At Tory Lanez’s trial, Megan Thee Stallion’s former best friend shared two stories. What will the jury think?
Kelsey Harris, who spent hours in a Los Angeles courtroom this week, had no idea who shot Megan Thee Stallion.
She said she doesn’t remember if the man accused of the crime, Canadian rapper Tory Lanez, offered her money for her silence in court. She wouldn’t even say definitively that Megan Thee Stallion had been shot, repeatedly noting that “Megan’s team” told her so, though there’s no doubt that she sat in an SUV next to the gory hit-maker that night .
Key details of that night in July 2020 were “blurred,” Harris told court this week, with memories lost through an alcohol-induced haze caused by too much filming at a Hollywood Hills party thrown by makeup mogul Kylie Jenner was held.
However, Kelsey Harris, who spoke to prosecutors for an hour and 20 minutes in September, had a much clearer memory.
“They start hearing gunshots … I look up maybe the second or third shot … You see Tory … he’s leaning forward, the door’s open,” Harris said, according to a recording of the interview played in court on Friday. “He shoots over the top edge of the door, the right passenger side.”
The rift between the two stories, which Harris wove three months apart, will play a crucial role when the jury begins next week to consider the assault charges brought against Lanez, whose real name is Daystar Peterson will.
With the prosecution’s star witness defecting in court, legal experts say the jury may choose to believe the version of her that exists on tape and calmly identify Peterson as the shooter. But the confusion might as well provide fertile ground for reasonable doubt and result in an acquittal.
“It’s every defense attorney’s dream,” said Dmitriy Shakhnevich, a New York City defense attorney and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Any defense attorney would say, look to the extent that you don’t know what’s going on… that the responsibility lies with the prosecution. You look to the prosecutor when your head is spinning.”
There were only three other people in the SUV that the “Savage” rapper, real name Megan Pete, was driving on the night of the July 2020 shooting: Harris, Peterson, and Peterson’s driver, Jaquan Smith.
Pete has accused Peterson of shooting her and Peterson has denied any wrongdoing. It’s unclear if Smith will comment. That leaves Harris – Pete’s estranged best friend and former assistant – as the only independent witness to the night’s violent events.
In his opening remarks Monday, LA County Deputy Dist. atty Alexander Bott cited Harris as a critical witness, showing a text message she had sent to Pete’s security chief the night of the shooting. It read, “Tory shot Meg.”
Pete’s personal attorney, Alex Spiro, also previously told the Times that Harris will present “devastating evidence” against Peterson.
But when Harris arrived in court on Wednesday, she was flanked by an attorney, Daniel Nardoni, who said she would invoke her 5th Amendment right to protect herself from self-incrimination unless prosecutors bid her immunity on.
Peterson’s defense team had long planned to portray Harris as a gunman and noted that she had gunshot residue on her hands, while Peterson’s DNA was not found on the gun used to shoot Pete.
The prosecutor’s office did not respond to an email requesting comment. Peterson’s lead defense attorney, George Mgdesyan, this week turned down a request for an interview about Harris’ conduct on the witness stand.
Harris’ attorney Nardoni said he told prosecutors his client would assert her 5th Amendment rights on Tuesday, the night before she was scheduled to testify. During a chambers hearing, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Herriford “concluded that there was a valid allegation and [Harris] didn’t have to answer any questions as he wasn’t granted immunity,” Nardoni said.
Nardoni declined to comment on the discrepancies between Harris’ taped testimony and her testimony in court.
Nardoni had requested blanket immunity for her client, meaning she could never be charged with a crime related to the shooting. Prosecutors instead granted Harris “useful immunity,” meaning her testimony at Peterson’s trial could not be used to support future criminal charges against her. But her two days on the stand could leave the prosecution with regret.
Whenever prosecutors questioned Harris about the September interview, she responded that she couldn’t remember what she said during that discussion, couldn’t remember the events of the shooting, or that she had told prosecutors in the past “not 100% honest” had been.
Under both direct questioning and cross-examination, she did not say what, if anything, she specifically lied about in the interview, only referring to the need to protect herself.
A visibly nervous Harris took repeated breaks on the witness stand and often called her attorney for advice. Deputy Borough District of LA Atty. Kathy Ta seemed annoyed with Harris, sometimes reminding her that despite immunity, she could still be charged with perjury if she lied on the witness stand.
“It’s hard to remember those events,” Harris once said.
“It wasn’t that hard in September,” Ta replied, her voice clearly sharp.
Harris was unequivocal on a few points during her testimony: that she didn’t shoot Pete, that she hadn’t been paid a penny by Peterson’s team, and that she hadn’t been “compromised” between September and this week, refuting a claim Spiro made to one gossip site.
When asked why she texted “Tory shot Meg” the night of the attack, Harris said she did so in “panic” and just assumed Peterson had opened fire. She repeatedly said in court that she did not see him with a gun. Harris also said she doesn’t remember texting Pete describing an attack Peterson committed that night.
Initially, prosecutors were only allowed to play portions of their recording to refresh their memories on the witness stand, and Herriford told the jury they could not consider the tape as evidence.
But that changed after Mgdesyan made remarks during his cross-examination that suggested prosecutors had pressured Harris during the September interview. Bott then requested that the entire recording be played to refute the idea that prosecutors acted improperly. Herriford agreed.
Harris’ memory is much more vivid on tape.
“I do not know if [Peterson] hit me with a closed fist or he hit me but there was a physical altercation,” Harris said, adding that she “got scared for my life when he started getting really, really hard on my hair and neck drag.”
Harris also clearly described Pete as shot and bleeding, according to the recording, and also confirmed that she sent the text message blaming Peterson for the shooting.
On the tape, Harris also repeated Pete’s claim that Peterson promised both women $1 million each on the night of the shooting if they didn’t report it to the police. Days later, Harris said on tape, Peterson also asked her if she needed money to invest in a business or job after filming. She did not specifically say Peterson tried to bribe her in exchange for her refusing to cooperate with authorities.
Prosecutors are expected to close their case on Monday. Closing arguments in the process could already come on Wednesday. It’s unclear how, if at all, the Christmas holidays might affect the jury’s deliberations.
Mgdesyan’s defense is expected to focus on blaming the shooting on Harris, who tested positive for gunshot residue following the incident. A positive residue test doesn’t mean someone fired a gun, but Mgdesyan also says he has a witness who can identify Harris as the shooter.
Additionally, Peterson’s DNA was not found on the magazine in the gun that shot Pete, and DNA tests attempting to link Peterson to the gun were “inconclusive.” Police did not collect a matching DNA sample from Harris.
Although the judge’s decision to allow prosecutors to play the taped interview was hailed as a victory by Pete’s huge fanbase, legal experts said the implications for a jury are far from clear.
Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who is a professor at Loyola Law School, said jurors could choose to believe Harris was honest the first time and has since collapsed under pressure from an outside force. Levenson also said the jury’s interpretation of Harris’ and the prosecutors’ behavior on tape could play a key role.
If they believe Bott and Ta conducted them in the taped interview, they could choose to accept Harris’ testimony in court as true. But if they believe that Harris was spontaneous and direct on the tape, in contrast to her constant pauses and deviations in the stands, they might consider the tape gospel instead.
“If the truth is that she just sounds like she’s spilling the information during this interview, then it will be easier for the prosecution to argue that you should believe her beforehand,” Levenson said. “Something like that, a hiccup like that, might just as well raise legitimate doubts.
“They just need a jury to say I can’t convict anyone of this felony if I get two different versions,” she said. “She’s the star witness and it would have been better for the prosecutors if she’d kept to the point, but it’s not the end of the case if they had to act out their previous testimony.”