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Appellate Court Says Rapper Should Face Felony Charges For Criminal Threats

Anthony Ray Murillo allegedly threatened two teenage rape victims in song lyrics

A state appeals court has ruled that a criminal case can proceed against Anthony Ray Murillo, seen here during a 2014 court appearance, for allegedly threatening two teenage rape victims in rap song lyrics.
A state appeals court has ruled that a criminal case can proceed against Anthony Ray Murillo, seen here during a 2014 court appearance, for allegedly threatening two teenage rape victims in rap song lyrics. (KEYT News photo)

A state appellate court has reversed a Santa Barbara County judge’s decision to dismiss felony charges against an aspiring rapper who prosecutors say threatened two Santa Maria rape victims in songs posted online.

In a ruling published Wednesday, the Court of Appeal 2nd Appellate District said a local judge erred in deciding not to hold Anthony Ray Murillo, now 21, to answer to the charges stemming from allegations the lyrics of his song, “Moment for Life Remix,” threatened two teenage rape victims.

“As a result of this supportive decision, our office will reinstate criminal proceedings against Anthony Murillo,” District Attorney Joyce Dudley said Wednesday.

The song included lyrics that reportedly threatened two girls raped by Murillo’s friend, Shane Villalpando, who was convicted in June 2013 of three counts of unlawful sex with a minor concerning Jane Doe 1, the appellate ruling said.

At the time, Villalpando attended St. Joseph High School and later graduated from Righetti High School, both in Orcutt.

Villalpando also pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sex with a minor concerning Jane Doe 2, and ultimately was sentenced to five years of formal probation plus one year of confinement in county jail.

One of his victim was 14 years old at the time.

After a preliminary hearing in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa  Maria, Judge Patricia Kelly said the lyrics were protected speech that did not constitute a criminal threat under state law.

When the District Attorney’s Office filed a motion seeking to overturn the first ruling, Judge Rick Brown stated, "[T]he court feels that the rap song is closer to protected speech than non-protected speech." 

The appellate court disagreed. 

“In our review of the undisputed factual circumstances presented at the preliminary examination, a reasonable listener could have understood ‘Moment for Life Remix’ to constitute a true threat to Jane Does 1 and 2; that is, the song could be understood to convey a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence against the girls,” the appellate ruling said.

The appellate decision noted that Murillo’s lyrics included the phrases, "you're gonna end up dead," and "I'm coming for your head, bitch."

Additionally,  the song revealed the names of the rape victims and repeatedly used the phrase “f—k snitches." 

Murillo's ReverbNation page also contained a photograph of him holding a shotgun. 

One of the rape victims was frightened and told her mother, who was concerned enough to notify law enforcement.

“An obvious question in this case is whether an alleged threat directed at specific persons is any less a threat when it is sung or spoken in a recording and played for an audience,” the appellate ruling said. “Does it matter whether the alleged threat is on a work in a museum of modern art? Philosopher and media expert Marshall McLuhan posited that the 'medium is the message.' That may be so, but here the trier of fact determines the nature of the message whatever the medium.”

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian prosecuted the case, and said it will now resume, at a yet-to-be-determined date, as if he had been held to answer to the charges after the preliminary hearing.

However, Murillo’s attorney, William Makler of Santa Barbara, said he considering filing a petition for rehearing with the appellate court or a review by the California Supreme Court.

This case, due to the issue of protected speech under the First Amendment, has generated a lot of interest inside and outside the criminal justice system, especially among rap artists, regular artists and “others who like to express themselves in public,” Makler noted. 

“We think this application of the penal code section was inappropriate and we’re going to maintain Mr. Murillo is innocent of any legal wrongdoing,” Makler said, adding the aspiring rapper “may be guilty of bad taste.”

The song's lyrics lamented Villalpando's incarceration, plus referred to Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 by their first and last names, authorities said.

After it was posted on the online music site ReverbNation, ”Moment for Life Remix" was downloaded 1,089 times and played 23,468 times before it was removed from the website on Oct. 9, 2013, authorities said.

In all, the song remained on the website for 26 days.

The complaint against Murillo was filed Oct. 29, 2013, in Santa Maria.

The family of one victim mentioned in the rap song welcomed the appellant court ruling.

"We're very excited that the decision was published so that it can set a precedent for future cases," said Kym Henderson, mother of Delaney, who is one of two girls mentioned in the song.

"That's been Delaney's goal all throughout this ordeal. To try and make sure that other girls don't have to go through the things that she has. We're hoping this case will be a stepping stone for other cases. Even if we don't win, maybe some day a girl who's afraid, will."

After learning of the song, Delaney Henderson, who received a Citizen of Courage Award in the spring from the District Attorney's Office, woke up screaming in fear "they're coming after me," her mother said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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