In the absence of a murder weapon or an eyewitness to finger rapper Jamell Demons as the killer in the 2018 slaying of Anthony Williams and Christopher Thomas Jr., prosecutors hinged their case on crime scene reconstruction, forensic data, and text conversations allegedly showing tension between Demons and Williams.
For the past month, prosecutors sought to discredit codefendant Cortlen Henry's claim that the two victims were shot in a drive-by attack after leaving Demons' studio session in the early morning of October 26, 2018.
Henry, who is being tried separately, brought Williams and Thomas to the hospital that morning in the blood-soaked Jeep SUV before they were pronounced dead.
The prosecution called firearms experts, medical examiners, and a crime scene reconstruction specialist to the stand in a bid to prove the state's allegations that Demons shot his collaborators from inside the Jeep and that the drive-by shooting story was a fabrication.
Demons was seen on camera leaving the studio with the victims, though the sole witness called by the defense, Demons' friend Adrian Davis, testified that the rapper — at some point before the shooting — left the Jeep and entered another vehicle in which Davis was sitting.
Davis claimed Demons found out about the killings later that morning while they were together at Demons' home, and that they both shed tears over the death of the Williams and Thomas, whom Davis described as roommates and childhood friends.
The defense team maintains the state has presented no viable motive and no hard evidence that Demons pulled the trigger.
Throughout the trial, which commenced in mid-June, Demons' defense and Broward prosecutors have been sparring ceaselessly over evidentiary issues, with countless sidebars and the jury repeatedly being removed from the courtroom.
Early in the proceedings, the judge rejected prosecutors' attempts to show pictures of Demons with a firearm, though jurors were allowed to see a long procession of text messages that, according to prosecutors, show the rapper was joining the G-Shine branch of the Bloods gang shortly before the murders.
Broward Circuit Court Judge John Murphy has denied mistrial motions by the defense, including one recent motion alleging Demons' image was unfairly tainted before the jury when the prosecution showed a text message in which Demons appeared to insult his mother.
Angle of AttackBroward prosecutors' case is built largely on a shooting reconstruction completed by Broward Sheriff's Sgt. Christopher Williams.
During his testimony, Sgt. Williams claimed the trajectory he plotted from the gunshots show that the bullets that killed Williams and Thomas did not come from outside the Jeep.
"The blood evidence shows that it happened from inside the car. The angles showed that it happened from inside the car," he testified.
Prosecutor Kristine Bradley argued that the shooting reconstruction confirms that Demons fired the bullets as he sat in the backseat on the driver's side of the vehicle. Sgt. Williams testified that Thomas' injury to his left cheek had "tattooing," a wound pattern indicative of a shot from close range from inside the vehicle.
The blood spatter from Williams in the front seat, according to Sgt. Williams, was consistent with that of someone who was shot from close range from the back of his head, with the projectile exiting through the front and causing blood to splatter on the headliner or ceiling of the vehicle.
On cross-examination, the defense prodded the sergeant about why he was so sure that the bullets could not have been shot by an assailant aiming from outside the vehicle.
Defense attorney David Howard noted that during his investigation, Sgt. Williams admittedly characterized the Miramar Police Department's prior attempt at reconstructing the shooting as "the worst thing [he] had ever seen in [his] life."
On the stand, Sgt. Williams conceded, with a broad smile, that when he took over responsibilities reconstructing the shooting, he made those less-than-flattering comments and believed the Miramar police had lacked training on forensic reconstruction.
The prosecution's expert admitted to calling the Miramar Police Department's prior shooting reconstruction the "worst thing" he'd seen in his career.
Howard sought to suggest the outcome of the investigation was a foregone conclusion given that Miramar police had informed Sgt. Williams that Demons and Henry were the accused murderers when he set out to complete his modelling of the crime scene.
"The state advised me of who the defendants were," Sgt. Williams testified when questioned by Howard.
Testimony last month from Felicia Holmes, the mother of Demons' girlfriend at the time of the shooting, marked one of the tensest moments in the trial.
