Update 12/23: The jury found Tory Lanez guilty on all charges. He faces over 20 years in prison.
Original story below.
The Los Angeles trial of artist Tory Lanez for allegedly shooting Megan Thee Stallion in the foot in July of 2020 has been the focus of nonstop media attention since it began on December 12. The jury is in deliberations and, if convicted, Lanez is facing up to 22 years and eight months behind bars and even possible deportation.
The trial has made court reporters into fan favorites and renewed the debate over exactly how well hip-hop-centric media outlets—which normally focus on new songs, beefs, and gossip—cover more serious fare. In all the frenzy, it can be difficult to tell exactly what is going on, and what you should be paying attention to amid the maelstrom of headlines, tweets, and IG posts. To simplify things, here’s GQ’s rundown on everything worth knowing about the trial so far.
Both Sides Now
Criminal trials are usually battles of narratives. Each side has a version of events they want a jury to believe, and do their best to present evidence that matches up with that story. The two sides in this case are not Megan and Tory (as Megan herself complained at one point, “All the headlines are, ‘Megan Thee Stallion is on trial,’ and I’m not on trial!”) Instead, it’s the State of California—personified by Deputy District Attorneys Alexander Bott and Kathy Ta—and Tory, represented by his attorney, George Mgdesyan.
Both the prosecution’s and the defense’s narratives were laid out in their opening arguments. Bott opened his in dramatic fashion, with the words, “Dance, bitch.” That’s the phrase that Bott and Ta claim Lanez said before shooting Megan in the foot while leaving a party at Kylie Jenner’s Hollywood Hills home. The “Dance, bitch” tidbit has been around since September 2020, when a source close to the situation first told me about it.
Bott told the jury that Lanez opened fire following an argument that was primarily over the two rappers’ respective careers. “When Megan insulted his skills as a music artist, that’s what really set him off that night,” Bott said.
The prosecution says that the shooting was witnessed by Megan’s longtime friend and then-assistant Kesley Harris, who, Bott said, was assaulted by Lanez immediately following the shooting. To bolster his story, Bott shared texts from Harris to Megan’s security guard, including one that read, “Tory shot Meg.” Afterwards, Megan was taken to the hospital, where Bott said “three major bullet fragments” were taken out of her foot.
Lanez’s lawyer admitted that there was a shooting, but that was where his story diverged from the prosecution’s version. Lanez didn’t fire the shot in question, said Mgdesyan, who implied that Harris did. In his telling, the fight that led to the gun going off was between Megan and Kelsey over their dueling relationships with Lanez. “This case is about jealousy, ladies and gentlemen,” said the lawyer, who maintains that Megan and the Canadian rapper were romantically involved in secret, and this infuriated Harris, who previously had her own intimate relationship with him.
In his opening, Mgdesyan claimed that he had a witness who saw a woman—not a man—fire off shots. He explained that Tory’s post-incident apology text to Megan (“I know u prolly never gonna talk to me anyway…But I genuinely just got too drunk…I can’t change what I did”) was not about any shooting, but instead for being the cause of the fight between the two women.
Mgdesyan said this was not the first time Megan became involved with a man Harris was dating, citing that it also happened with rapper DaBaby and Ben Simmons of the Brooklyn Nets, the latter of whom seemed to deny it on Instagram.
Megan Thee Witness
It’s not every day that a star rapper takes the witness stand. Megan sat for hours of often-emotional testimony and pointed cross-examination.
The “Savage” rapper walked the jury through the early morning hours of July 12, 2020. She said that she invited Lanez to a gathering at Kylie Jenner’s house, where Jenner and Corey Gamble, boyfriend of Kris Jenner, were also in attendance.
After a while, Megan wanted to leave, she said, but Lanez wasn’t ready. In the end, the trio of Lanez, Megan, and Harris left along with Jauquan Smith, Lanez’s security guard.
At that point, Megan continued, Lanez allegedly said to her, “You need to stop lying to your friend”—meaning Harris—about their relationship. That led to further argument, with Lanez calling both women “bitches and hoes,” and the two artists disparaging each others’ careers.
Megan got out of the car, only to realize that it was a bad look for one of the most famous rappers on the planet to be walking around a high-profile area dressed only in a bathing suit. So she got back in the car, and then exited again on a less highly-trafficked street.
As she was walking away, she remembered, “I hear Tory yell, ‘Dance, bitch!’ I froze. I just felt shock. I felt hurt. I looked down at my feet and I see all of this blood.”
Megan admitted that in the aftermath of the incident, she didn’t tell police she had been shot, saying instead that she stepped on broken glass. It was only four days later, in an interview with Detective Ryan Stogner, that she claimed to have been shot. There were two reasons for her lie, she explained. First, that “women aren’t believed when they speak out.” Second, she noted some context: Summer 2020 was “the height of police brutality and George Floyd,” she said, and she was worried that if she told the cops that Lanez shot her, then they “might shoot first and ask questions later…. I didn’t want to see anybody die. I didn’t want to die.”
Cross-examination from Mgdesyan focused largely on two lies from Megan. The first was her initial story to authorities about stepping on broken glass. (“Snitching is frowned upon in the hip-hop community,” she explained.) The second came from Megan’s April 2022 interview with Gayle King, where the Texas artist denied having a sexual relationship with Lanez.
“You lied on national TV,” Mgdesyan said. Megan replied, “Yes.”
Harris vs. Harris
The jury saw two sides of Kelsey Harris in this trial. In person, she was evasive, repeatedly asking to plead the Fifth and blaming her poor recollection of events on a “blurry” memory due to intoxication.
