Why do we still need courtroom sketch artists?
When the Columbia Police Department released a composite sketch of a suspect in an attempted murder, some might have squinted to get a closer look.
The sketch looks strikingly similar to a photo of Earl Simmons, better know by his rap alias DMX. The likeness is no coincidence. The rendering was drawn based on an image of the Grammy nominated rapper.
The incident that led police to seek a sketch started near a residence off Beltline Boulevard near Midlands Technical College. Around midnight on June 19, officers found a 27-year-old man shot in the lower body at an apartment complex on the 4400 block of Blossom Street, a police department spokesperson said in a news release. Witnesses reported that they heard the wounded man and another unidentified male arguing moments before shots rang out.
The department released the suspect’s sketch on June 24, saying the drawing was done “with the assistance of a crime witness.”
“The witness said to us, ‘The guy looks a lot like DMX,’” according to South Carolina Law Enforcement Division spokesperson Thom Berry.
But Columbia Police Department Deputy Chief Melron Kelly confirmed that DMX is not a suspect in the case. “I guarantee you he’s not,” Kelly said.
The sketch was done by a forensic artist with SLED. The artist has worked for the state police for five years and is “very well trained and respected in the profession,” Berry said.
In the suspect’s sketch and the photo of DMX, the angle and light source are the same. The eyes look the same direction. The curl of the left side lip is similar. A bit of the left ear pokes out. The shape of the inside of the right ear looks like a keyhole and is nearly the same in both renderings. A shadow between the left nostril and cheek match.
Some differences in the two renderings are apparent. The person in the sketch has more head hair and a more pronounced beard than the rapper. The DMX photo shows him with a more distinct right side jaw line and chin. His neck in the photo is more obvious below the right ear than in the sketch. The sketch, all around, shows more neck.
To get a suspect’s sketch, the witness talks with the artist, Berry said, and the artist gets a feel for the overall features and look. When putting together an image of the suspect in the June shooting, the artist started with the photo of DMX, settled the differences in looks and went from there.
”We always let the witness dictate the process and how everything unfolds,” Berry said. “We make sure the witness sees everything we do and is comfortable with whatever rendering that we make.”
DMX made chart topping albums like “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot” and “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood” in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. Known for his aggressive vocalizations, the rapper may be most recognized for his 1999 album “And Then There Was X,” which spawned the top 10 hit “Party Up (Up in Here),” a perennially popular hype up anthem for weddings and parties.
Between 1998 and 2012, he released seven albums, selling more than 17 million records in the United States, Yahoo Entertainment reported, making him the fifth-most selling rap or hip-hop solo artist in the country. He also acted in 2000s films such as “Belly, Romeo Must Die” and “Cradle 2 the Grave.”
Substance use, mental health and a series of legal troubles stalled DMX’s career in the first decade of the millennium. He went into rehab and a mental health treatment facility in the decade. He served time in prison for parole and probation violations based on various drug, assault and animal cruelty charges. In 2018, a judge sentenced DMX to a year in prison for tax evasion. He got out in January.
The rapper has made South Carolina headlines before. Upstate police arrested him four times in 2013 for driving without a license, not having vehicle insurance, driving under suspension and driving under the influence as well as citing him for marijuana. He pleaded guilty or was convicted by a judge in all the charges, court records show. DMX lived in the Spartanburg suburb of Lyman, the Anderson Independent Mail reported.