US rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine has been freed from a New York prison because his asthma puts him in danger of catching coronavirus, authorities have said.
US district judge Paul Engelmayer ruled on Thursday that the 23-year-old performer, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez, can serve the last four months of his two-year prison sentence in home confinement.
The rapper was sentenced in December for his entanglement with a violent US street gang.
But he was spared a much harsher possible sentence because of his decision to become a star witness for prosecutors.
You, Mr Hernandez, essentially joined Murder IncorporatedUS district judge Paul Engelmayer
He could have been sentenced to decades in prison for crimes that included orchestrating a shooting in which an innocent bystander was wounded.
He had pleaded guilty to charges accusing him of joining the gang known as Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods.
He had been due to be released in late 2020.
After his arrest, he shed the outlaw reputation he had curated online and gave evidence against his gang mates earlier this year, causing some to label him a “snitch”. The evidence helped get the convictions of two high-ranking Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods members.
Mr Engelmayer said prior to sentencing: “Your co-operation was impressive. It was game changing. It was complete and it was brave.”
But the judge said the amount of time the rapper has spent in prison was not enough for the violence of his crimes. He noted that many artists sing about organised crime, citing Bruce Springsteen’s Murder Incorporated.
“You, Mr Hernandez, essentially joined Murder Incorporated,” Mr Englemayer said.
Prior to his sentencing, Tekashi 6ix9ine expressed regret for joining the gang, apologising to his family, his fans and the victims in the case.
Prosecutors have described Nine Trey as one of the most violent strands of United Bloods Nation, with members throughout the country. Tekashi 6ix9ine relocated his family before his co-operation became publicly known and then he was moved to a different prison and a unit with no gang members, the government said.
His co-operation might make him eligible for a witness protection programme, though his distinctive facial tattoos — including a large “69” on his forehead — could make concealing his identity challenging.
“There is no question that the defendant’s life will never be the same because of his co-operation in this case. He and his family will have to take extra safety precautions when being in public so as to avoid potential reprisals from others,” prosecutors wrote in the letter.
Last year, he had a hit song Fefe, with Nicki Minaj, which reached the top 5 in US charts.
Tekashi 6ix9ine was repeatedly trolled during the trial by rappers like The Game and Snoop Dogg, who wrote on Instagram that he was a sellout.