Correction published 1/8/2015: As Philadelphia magazine has pointed out, the introductory paragraph of this story contained erroneous information. On December 5, 2014, United States District Court Judge Felipe Restrepo granted Christopher Roney, a/k/a Cool C, a stay of execution “until the completion of all federal litigation pertaining to his Petition For Writ of Habeas Corpus.” Additionally, Lauretha Vaird was not the first Philadelphia police officer killed while responding to a call; she was the city’s first female officer killed in the line of duty.
Stay of execution, granted December 5, 2014:
Motion for stay of execution, filed December 3, 2014:
Our original story:
Tomorrow, Thursday, January 8, Philadelphia golden-age rapper Cool C — real name Christopher Roney — is set to be executed by lethal injection, the result of his 1996 conviction on charges of first-degree murder for the shooting death of police officer Lauretha Vaird. The shooting occurred in January of that year, when Roney, then 26, and two other men attempted to rob a Philadelphia PNC Bank branch. Roney shot Vaird, a 43-year-old mother of two, as soon as she stepped through the bank’s entrance, making her the first officer killed responding to a call in the city’s history. [Editor’s note: This paragraph contains factually inaccurate information; see correction above.]
Cool C, considered a pioneer of the Philadelphia rap scene, emerged at a time when hip-hop was overwhelmingly, almost exclusively, found in New York. With the rap world at large focused on the five boroughs, the mid Eighties were a time when one of the quickest ways to achieve notoriety was to record a dis song targeted at the popular artists of the day.
Cool C did just that with his 1987 debut single, “Juice Crew Dis.” Amid the infamous South Bronx vs. Queens feud, Cool C represented Philly’s issue with Juice Crew member and Queens resident MC Shan having allegedly turned his back on the Philly scene that gave him his start. Cool C had a style similar to Shan’s, which made his reworking of some of Shan’s signature lines as disses toward him and Juice Crew members Roxanne Shante and Marley Marl stand out in one of rap’s most battle-heavy climates.
Stepping up to Shan made Cool C a hometown hero and garnered the attention of increasingly prominent rap labels. The next year, City Beat, the label that also originally released Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” and Ultramagnetic MC’s “Traveling at the Speed of Thought,” put out Cool C’s next single, “C Is Cool.” That and C’s self-released follow-up, “Down to the Grissel,” were successful enough to land C a deal with Atlantic Records. In 1989 Atlantic released C’s debut album, I Gotta Habit, boasting his signature single “Glamorous Life,” whose suave boasts and featured females (including a young Jill Scott) landed the video regular rotation in rap outlets.
After one more album, Life in the Ghetto, Cool C formed the group C.E.B. (Countin’ Endless Bank) with fellow Philly natives and longtime associates Steady B and DJ Ultimate Eaze. Landing a deal with Ruffhouse Records, they released their self-titled debut in 1993.
The album tanked, and Cool C disappeared from the pages of rap magazines until news about his shooting of Officer Vaird hit three years later (coming as a shock to rap fans as well as Roney’s friends and family — his criminal record to that point consisted solely of a 1993 conviction for carrying a .45 without a license). To this day, Roney and his mother maintain his innocence, claiming they were eating together at the time of the robbery, despite a surveillance video, ballistic and forensic evidence, and three eyewitnesses linking him to the murder.
It was actually with Steady B (née Warren McGlone) that Cool C and associate Ernest Mark Canty attempted the 1996 heist that led to C’s conviction. According to McGlone, Canty had planned the robbery of a Philadelphia PNC Bank the morning of Tuesday, January 2, 1996. While Canty waited in the getaway van, parked in a Rite Aid lot across the street, McGlone and Roney ambushed the employees as they were opening the bank. The man believed to be Roney was seen in a surveillance video aiming a gun at the bank’s entrance. Officer Vaird, responding to the silent alarm, was shot by Roney as she entered the building. Assistant District Attorney Roger King argued the element of planning, including the specific pointing of the gun at the doors, was enough evidence to support a first-degree murder conviction.
The death penalty was sought for all three, but Canty and McGlone received life in prison without parole, while on November 1, 1996, Christopher “Cool C” Roney was sentenced to death. He’s since been an inmate of Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution at Greene. Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell originally slated Roney’s death for March 9, 2006, but litigation issues caused it to be indefinitely delayed. Tomorrow, slightly more than nineteen years after the attempted robbery, Roney will be executed.
The rap world’s been largely silent for the past two decades regarding Cool C’s trial, incarceration and execution. Not even Cool C and Steady B’s Overbrook High classmate Will Smith has been asked about or commented on the situation. Days after their arrest, then–Ruff House Records President Joe Nicolo said he was shocked to hear of the story, stating, “Their music wasn’t about robbing people or toting guns or knocking off banks, their bravado was in their rhyming ability.” The only artist of note to even mention Cool C has been fellow Philly rapper and DJ Kay Slay affiliate WarChyld, who released a Cool C “dedication” Monday in the form of a remake of C’s “The Glamorous Life.”
To this day, the fallen policewoman, Lauretha Vaird, is remembered as one of Philadelphia’s most beloved officers. A mother of two sons — eleven and seventeen at the time of her death — she changed careers from an assistant to special-education teachers at Germantown’s Pickett Middle School to serve her city in her mid thirties. The Officer Down Memorial Page created in her honor relates several stories of her heroism and the love she inspired. In 2010, Vaird was honored in Philadelphia’s Feltonville neighborhood with a “Celebration of Life” at the Boys and Girls Club, which was also named after her. The Vaird Foundation, founded by fellow officer Kimberly Byrd, runs prospective law enforcement career mentoring and college assistance programs and has given thousands of dollars in college aid.