Three men in the US have been found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2018 killing of star rapper XXXTentacion, who was shot outside a South Florida motorcycle shop while being robbed of US$50,000 ($74,415.85).
Michael Boatwright, 28, Dedrick Williams, 26, and Trayvon Newsome, 24, were also convicted of armed robbery by a jury that rendered its verdict less than an hour after beginning its eighth day of deliberations.
Their sentencing, which Circuit Judge Michael Usan set for April 6, will largely be a formality; Florida law dictates a life sentence for first-degree murder convictions.
The defendants, two dressed in suits and one in a button-down shirt, showed little emotion as they stood one by one to be handcuffed by a bailiff. There was no audible reaction from family members and other observers in the courtroom. Before the verdicts were read, Usan warned that anyone who caused any kind of disruption would be held in contempt of court.
The Broward State Attorney’s Office thanked the jurors and prosecutors in a statement but said it would not comment further until the sentencing.
Williams’ attorney, Mauricio Padilla, told The Associated Press that he doesn’t feel his client was afforded a fair trial. He noted that a crucial defence witness was stricken and that he was prohibited from deposing a key witness. Phone messages were left with attorneys representing Boatright and Newsome.
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“It is obvious from the days the jury was deliberating that they had questions and I only wish I would have been able to properly defend my client,” Padilla said in an email.
During the monthlong trial, prosecutors linked Boatwright, Williams and Newsome to the June 18, 2018, shooting outside Riva Motorsports in suburban Fort Lauderdale through extensive surveillance video taken inside and outside the store, plus cellphone videos the men took showing them flashing fistfuls of $100 bills hours after the slaying.
Prosecutors also had the testimony of a fourth man, Robert Allen, a former friend of the defendants who said he participated in the robbery. He pleaded guilty last year to second-degree murder. He has not been sentenced pending the conclusion of this trial. He could get anywhere between time served, meaning he could soon be released, and life, depending partly on how much weight prosecutors give to his assistance.
Defence attorneys accused Allen of being a liar who was motivated by his desire to avoid a life sentence. They also said prosecutors and detectives did a poor investigation that didn’t look at other possible suspects, including the Canadian rap star Drake; he and XXXTentacion had an online feud.
Boatwright was identified as the primary shooter. Twice last week, the jury asked to review 17 text messages that prosecutors said he sent to various people from the time he woke up about 10.30am until 3pm, about an hour before the shooting. He then stopped texting for about two hours.
About an hour after the shooting, Boatwright sent a text saying, “Tell my brother I got the money for the new phone.” Minutes after that, he sent someone a screenshot of a news story saying XXXTentacion had been shot, prosecutors said.
XXXTentacion, whose real name was Jahseh Onfroy, had just left Riva Motorsports with a friend when an SUV swerved in front of him and blocked his BMW.
Surveillance video showed two masked gunmen emerging and confronting the 20-year-old singer at the driver’s window, and one shot him repeatedly. They then grabbed a Louis Vuitton bag containing cash XXXTentacion had just withdrawn from the bank, got back into the SUV and sped away. The friend was not harmed.
Newsome was accused of being the other gunman. Williams was accused of being the driver of the SUV, and Allen of being inside the vehicle.
Allen testified that the men 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. Allen and Williams went inside the 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 testimony.
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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 behaviour and multiple arrests, including charges that he severely beat and abused his girlfriend.