lauryn hill performs in D.C. after being released from prison

Review: A Liberated Lauryn Hill Returns To Form In D.C.

A revitalized Lauryn Hill dispelled uncertainties about her enigmatic career on Sunday evening (Dec. 15), easing a D.C. audience anxious to witness the emancipated hip-hop heroine.

A thick aura of awe filled the intimate 9:30 Club, as Hill arrived on stage in a fur coat, orange sweater, black-and-white checkered bell bottoms and heels. Beginning with her reggae-infused rendition of “Killing Me Softly,” Hill’s harmony quickly became the focal point of the night.

After taking her heels off, Hill urged fans to sing along to the songs they knew, as she drew early from her magnum opus, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Evoking a crippling nostalgia from the latter half of the nineties, Hill effortlessly recited “Everything is Everything” and “Lost Ones,” 15 years after her acclaimed debut ceremoniously hit stores.

“We don't want to dumb ourselves down,” she shouted, prior to gently creeping into the next song. As she instigated screams from the upper level, Hill teased the opening lines to the second single off the album, “Ex Factor.” “It could all be so simple…” she sang. “But you'd rather make it hard.”

The simultaneous head nods combined with the off-key crowd participation signified approval. Delving into her Fugees catalogue, Hill put her versatility on display by rapping her portion to "Zealots," then crooning the "Fu-Gee-La" anthem. Her energy was infectious.

"DC are you ready?" she asked repetitively, interacting with the crowd already on edge. Without hesitation, Hill revived the trio's most popular track, "Ready or Not,” prompting what seemed like the entire venue—bartenders included—to participate in the party at hand. The climactic rendition was followed by a brief intermission, in which Hill left the stage.

She returned with a stool and her guitar, the same instruments she was armed with for her MTV Unplugged performance over a decade ago. While some whispered "Oh lord," the controversial tracks sounded far more appeasing backed by her band.

Chanting the lyrics to "Mr. Intentional," Hill seemed at peace just a month and a half after being released from a Dannbury, Conn., prison. Inserting extra emphasis on the word "out," she transitioned into the rhythmic “I Get Out" before addressing the crowd: "I got half a month left," she announced, revealing her house arrest anklet beneath her bell bottoms."We overcompensate for a system that doesn't consider everyone.”

“I got my freedom; I got my mind I got my heart; I got my soul" she hummed, holding back tears of joy." Hill performed “Guarding Gates” then her latest offering, "Consumerism" to the tune of “Rumble in the Jungle” featuring Busta Rhymes. Regardless of your feelings towards the subject matter in her composition, Hill hit all the right notes for hours.

After a jubilant "Could You Be Loved" performance, cries of "We love you, Lauryn" poured in. When “Doo Wop” dropped, the audience erupted. Hill jumped up and down—freely—as the crowd mirrored her movement.

That thing that Lauryn Hill so elegantly possessed was never lost—perhaps in remission due to circumstance—but she has always had that thing within her. Finally able to connect the faces to the letters she received while behind bars, a liberated Lauryn Hill shook hands with her fans at the end of the concert.

Hill will be confined to her own home while she serves the remaining year of her sentence. Before the new year arrives, she'll make four more stops on her Homecoming Tour, trekking to Boston and New Jersey prior to concluding in New York City. —Christopher Harris

Photo: Richie Downs for the 9:30 Club

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Court Rules Cyntoia Brown Must Spend 51 Years In Prison To Be Eligible For Parole

Cyntoia Brown must spend at least five decades in prison before she will be eligible for parole, a Tennessee Supreme Court Supreme Court ruled Thursday (Dec. 6). Brown, 30, has been behind bars for more than a decade for the 2004 murder of real-estate agent Johnny Allen.

Lawyers for Brown say that her life sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because she was a minor at the time of her arrest, despite being tried as an adult. Brown’s petition for post-conviction relief argues that her mandatory minimum sentence is unconstitutional, citing the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama.

In an eight page decision, the state Supreme Court of judges unanimously concluded that a "defendant so convicted and sentenced to life in prison under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-202(c)(3)" on or after July 1, 1995, must serve “at least 51 years of imprisonment” prior to parole eligibility.

“The District Court denied relief, reasoning that Miller prohibits a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders, and Ms. Brown received a life sentence, not a sentence of life without the possibility of parole,” the decision reads.

The state’s Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard Brown’s legal argument over the summer but turned the decision over to the higher court.

Brown was convicted in 2006 of first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated robbery. Prosecutors claimed that the then 16-year-old Brown shot and killed Allen, who drove her back to his home and paid her for sex, during a murder robbery. Brown maintains that she shot Allen in self-defense. The trial court merged Brown's convictions, handing down  a mandatory life sentence.

