FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) - Jurors who will determine whether three men are guilty in the fatal shooting of rap star XXXTentacion outside a Florida motorcycle store in 2018 heard widely divergent stories during opening statements Tuesday - a robbery gone awry or detectives catching the wrong men through a failure to investigate other suspects, including the rapper Drake.
For prosecutor Pascale Achille, the case is straightforward. She told jurors that defendants Michael Boatwright, Trayvon Newsome and Dedrick Williams, plus a fourth man who has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge, Robert Allen, set out June 18, 2018, to commit armed robberies and went to Riva Motorsports in suburban Fort Lauderdale to buy masks.
There, they happened upon XXXTentacion, who was there with a friend to buy a motorcycle. They recognized him and seized upon the opportunity, deciding to rob him as he left, she said. Williams cut off the rapper's BMW sports car with their SUV, Achille said, and Boatwright and Newsome jumped out with guns to rob him. A struggle ensued, they got the $50,000 XXXTentacion had in a designer bag and then Boatwright shot him several times "without any provocation," she said.
To varying degrees, they are linked to the shooting by surveillance video and cellphone locations, and all are implicated through Allen's expected testimony, Achille said. Then there are the social media photos of some of the men flashing the money posted that night, she said.
"They go on social media and start bragging that they have this influx of cash," Achille said. "They flash it like it's Christmas Day."
To the men's attorneys, the defendants are victims of Robert Allen's lies and the failure of detectives to investigate XXXTentacion's feud with the Canadian rapper Drake - XXXTentacion once said on social media that if he ever wound up dead, Drake would be the cause. He later retracted that. Another rapper had also made threats against XXXTentacion.
They said that with the rapper's slaying coming just four months after the murder of 17 people at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Broward Sheriff's Office was under extreme political pressure to solve the case quickly.
"For Broward County, for everyone involved, this was a nightmare," said Mauricio Padilla, Williams' attorney.
That's why they wanted no part with investigating a celebrity, he said.
Prosecutors say there is no evidence linking Drake to the shooting, and Williams is clearly seen in the store's surveillance video, recognizable through his distinctive facial tattoos. He was also identified by one of the clerks. Padilla conceded Williams was present in the store but didn't say how he would explain that.
Joseph Kimok, Boatwright's attorney, also pointed the finger at a third man as the possible shooter - a friend Williams was seen talking to inside the motorcycle store just before the shooting who has the same build as his client. He alluded that the friend could have gotten into the car Williams was driving outside the view of surveillance cameras. He said the evidence will show that Boatwright was asleep at the home he shared with his grandmother at the time of the shooting.
"At no point (in the surveillance videos) will you see Mr. Boatwright, because he wasn't there," Kimok said.
Yes, a cellphone linked to him was near the store - but that was a community phone used by several men, he said. And yes, he "very stupidly posed" with money that night - but that money was Allen's, not Boatwright's, Kimok said.
Boatwright, 28, Williams, 26, and Newsome, 24, would all receive life sentences if convicted of first-degree murder. They also are charged with armed robbery.
Allen, 26, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last year.
The victim, whose real name was Jahseh Onfroy, pronounced his stage name "ex-ex-ex-ten-ta-see-YAWN." He 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.