Nearly five years after XXXTentacion was shot and killed outside a motorcycle shop in Florida, the trial of his alleged murderers finally began last week.
The first week alone featured a fair share of court drama, driven primarily by the testimony of Robert Allen — one of the four suspects who entered a guilty plea last August — as well as one defense attorney’s efforts to drag Drake into the proceedings. The trial is expected to continue for several more weeks, wrapping up in March.
XXXTentacion, real name Jahseh Onfroy, died June 18, 2018, at the age of 20. In just a few short years, Onfroy had become one of the most popular, divisive, and controversial figures in 2010s hip-hop, at the vanguard of the genre’s SoundCloud revolution. His breakthrough song, “Look at Me” — which was first released in 2015 but fully caught on a few years later — embodied the aesthetics of this movement, with all blown-out, lo-fi production and vulgar, graphic lyrics.
“Look at Me” peaked at Number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 on April 22, 2017 — days after Onfroy was released from prison. At the time, he’d spent several months locked up on an array of domestic violence charges involving his then-pregnant ex-girlfriend, including battery by strangulation and false imprisonment. (Onfroy had pleaded not guilty to the charges and was still awaiting trial when he was killed a year later. After his death, Pitchfork obtained a secret recording of Onfroy seemingly admitting to the allegations against him; prosecutors effectively considered the tape an admission of guilt.)
These charges stoked the controversy around the rapper, especially as the music industry finally took notice of his viral stardom and Caroline — a subsidiary of Capitol and Universal Music Group — signed him to a $6 million deal. But the charges did little to dissuade the legion of devoted, extremely online fans who fueled XXXTentacion’s rise and pushed his March 2018 album, ?, to Number One on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. For his part, Onfroy was just as online as his followers, often using social media to stir up controversy and keep himself in the spotlight.
Onfroy was killed several months after ? was released. Four suspects were eventually arrested and charged: Allen, Michael Boatwright, Dedrick Williams, and Trayvon Newsome. Allen pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed robbery with a firearm and could face up to life in prison. Boatwright, Williams, and Newsome have pleaded not guilty to premeditated first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm.
When the trial began last week, lead prosecutor Pascale Achille claimed Onfroy was killed in a robbery gone wrong. Boatwright, Williams, Newsome, and Allen, according to Achille, had set out to commit armed robberies that day, though they only happened upon Onfroy at the motorcycle shop because that’s where they’d stopped to buy masks. Though that encounter was a coincidence, Achille claimed the suspects recognized Onfroy and decided to rob him as he left the store.
Achille claimed the suspects blocked Onfroy’s car as he tried to leave the dealership. A struggle ensued as Boatwright and Newsome allegedly wrestled away a bag from Onfroy with $50,000 cash in it. Achille then said Boatwright shot Onfroy several times “without any provocation.”
The prosecution has tried to back up its case with footage from several surveillance cameras, as well as cellphone data that allegedly links the suspects to the location of the motorcycle shop. Achille also claimed in her opening statement that the suspects flashed the money they allegedly stole from Onfroy in social media photos posted that same night.
Prosecutors have also relied heavily on Allen, who began his fourth day on the stand Monday, Feb. 13. During his testimony so far, Allen explained how he and the other suspects wound up at the motorcycle shop and the on-the-spot decision to target Onfroy. Allen said it was Williams who convinced the group to confront Onfroy, and that it was Boatwright who shot him. Allen also said he decided not to take part in the robbery because he “was on camera” at the store, though he did say he still got a cut of $5,000 (while the other three allegedly took $15,000 each).
The attorneys for the three defendants, meanwhile, have tried to undercut Allen’s credibility by highlighting inconsistencies in past sworn statements. Allen has copped to some of these, saying at one point that he was “trying to minimize my involvement” in the case.
The broader strategies of the defense attorneys have ostensibly centered around trying to drum up as much reasonable doubt as possible. Attorneys for both Boatwright and Newsome — Joseph Kimok and George Reres, respectively — said in their opening statements that they will aim to prove their clients were not present at the killing.
Kimok, for instance, has claimed Boatwright was actually asleep at home at the time of the shooting, that he doesn’t appear in the surveillance footage, and that while cellphone data put him near the scene of the crime, it was pulled from a community phone used by several people. As for the photos of Boatwright “very stupidly posed” (Kimok’s words) with the money posted on social media — that money was allegedly Allen’s, according to Kimok.
The boldest defense strategy, however, is coming from Williams’ attorney Mauricio Padilla, who has suggested that Drake (real name Aubrey Graham) was somehow involved in Onfroy’s death. This is not a theory prosecutors have ever floated or given credence to, but Padilla has sought to raise doubts by highlighting an alleged feud between Graham and Onfroy.
For instance, in his opening argument, Padilla mentioned a Feb. 2018 social media post from Onfroy that read, “If anyone tries to kill me it was @champagnepapi [Drake’s Instagram handle]. I’m snitching right now.” (Onfroy later deleted that post — as well as a few other incendiary posts — and wrote, “Please stop entertaining that bullshit on Twitter. My accounts were previously hacked.”)
Despite that ostensible retraction, which Padilla didn’t appear to acknowledge while addressing the jury, he did wonder aloud, “Do you think… any detective has ever asked Drake or anybody like that? No, they never did that.”
As part of his efforts, Padilla also tried to subpoena Graham for a deposition at the end of January, claiming he was properly served but did not show up. Padilla then filed an “order to show cause,” which the judge granted on Feb. 9, stating that Graham would either have to appear for a deposition later this month or appear before the court to explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt.
Graham and his lawyers have since fired back and tried to quash the deposition. They claim the original deposition subpoena was neither properly served nor accepted. They also claim the subpoena “places an unreasonable and oppressive burden” on Graham, with his lawyers pushing back against Padilla’s claims about his alleged involvement.
“In a case such as this, it is both unreasonable and oppressive to subpoena an out-of-state party who has not been mentioned in any reports, any investigation, or referenced to have any involvement in this matter,” the filing reads. “Based on the evidence so far provided in this case, there is video which purports to show the defendants allegedly as participants in the murder of the victim. No evidence has been provided to substantiate the assertion that [Graham] in any way contributed to, had knowledge of, or participated in the alleged incident and to mandate that he appear for deposition for something that he very clearly has no relevant knowledge of is unreasonable.”
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