But the jury got to see a very different, more cooperative and recollective demeanor from Harris in an 80-minute interview with prosecutors that had been recorded just months prior. At first, only select segments were played for the jury, in response to specific things Harris said in her testimony. But then, Lanez’s lawyer made what may turn out to be a big mistake, claiming that the state had pressured Harris during that interview. In turn, the state asked for the jury to hear the full interview so they could decide for themselves. The judge agreed, and the recording was played back in its entirety.
The Harris on that recording was clear, absolutely sure of what she had seen, and, according to Law & Crime reporter Meghann Cuniff, sounded relieved to be unburdening herself and telling her story.
The two key points from Harris’s in-person testimony were that she denied being the shooter (“Ridiculous”), but also that she never saw Lanez with a gun. She was getting out of the car, she explained, and didn’t see anything. However, Harris did admit, after being forced to answer the question by the judge, that Lanez had threatened to shoot her.
There was also the issue of hush money. Prosecutors—and the September recording of Harris—claim that Lanez offered Harris and Megan $1 million each to keep quiet about the incident. But in-person Harris was considerably more muddled on that point. She admitted that Tory “mentioned a million dollars” and that the sum “was just about the case.” But she denied that it was a bribe, and that the offer of money wasn’t in exchange for her silence. As for the numerous contradictions between what she was saying on the stand versus just months before, she said that her September interview “was not 100% truthful,” though she declined to explain exactly which elements were untrue.
In the September interview, Harris recalled Lanez’s alleged attempted bribe of her and Megan verbatim, quoting him as saying, “Please y’all don’t say anything…. I’m about to sign a huge deal … I’ll give you guys $1 million each.”
She recalled the shooting in detail as well: Lanez was, in her telling, in the right front seat of the car, shooting “over the top of the door,” towards Megan. “He was shooting the gun,” Harris said of Lanez.
In a notable aside, Harris remembered one of Megan’s disses towards Lanez while they were arguing over their careers: “You’re only this and that because you’re on a remix with Jack Harlow.”
Megan’s lawyer Alex Spiro told The Shade Room that Harris’s change of story revealed that she had been “compromised.” “Whether a threat or bribe, but we’re looking into it,” he said. Harris vehemently denied this on the stand.
What will a jury make of the two, largely contrasting testimonies from Kelsey Harris? Two possibilities seem likely, as laid out by James Queally in the Los Angeles Times. First, they could believe that the September interview represents the real version of events and, for whatever reason, the Kelsey that showed up on the stand should be paid less attention. That interpretation would favor prosecutors. But there’s also the possibility that the dueling versions of Kelsey Harris could convince at least some jurors that there’s reasonable doubt whether Tory was the gunman, leading to a mistrial or acquittal.
“Who I’m Takin’ Shots At?”
The use of rap lyrics in criminal trials has been a hot issue recently., and this case is no different. However, it isn’t one of Megan’s or Tory’s songs that have been dissected in the courtroom.
Instead, Harris was on the hot seat with her song “Bussin Back,” a diss track aimed at Megan. Mgdesyan, in a nod to his Harris-as-shooter theory, asked investigator Megan Little, who conducted the aforementioned September interview with Harris, about the lyrics, “Who I’m taking shots at? / Bitch, I’m busting you.” Ta, for her part, pointed out another lyric from the same track: “Who shot ya? / ‘Cause you know it wasn’t me.”
The Missing Bodyguard
Megan’s former bodyguard Justin Edison was scheduled to testify, but instead was a no-show. It turns out he was working at the World Cup in Qatar, and it does not appear that he will be back in the U.S. in time for the trial. Edison was a key witness for the prosecution, having said in an earlier witness statement that he visited Lanez at his house the day after the shooting, where Lanez personally apologized for the incident and admitted to firing multiple shots.
“He Was, Like I Said, Shooting”
In his opening statement, Mgdesyan promised to unveil a witness who saw a woman, as opposed to a man, fire the gun—backing up his theory that Harris was the real shooter. But when that witness, a Hollywood Hills resident named Sean Kelly, actually showed up, things didn’t go exactly as planned.
In some ways, Kelly did tell the touted story. He claimed to see two women fighting (“They were pulling their hair and hitting each other. It was quite violent”), and said that he saw a flash originating from one of them. “I believe the girl fired the first shot,” he said clearly.
But then his story went off the rails, and his account of what transpired after the initial muzzle flash was not what Mgdesyan appears to have expected.
“Sir, did you see the shorter guy with a gun in his hand?” Mgdesyan asked, meaning Lanez. “Yes,” Kelly responded. He said that the man was “firing everywhere.”
Bott swooped in on this point. “How many shots did you see the short guy shoot when you said, ‘he was firing everywhere?’” he asked. “Four or five,” Kelly replied.
Kelly also laid out a story that matched neither Mgdesyan’s nor the prosecution’s tale, laying out a scenario in which three people were fighting with a fourth. Although there were four people in the car, no other person on either side has accused Lanez’s security guard, Jauquan Smith, of being involved in the fight.
Some other noteworthy points:
- Prosecutors attempted to add a fourth charge, of witness tampering. This was based on Lanez’s alleged million-dollar bribe attempts. However, the judge said it was too late.
- Conspiratorially-minded observers have noted that Harris’s husband Darien “Dboy” Smith is, self-proclaimedly, “one of the main go-to guys” for 1501 Certified Entertainment, Megan’s former record label with which she has been locked in a long-running legal battle.
- As of this writing, it’s unclear whether Tory Lanez will testify. If he does, he will be open to cross-examination and it appears that he may have to answer for his “Cap” video, where he is seen butchering what appear to be horse feet—something many observers take to be a diss of Megan and a reference to the shooting.