By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun
6:18 PM CDT, August 8, 2011
Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, who overcame a troubled childhood and a murder conviction to launch an acting career as a drug-gang assassin on HBO's "The Wire," pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy to sell heroin.
She was sentenced to seven years in prison, with all of the time suspended except for the five months she has already served while awaiting trial, most of it spent at home, under electronic monitoring. She could be sent back to finish the term if she violates probation over the next three years.
"While I'm delighted to have you here, I don't want to see you again," Baltimore Circuit Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill told the actress, expressing a sentiment shared by her fans, many of whom were crushed by the news of her March arrest in an early-morning sting operation.
After the hearing, Pearson's attorney, Benjamin Sutley, acknowledged that his client was "picking at the edges of a conspiracy," which carries a maximum 20-year prison term, but he stopped short of saying she was directly involved.
"I have things to do, I have to move on with my life," said Pearson, 31, explaining her decision to take a deal. She repeatedly said she would have been found "not guilty" at trial, but that she couldn't wait for the proceeding, which could have been years in coming.
Pearson, who came to court in a checked button-down shirt and paisley bowtie selected by a woman who said she was Pearson's longtime stylist, was scheduled for trial Tuesday. But the proceeding likely would have been postponed, Sutley said.
Pearson and several dozen others were arrested in a series of March raids on allegations that they ran a vast heroin conspiracy throughout the city. The scheme was discovered after authorities recorded key players discussing the alleged operation on a wiretap — a case of life imitating "The Wire," which depicted Baltimore's drug trade and law enforcement efforts to battle it.
A statement of facts read aloud by a prosecutor Monday claims that Pearson sometimes allowed two heroin dealers to use her downtown apartment to store drugs and money in exchange for payment, that she occasionally sold the drug herself and that another member of the conspiracy — who was kidnapped by rival drug dealers — stopped by Pearson's place to pick up his own ransom.
Sutley, who did not challenge the statement in court, said some of the mentioned "relationships are true," but that he would have told a different story if they had gone to trial.
"There's a whole other side to it," Sutley said, declining to elaborate.
Pearson's life story is something of a Baltimore-style Cinderella tale.
She was born premature to crack-addicted parents, put into the foster care system and adopted by an elderly couple who loved her but ultimately lost control of her, according to her 2007 memoir, "Grace After Midnight."
When her adopted father died, she dropped out of school and started dealing drugs at age 12, she wrote. Then, at 14, she got into a fight with another teenage girl and killed her, firing two bullets, according to court records. She was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to eight years in prison, where she earned a high-school equivalency certificate and worked to turn her life around.
But she fell back into dealing drugs after she was released, according to her book. Then she ran into actor Michael K. Williams, who played the murderous stickup man Omar on "The Wire," and was soon swept up in the show, which often employed local residents in acting parts.
Her portrayal was a wide success, and she was dubbed "the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a television series" by horror writer Stephen King.
But after the series ended in 2008, she experienced "periods of inactivity" and "fell back in [with] people who essentially raised her," Sutley said in court.
She was charged with marijuana possession in 2008 after failing to show up as a witness in a murder trial, which led authorities to go to her apartment. The charges were later dropped, however.
The recent arrest on heroin charges has "been a horrible experience for her," Sutley told the judge, adding that he's confidant she has learned a "valuable lesson."
Outside the courthouse Monday, Pearson said she had two movie contracts in the works and expects filming in one project to begin soon in Baltimore, where she has lived most of her life.
She has a simple plan to stay out of trouble: "I'm moving to L.A.," she said. "I'm out of here, man."