again in June 2002. Immigration agents stopped him after he returned to Miami from a weeklong Caribbean cruise where he was a featured performer.
The arrest was on a 1997 Immigration and Naturalization Service warrant that had not been pursued earlier, and he spent 17 months in jail, despite calls for Walters' release from such luminaries as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Will Smith and Chris Rock.
A federal judge eventually ruled in October 2003 that the Bureau of Immigration Appeals denied Walters' due process when it issued the warrant, but Homeland Security officials pressed forward in the case. In 2006, Walters told The Associated Press he was simply going to keep working and play out his appeals.
"If you were in my shoes, how would you look at life?;" he said then. "You'd ride life out, too. Anger would just make life not enjoyable, you know what I mean?;"
The Democratic governor noted that Walters is now a rap artist and landlord in the Bronx who has not had any other criminal problems since his release from prison and has volunteered at youth outreach programs to counsel against violence.
"Mr. Walters has fully served the sentence imposed upon him for his convictions, had an exemplary disciplinary record while in prison and on parole, and has been living without incident in the community for more than 10 years," Paterson said. "I urge federal immigration officials to once again grant Mr. Walters relief from deportation, so that he is not separated from his many family members who are United States citizens, including his two teenage children."