A family friend of the rapper XXXTentacion broke down Tuesday as he told jurors how he and the rapper were ambushed by armed robbers as they drove away from a motorcycle shop, how he fled in fear and then heard the gunshots that killed the rising star.
Leonard Kerr's testimony highlighted the opening day in the trial of three men accused of fatally shooting XXXTentacion on June 18, 2018, inside his BMW sports car, which had been blocked by an SUV as Kerr and the rapper pulled out of the Riva Motorsports' parking lot near Fort Lauderdale.
Two men jumped out with guns, Kerr said. He said the taller man pointed his weapon at him and told him not to get out of the car, punctuating his command with a curse word. The other man was trying to pull the rapper's gold chain from his neck. Kerr said he could hear XXXTentacion asking, "What's this for?" At that point, Kerr said, he decided to escape, pushing the button that opened the passenger door.
"If I run, I can get shot, but I can live. If I sit...." Kerr said, his voicing trailing off until he stopped to regain his composure.
Kerr said when he looked back, the taller man was pointing his gun at XXXTentacion, and he said he heard at least two loud bangs. The men then got back into the SUV and sped off, taking with them the $50,000 the rapper had in his designer bag.
Michael Boatwright, 28, is accused of being the shooter, while his friend, Trayon Newsome, 24, is accused of being the other gunman. Dedrick Williams, 26, is accused of being the driver. They could all receive life sentences if convicted of first-degree murder. A fourth man who prosecutors say was in the SUV, 26-year-old Robert Allen, pleaded guilty last year to second-degree murder and is set to testify against his former friends.
During opening statements earlier Tuesday, the jurors heard divergent theories about the shooting. A robbery gone awry, according to prosecutors. According to the defense, it could have been a feud between XXXTentacion and the megastar Drake, but they say detectives refused to investigate that possibility.
Prosecutor Pascale Achille told jurors that Boatwright, Newsome, Williams and Allen, set out that day to commit armed robberies. Allen and Williams went inside the motorcycle shop to buy masks, she said.
There, they happened upon XXXTentacion, who, according to Kerr, had the $50,000 he had just gotten from the bank hanging out of his bag. The pair recognized him, and the group seized upon the opportunity, deciding to rob him as he left, Achille said. Boatwright shot him several times "without any provocation," she said.
To varying degrees, the defendants 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 Drake - XXXTentacion once said on social media that if he ever wound up dead, the Canadian rapper 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 slaying of 17 people at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, 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 SUV 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.
Newsome's attorney also denied that his client was present.
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.