It was a role that her legion of fans wish she had never taken, but Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, the American actress who was catapulted from a harsh street life to fame by the series The Wire, has pleaded guilty to having joined a shady ensemble that was caught earlier this year distributing heroin and marijuana on the streets of her native Baltimore.
Pearson, 31, who shares her nickname with the drug-gang assassin she portrayed on the successful police drama examining the criminal underworld in Baltimore, cut a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to association with a conspiracy that was broken open with the arrest of 64 people in March.
Under the agreement, Pearson was sentenced to seven years in prison with all that time suspended except for the five months already served, most of it at her own home under electronic monitoring. She is subject to three years of supervised probation, but Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill said she would be allowed to travel out of state for professional reasons, allowing her to try to relaunch her acting career.
The dismay in March when Pearson was among those arrested was profound for her fans and former colleagues on The Wire because of her own history of escaping crime, including a conviction of second-degree murder, to shine in her new life of acting. At the time, David Simon, the creator of The Wire, expressed his distress in email correspondence with Guy Adams, The Independent's Los Angeles correspondent.
She "has, from her earliest moments, had one of the hardest lives imaginable," he said. "Whatever good fortune came from her role in The Wire seems, in retrospect, limited to that project. She worked hard as an actor and was entirely professional, but the entertainment industry as a whole does not offer a great many roles for those who can portray people from the other America. There are, in fact, relatively few stories told about the other America."
As she emerged from court, Pearson sought to play down the implications of her guilty plea, entered the day before trial was due to begin. While her lawyer, Benjamin Sutley, told reporters, "I can't say she would have been found not guilty," she interrupted, saying: "I would have been found not guilty."
The conspiracy was cracked after a drug inquiry that itself relied heavily on wiretaps to assemble evidence, called Operation Usual Suspects. Prosecutors said Pearson allowed money and drugs to be stored in her apartment.
Simon said that the notion that Pearson might be judged by her peers was flawed because there were two Americas, "politically and economically distinct", as the streets of Baltimore illustrate. "I, for one, do not qualify as a peer to Felicia Pearson," he said.
"The opportunities and experiences of her life do not correspond in any way with my own, and her America is different from my own."