By TERRY SPENCER Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The short life of emerging rap star XXXTentacion ended when two masked gunmen emerged from an SUV that had blocked his BMW as he left a motorcycle shop and demanded his money before one shot him. They fled with $50,000 in cash.
Now, almost five years later, the suspects and an alleged accomplice are on trial for the 20-year-old’s slaying.
Jury selection began Wednesday in the first-degree murder trial for the man accused of pulling the trigger, Michael Boatwright, 28, and his alleged accomplices, Dedrick Williams, 26, and Trayvon Newsome, 24. All could receive life sentences if convicted. They also are charged with armed robbery and have pleaded not guilty.
A fourth man, Robert Allen, 26, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last year and is expected to testify against the other three. Opening statements are expected in early February, with the trial lasting into March.
In pretrial hearings, the defendants’ attorneys have suggested there were others who had financial and personal motives for killing the singer, including members of his family and other rappers, such as Canadian superstar Drake. The two had online beefs. The lawyers are scheduled to interview him outside court and in private Friday.
Circuit Judge Michael Usan said Wednesday that for any of the rappers to be called as a witness, the defense would have to show something more substantial linking them to the shooting than just that they were feuding with XXXTentacion.
“It’s been over four long years in the making. We are excited to take this first step to bringing Dedrick home,” said Mauricio Padilla, Williams’ attorney. The attorneys for Boatwright and Newsome did not respond to emails seeking comment. The COVID-19 pandemic and legal wrangling delayed the start of the trial.
Usan recently rejected an attempt by Boatwright’s attorney, Joseph Kimok, to have him declared mentally incompetent to stand trial. He also rejected a motion by the defendants’ attorneys to try the three separately.
They argued that evidence presented against just one defendant would be prejudicial to the other two. They also argued that each defense attorney could try to establish his client’s innocence or mitigate his guilt by pointing fingers at the other two suspects — which they argued would unfairly prejudice the jury against the trio. Prosecutor Pascale Achille told Usan that any evidence presented would pertain to all three.
Usan ruled the defense attorneys’ arguments could apply in all trials where there are multiple defendants, but in this case they don’t outweigh the needs of “judicial economy” to not hold three trials if not absolutely required.
XXXTentacion. whose real name was Jahseh Onfroy, had just left Riva Motorsports in suburban Fort Lauderdale on June 18, 2018, with a friend when his BMW was blocked by an SUV that swerved in front. Two masked gunmen emerged, confronted XXXTentacion at the driver’s window and one shot him. They then grabbed a Louis Vuitton bag containing $50,000 cash the singer had just withdrawn from the bank, got back into the SUV and sped away.
XXXTentacion died at the hospital shortly after. He pronounced his name “Ex ex ex ten-ta-see-YAWN” and was a platinum-selling rising star who tackled issues including prejudice and depression in his songs. He also drew criticism over bad behavior and multiple arrests, including charges that he severely beat and abused his girlfriend.
Investigators say surveillance video from the store and other evidence links the three defendants and Allen to the killing.
They say video shows the SUV arriving at the motorcycle shop just as XXXTentacion and his friend entered. Williams and Allen followed them inside, with Williams making a small purchase. They then walked back to the SUV. About 10 minutes later, XXXTentacion and his friend tried to leave, but the SUV blocked them. Prosecutors say Boatwright and Newsome were the gunmen who confronted the rapper, with Boatwright firing the fatal shots.
Investigators say Boatwright’s fingerprints were found on the driver’s door of the rapper’s BMW. Williams was identified by a Riva Motorsports clerk, who said he was a regular customer. Williams told investigators he did not know the other three were planning a robbery.
A search of Williams’ social media showed photos of him with Allen, who was then identified from the surveillance video. Williams’ girlfriend told investigators that he told her that the other gunman was Newsome.
They say cellphone data also links the defendants to the scene.
Photos of Boatwright and Newsome holding up large amounts of $100 bills, timestamped on the night of the killing, were also found on their phones, prosecutors say.