Ja Rule to serve 2-year prison sentence on gun conviction

Rapper Ja Rule (left) was sentenced to serve two years in prison today, nearly four years after he was charged with having an unlicensed handgun in Manhattan.

Rule, who was born Jeff Atkins, was arrested in July 2007, after police pulled him over for speeding and found a 40-caliber Taurus inside the rear door of his Maybach. He pleaded guilty on December 13 to one count of second-degree attempted criminal possession of a weapon.

The 35-year-old Rule, who lives in Upper Saddle River, N.J., will probably serve about 18 months before he is paroled. If he had been convicted at trial, he would have had to serve at least 3 1/2 years under the state’s minimum sentencing guidelines for gun convictions.

Rule’s prison term follows the 21-month prison stint of ex-New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, who was just released from prison on Monday. Burress, 33, had also pleaded guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon. He had accidentally shot himself in the leg at a midtown nightclub in 2008 with an unlicensed Glock.

“Carrying an illegal gun in New York City puts the safety of all New Yorkers at risk,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance said in a statement today. “Whether you are a Grammy-nominated musician or a teenager carrying a gun for a friend, justice is blind. This sentence should put all illegal gun owners in New York on notice.”

Photo: The Associated Press

Desk of the DA: Prom Parties and Drunk Driving

A public service announcement from Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore:

As District Attorney and chief law enforcement officer in Westchester County, I am asked every year at this time about student safety, and the responsibilities of students, parents and schools as high school proms are held and graduation approaches. We all want our young people to enjoy these important milestones, and we have a shared responsibility to ensure that their celebrations are safe and lawful, free of drug use and underage drinking.

Last month, in anticipation of prom and graduation season, I sent a letter to high school principals throughout the county about alcohol consumption by young people in order to enlist their support in spreading an important public safety message. Teen drinking is associated with serious negative behaviors and outcomes, including motor vehicle crashes, assault, sexual assault and suicide. An important part of our responsibility as leaders in the community and as parents is to set limits that help ensure teens’ safety, and proms and graduation are no exception.

As parents, it is our job to help our sons and daughters plan safe and lawful graduation celebrations. We do this not only because of the possible adverse legal consequences, but because of the high priority we place on our children’s safety. That said, it is also important to know that under the New York State Penal Law, any person who gives, sells or causes to be given or sold any alcoholic beverage to someone under the age of 21 faces potential prosecution. This law applies not only to a host parent, but to any teenager who is 16 and older. If you are hosting a house party, it is your responsibility to ensure that an appropriate adult will be present to supervise and keep the party drug and alcohol free. For their safety, if your son or daughter is attending a party at another home, you should inquire to make certain that there is appropriate adult supervision. Last, if during the course of a party someone becomes sick or injured, whether or not there has been underage drinking, act responsibly and call 911. Your actions or the actions of your child in seeking assistance for someone in need will be taken into account by the District Attorney’s office.

Working with licensed sellers of alcohol to ensure their compliance with their legal responsibilities with respect to the sale of alcohol to minors is also an important piece of our underage drinking prevention initiative. We sent our age placards to more than two thousand licensed sellers for display in their establishments. Throughout the year we work with local police to conduct compliance checks and I am happy to report that of the 74 underage drinking compliance checks completed in nine local jurisdictions, there was a 92% compliance rate by the vendors.

Making responsible choices about driving is also critical in ensuring safety. As always, whether it is you or your child driving, remember it is illegal to operate a vehicle when your ability to drive is impaired by alcohol. If necessary, designate a driver or arrange for alternate transportation home. In the last three years, the number of arrests for drunk driving and driving while impaired were as high in June as they are during the holiday season in December, according to data compiled by the Westchester Intelligence Center.

Despite legal and public education initiatives, the number of DWI arrests remains disturbingly high. According to New York State statistics, in 2010, there were 289 felony and 2,009 misdemeanor DWI arrests in Westchester County.* Under Leandra’s Law, the new statute that enhances penalties for the intoxicated or impaired driver when there is a passenger under the age of 16 in the vehicle, there were 55 arrests in Westchester County in 2010.

As District Attorney, I am committed to tough enforcement and proactive public education. I hope you will join me in this ongoing effort to make our communities, our families and our celebrations safer.

Yonkers man claims innocence in fatal shooting

A 21-year-old Yonkers man pleaded not guilty today in the May shooting death of another Yonkers man in the Nodine Hill section of the city.

Andrew Barnett (left) was arraigned in Westchester County Court on felony charges of second-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Barnett is accused of killing 20-year-old John Nunez-Lopez near 160 Willow St. on May 19. Police said Nunez-Lopez, who lived on Lamartine Terrace, was hit in the leg, stomach and side.  A witnesses said he heard three loud gunshots in rapid succession, and saw the victim lying in the street. Nunez-Lopez died at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.

One of the shots fired at Nunez-Lopez went into a second-floor apartment at 163 Willow Street and nearly hit a small child, police said.

Witnesses told police the gunman had fled into a nearby Willow Street building. Police searched the area, zeroed in on an apartment and took Barnett to the police station early the next morning.

In court papers, Barnett denied shooting anyone and said he has been asleep after a night of drinking. Barnett refused to have his hands swabbed for gunshot residue, police said, and started rubbing his hands on his pants when police explained that the swabs would determine if he had fired a gun.

Barnett is being held without bail. Police did not identify a motive and didn’t say if Barnett and Nunez-Lopez knew each other.

Photo: Westchester County Department of Corrections