By TERRY SPENCER
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Jury deliberations began Wednesday in the trial of three men accused of murdering rising rap star XXXTentacion during a 2018 robbery outside a Florida motorcycle shop after the alleged gunman’s attorney argued that DNA evidence proves his client and another man are innocent.
Attorney Joseph Kimok gave the final defense closing argument in the trial of three men accused of first-degree murder, telling jurors that while the artist struggled with his killers before being shot and DNA was found on the body and on a stolen necklace, it wasn’t from his client, 28-year-old Michael Boatwright. Nor was it from accused second gunman Trayvon Newsome, 24, or accused getaway driver and ringleader Dedrick Williams, 26.
“Whoever (XXXTentacion) struggled with is not in this courtroom,” Kimok told jurors as the four-week trial neared its conclusion. “The DNA proves that someone not named Michael Boatwright or Trayvon Newsome participated in this murder.”
A fourth man, Robert Allen, pleaded guilty last year to second-degree murder and testified against his former friends. Attorneys for all three men say he is lying about their clients’ involvement in the slaying and robbery, which netted $50,000. They also say Broward County sheriff’s detectives botched the investigation, failing to consider other possible suspects including Canadian rap star Drake, with whom XXXTentacion had an online feud.
Lead prosecutor Pascale Achille in her rebuttal argument Wednesday admitted that Allen is not a perfect witness, that he has previous felony convictions, but co-conspirators in murders rarely are.
“Plans hatched in hell do not have angels for witnesses,” she said.
Achille said that while detectives never found the guns, masks and money, only Williams was arrested within days of the shooting, giving the others time to hide any evidence. She said the lack of DNA evidence linking the defendants to the killing is irrelevant — that fact does not exclude them. She said much more importantly, cellphone data shows the defendants were together near the motorcycle shop at the time of the slaying and that Bluetooth data puts them in the SUV used by the shooters at that same time.
During her primary closing argument Tuesday, Achille played surveillance video from the motorcycle shop and elsewhere that she says backs up Allen’s testimony. She also played cellphone videos the defendants allegedly took hours after the killing that showed them smiling and dancing as they flashed handfuls of $100 bills.
Boatwright, Williams and Newsome all face mandatory life sentences if convicted. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty. While the three are being tried together, the jury has to decide separately on each and could convict just one or two.
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.
Surveillance video showed that two masked gunmen emerged and confronted the 20-year-old rapper at the driver’s window, and one shot him repeatedly after a 45-second struggle. They then grabbed a Louis Vuitton bag containing the $50,000, which XXXTentacion had just withdrawn from the bank. They then got back into the SUV and sped away. The friend was not harmed.
Prosecutors say the three defendants and Allen set out that day to commit robberies and went to the motorcycle shop to buy Williams a mask. There they spotted the rapper and decided to make him their target.
Prosecutors say Allen and Williams went inside the motorcycle shop to confirm it was him. They then went back to the SUV they had rented, waited for XXXTentacion to emerge and ambushed him, according to prosecutors.
The rapper, who pronounced his name “Ex ex ex ten-ta-see-YAWN,” 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.