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April 24, 2018

Meek Mill rings opening bell 76ers game after prison release

Meek Mill rang the ceremonial pregame bell before 76ers' playoff game Tuesday night after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered his release from prison earlier in the day. 

Mill, 30, a Philadelphia native, walked out of a Chester prison late Tuesday afternoon after the state Supreme Court overruled Common Pleas Court Judge Genece Brinkley, who had sentenced him to 2 to 4 years in prison for violating probation. Clad in black slacks and a blue shirt, the rap artist was photographed with a grin plastered on his face and a cellphone pressed to his ear as he prepared to board a waiting helicopter.

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In what the New York Post's Page Six touted as an exclusive interview, Mill said the news that he would be released Tuesday came as a bit of a surprise and he said a prayer of thanks in response:

The rapper spoke exclusively to Page Six as he raced to the Philadelphia 76ers playoff game in a car after his close friend, 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin, personally picked him up at the jail and flew him on his personal helicopter into Philly to head to the arena.

In his first interview since being freed on bail, Meek said, “I am still dazed, I’m in a daze, this is great, and unbelievable.

“I always had confidence it was going this way, but I didn’t know when it would happen and I’d be free. It looked like it was going to take months more.”

The rapper had been in jail since November. The case has generated national attention, with social justice activists decrying his punishment as unusually harsh.

At varying points throughout his imprisonment, protesters demonstrated outside Philly's Criminal Justice Center to demand his release.

Mill posted a series of tweets after receiving the news on Tuesday afternoon.

He thanked God, his family and his public advocates, describing his five-month imprisonment as "a nightmare." He also thanked the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, saying he was "grateful for your commitment to justice."

Mill was arrested twice last year – once after an alleged altercation at St. Louis International Airport, and again for popping a wheelie on his bike in New York City. 

Those arrests violated Mill's probation terms, which stem from a 2008 firearms conviction.

Brinkley sentenced Mill to prison, citing a failed drug test and his noncompliance with a court order restricting his travel to Pennsylvania.

Mill's legal team appealed the decision, prompting a ruling Tuesday from the state Supreme Court. 

The court ruled that Mill should be released on unsecured bail and gave Brinkley 60 days to make a ruling on a post-conviction petition filed by Mill's legal team. 

But the court denied a request by Mill's legal team to assign the case to another judge. Instead, it gave Brinkley the option to recuse herself.

Nik Hatziefstathiou/YC.News/TMZ

Rapper Meek Mill moves to board a helicopter late Tuesday afternoon after his release from State Correctional Institution Chester. He was reportedly headed to the 76ers playoff game in town tonight.

Joe Tacopina, Mill's defense attorney, released a statement saying he was "thrilled" by the ruling.

"As we have said all along, Meek was unjustly convicted and should not have spent a single day in jail," Tacopina said. "We are also pleased that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has noted that Judge Brinkley may opt to remove herself from presiding over any further proceedings in Meek's case in the interests of justice." 

The order noted that prosecutors acknowledged in court that there are "credibility issues" with Philadelphia police officer Reginald Graham, the arresting officer who served as a key witness at Mill's 2008 firearms trial. 

It also stated that prosecutors are not opposed to Mill being granted immediate bail.

Graham appeared on a secretive list of police officers that the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office considered untrustworthy.

The list was compiled under former D.A. Seth Williams, who has since been convicted of corruption. It urged prosecutors not to call the police officers as witnesses, alleging the officers had displayed a history of dishonest behavior or racial bias.

Graham was investigated by federal authorities for several alleged acts of corruption stemming from a November 2013 incident. That incident came five years after Graham appeared as the sole witness during Mill's 2008 trial.

Various celebrities visited the rapper during his imprisonment at the State Correctional Institution Chester in Delaware County. 

Comedian Kevin Hart and Rubin visited Mill in prison earlier on Tuesday. Other notable visitors included Rev. Al Sharpton, Mayor Jim Kenney, Patriots' owner Robert Kraft, CNN host Don Lemon and 76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

"Meek is excited to be reunited with his family, and we, along with Meek, intend to continue to shine the light on a justice system in need of reform to prevent any other citizen from being put through what Meek has endured," Tacopina added.