A survivor of child sex-trafficking, rape, and physical and mental abuse, Brown became widely known after the 2011 documentary, Me Facing Life: The Cyntoia Brown Story. The Memphis native is currently serving time at the Tennessee Prison for Women.

READ MORE: Cyntoia Brown's Life Sentence Sparks Outrage Over America's Justice System

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Charlottesville Killer Found Guilty Of First-Degree Murder, Hit And Run

James Alex Fields Jr. was found guilty Friday (Dec. 7) in the murder of Heather Heyer, during the Charlottesville riots last year. Jurors in Virginia deliberated for less than eight hours before returning a first-degree murder conviction, the Associated Press reports.

Fields claimed self-defense drove him to ram his Dodge Charger into a crowd during last summer’s "Unite the Right" rally, a notion which the jury ultimately rejected. Prosecutors argued the that 21-year-old Nazi sympathizer deliberately sped his vehicle through a crowd of counter-protesters striking “numerous individuals,” one of which was Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant marching against the white nationalist riot.

In addition to murder, for which he faces 20 years to life in prison, Fields was  convicted on nine charges including hit and run, and five counts of aggravated malicious wounding.  A sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin Dec. 9.

Fields could be in line for the death penalty, if convicted on 30 federal hate crime charges. No trial date has been set in the case.

READ MORE: Man Attacked By Nazis At Charlottesville Riots Recalls Harrowing Incident

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Woman Fatally Stabbed In Baltimore After Giving Money To Panhandler

A woman was stabbed to death in Baltimore after attempting to help a panhandler who appeared to be cradling an infant and holding a sign reading, “Please help me feed my baby.”

According to the Baltimore Sun-Times, Jacquelyn Smith and her husband, Keith Smith, were on their way back from taking his daughter out for her 28th birthday Friday (Nov. 30) night, when they came upon a young woman standing in the rain.

“We stopped here on this corner,” the victim’s husband recalled from the scene of the crime. “A girl was out here with what looked like a baby in her hand and it was raining.” Though he admitted to being “reluctant” to open the window because it was so late at night, the 52-year-old minister said that his wife felt compelled to help the woman.

Seconds after Jacqueline Smith pulled gave the woman $10, a man walked up to the car and asked Mr. Smith if he could thank his wife. “As he did that he commenced to stabbing my wife, ” Keith Smith continued. “He snatched her neckless before I knew it and the girl snatched her pocketbook on the seat, and they both ran.”

The unidentified female suspect told the victim, “God bless you” before fleeing the scene. Keith Smith initially hopped out the car to chase after the duo, but turned back to help his dying wife. He called 911 and rushed her to Johns Hopkins Hospital where the 54-year-old electrical engineer was pronounced dead two hours later.

Both suspects remain at large. The Baltimore Police Department have yet to find any leads in the murder.

In a subsequent interview, Keith Smith revealed that he's riddled with the guilt. "I don't want to beat myself up, but I feel somewhat responsible for letting that person get that close to my wife," he told ABC News. "It's just a lot right now going through my mind. That's why it's hard for me to sleep because now I'm trying to see how I could have did things differently, how I could have took another street. I'm just thinking of all kind of ways that my wife would still be here."

With the holiday season in full effect, people may be more compelled to help strangers, but advocates for the homeless fear that the incident could add to negative stigmas surrounding helping those in need. Fellow Good Samaritan, Oprah Winfrey, even tweeted that she'll "think twice" before opening her wallet. "This story struck my heart," Winfrey wrote. "I’ve done this a [1,ooo] times. But will think twice before ever doing [it] again. To J.S. family I hope her death gets people 'woke' to change!"

BPD interim police Commissioner Gary Tuggle cautioned residents “not to engage” with panhandlers, as not all of them have “honest intent.”

A public memorial for Jacquelyn Smith will be held on Dec. 7 at the Maryland church where her husband is a preacher, followed by a private service in her hometown of Providence, R.I.

See more on the tragedy below.

54 y/o Jacquelyn Smith was murdered in East #Baltimore this wknd after she rolled down her window to give some money to a woman trying to feed her baby. Smith’s husband Keith tells @WMAR2News - his wife just wanted to help and in a second, she was stabbed in the chest. pic.twitter.com/UcyEZSWz0c

— Brian Kuebler (@BrianKuebler_) December 3, 2018

READ MORE: Seven Baltimore Police Officers Under Fire For Alleged Robbery, Claiming False Overtime

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