The evidence against the three men standing trial for the 2018 murder of XXXTentacion includes video evidence, cell phone evidence, and social media posts where they flash money believed to have been robbed from the late rapper. But Mauricio Padilla, the attorney for defendant Dedrick Williams, has implicated Toronto artist Drake as a possible culprit, citing lyrics and a 2018 post on XXXTentacion’s IG story, which stated, “if anyone kills me it was @champagnepapi…I’m snitching.” XXXTentacion, born Jahseh Onfroy, later deleted the story and said he was hacked, but Padilla has nonetheless included it in his defense.
Now, Drake, real name Aubrey Graham, faces a court order to testify for a deposition (via Zoom) on February 24th, and he’s subject to a contempt of court charge if he ignores it. On February 9th, Padilla petitioned Broward Country Circuit Judge Michael Usan for an “order to show cause” after Graham was served a subpoena but didn’t show up to court on January 27th. During the trial’s opening arguments, Padilla stated, “Before X died, he said, ‘If anybody kills me, it’s Drake.’ Do you think, sitting here years later, any detective has ever asked Drake or anybody like that? No.” He added. “This is one of the biggest celebrities in the world. Excluding an order from this court, we all know that I will never be able to take his deposition.” Padilla also cited the February 2018 Parkland, Florida shooting, implying that Broward County investigators had devoted so many resources to the school shooting that they didn’t properly investigate Onfroy’s murder.
Lawyer (and former prosecutor) Neama Rahmani calls Padilla’s implication of Graham a “Hail Mary” attempt to muddy the waters for the jury. “It’s a very tough case to defend,” Rahmani says, citing the barrage of evidence against the three defendants. “So maybe you find a juror that believes in these types of conspiracy theories. They need a unanimous jury. Maybe a couple of jurors buy into this and you can hang the jury.” He adds that the Judge essentially has no choice but to allow the theory into court. “The judge is saying, ‘if this is their defense, even though there’s no basis in fact, I’m not going to deny them their defense because they have a right as criminal defendants to present evidence that they think will exonerate them. If I deny them that opportunity, that’s a potential appellate issue, and the verdict may be overturned.’”
Attorney Steve Sadow says it’s a “good strategy” for Padilla to raise reasonable doubt. “Being able to say ‘some other dude did it,’ that’s a big deal. He has a kernel of fact because the defendant says, ‘If I’m killed, Drake did it.’ So it’s not as if it’s just totally made up. He’s got a little something there that he can use to support his position, which is, to be honest with you, a lot more than we have most of the time.”
Graham was specifically called for a pretrial discovery deposition, and Sadow notes that Florida is one of the few states that allows such depositions for criminal cases. The Atlanta-based attorney, who most recently represented rapper Gunna, says that “you could never force someone to go under oath in a deposition in a Georgia criminal case.” Both lawyers say that if Graham doesn’t show up, a Florida Judge has the grounds to fine him for every court date he misses or even issue a warrant making him subject to arrest if he enters the state. If Graham had an open warrant for contempt, he’d be put into the National Crime Information Computer, a database that both state and federal law enforcement use to log outstanding warrants.
“The warrant is good for the state of Florida, but no other state is going to enforce it unless you go to the state where Drake is living or he happens to be in, and you ask a judge in that state to also issue a warrant,” Rahmani says. “Let’s say he lives in California, and prosecutors go ask a California judge to issue an arrest warrant because he hasn’t appeared in a Florida case. One, that’s going to take a long time, and the case is ongoing. By the time you actually get that done and he’s arrested, it’s going to be too late. The second question: is California going to extradite?” Rahmani says that the extradition process would include Governors of both states and is so onerous that “it doesn’t happen” often, especially for a witness who isn’t actually charged with anything.
Graham has never commented publicly about Onfroy or his death, though some fans have speculated that he’s thrown subliminal shots in his lyrics. Lines from his song “Nonstop” were specifically called into question, though the track was released a month before Onfroy’s death. “SMS, triple X / That’s the only time I ever shoot below the neck / Why you keep on shootin’ if you know that nigga dead? / That’s the only kind of shit that gets you some respect.”
Graham became a figure of Onfroy’s ire after he believed the Toronto artist stole his “Look At Me” flow on “KMT,” and called him a “bitch” for the perceived theft in a March 2017 interview with Miami 103.7. He later tweeted a suggestive remark about Graham’s mother. In February of 2018, the preemptive warning was posted to Onfroy’s Instagram story. However, he later said he was hacked, apologized, and declared he had no desire to “create any more enemies.” After Onfroy’s death, his good friend Ski Mask The Slump God posted a picture of himself with Drake and captioned it, “[Drake] actually liked Jahseh music a lot.” Still, the men weren’t able to publicly squash the controversy before Onfroy’s death.
Sadow says that if Graham actually testifies, he should do so honestly and not plead the fifth. “His position [should be that] ‘clearly this whole thing is nonsense. The fact that I have referenced something in a rap song or any kind of song has no meaning whatsoever to the reality of how this killing took place.’” Rahmani adds that Padilla referencing Graham’s lyrics in court documents continues a trend of rap lyrics being taken literally and used as evidence, which he says has a “chilling effect” on the genre.
“If you’re going to include some lyrics in your song and in the back of your mind, you or your lawyer is saying, ‘Hey man, this may be used against you. Be careful what you say.’ I mean, it’s a problem,” Rahmani says, “It’s art. It’s nothing to do with [actual crimes]. And it’s used sometimes [for] crimes that happen years later that have nothing to do with the lyrics. So that’s why the laws need to change, and state legislatures need to change the rules and say, ‘Hey, you can’t do this.’”