Though she was called to the stand by the prosecution, Holmes was visibly irritated by Bradley, claiming she was intimidated by the prosecutor and had been jailed by the state attorney's office over unsubstantiated claims that she failed to show up for proceedings.
During direct examination, Bradley rattled off prior statements Holmes made to police, some of which concerned a panicked phone conversation that Holmes overheard between her daughter and Demons shortly after the shooting.
Bradley also referred to social media messages in which she suggested Holmes was irate that Demons was not following through on pledges to take care of Holmes financially.
To no avail, defense attorney Howard moved for a mistrial on the grounds that Bradley was maneuvering to recite Holmes' past statements in defiance of a directive by Judge Murphy. The judge denied the motion, writing that he sustained objections to the line of questioning where appropriate and that the jury received a curative instruction.
In another mistrial motion on July 12, Howard argued that the prosecutor presented prejudicial text message evidence in which Demons called his mom a "bitch," which the attorney said irrevocably tainted his client's image in the jury's eyes.
"A number of mothers on that jury may be inclined to convict just because they heard irrelevant, unrelated conversations between Demons and his mother where he is calling her the b-word and all sorts of manners of disrespect," Howard argued.
The July 12 motion was denied in open court.
Minor Tiff or Deadly Dispute?
Wrapping up the prosecution's case, Bradley called Miramar's lead detective Mark Moretti to the stand and displayed dozens of alleged text messages between Williams and Demons, attempting to convince the jury that the pair had a tenuous relationship before the shooting.
While the state claimed the texts showed the pair would argue over money and clout, other messages showed them interacting as tight friends and expressing interest in moving on from their disagreements.
Demons allegedly responded by declaring in part, "Ima pay u back for everything [you] did for me... Every idea all dat. We always gone be brothers."
"But I'll never hurt u bra," Demons allegedly said.
Demons went on to say both he and Williams needed space and that he did not want to be in a house with anybody who thought he was trying to "snake 'em all da time," according to prosecutors.
Some text exchanges allegedly show Williams was frustrated with how Demons' mother was treating him.
Treveon Glass, who was at the studio with Demons, Henry, Thomas, and Williams on the night before the murders, told the court he was unaware of any disputes brewing between Demons and the two victims that evening. Glass, who expressed his frustration with having to testify, said he recalls seeing Demons the next day at rapper Fredo Bang's house, wearing a different pair of clothes.
Demons' manager, Jameson Francois (AKA 100K Track), told Law & Crime that Demons and Williams' disagreements never snowballed to the point where Demons would hurt Williams and that the two were still close friends at the time of the murder.
To close out her case, Bradley showed the jury Instagram messages from later in the day of the shooting, when an associate wrote to Demons to ask if he was doing alright.
Demons wrote back, "I did that," followed by, "Shhhh," according to Bradley's transcript.
Bradley has insisted since her opening arguments that the exchange amounted to an admission by Demons.
In an attempt to sow doubt about whether Demons was the one who wrote the message, defense attorney Stuart Adelstein presented a series of text messages in which Demons had a custom of using the slang "dat" in place of "that."
Adelstein pressed Moretti on why Miramar police did not obtain a search warrant for Fredo Bang's house, to which the detective responded that by the time they were able to ascertain his address, he had moved. Adelstein then recited a list of names of people who had ties to the victims but were not formally investigated by the Miramar Police Department.
Demons, 24, grew up on the Treasure Coast in Florida. He rose to fame with platinum-selling auto-tuned songs including "Mixed Personalities" featuring Kanye West, "Suicidal," and "Murder on My Mind."
The rapper is facing two counts of first degree murder, which could carry a death sentence if he's convicted. Under Florida's newly passed law, the state lowered the capital punishment threshold so that a jury can recommend the death penalty with a minimum 8-4 vote, instead of the unanimous vote previously required.
Demons briefly avoided the prospect of execution when his attorneys successfully argued in Broward court in 2022 that the state had failed to refile a death penalty notice when a new indictment was submitted years after his arrest. But a panel for the Fourth District Court of Appeal overturned the county court's decision and allowed prosecutors to seek a death sentence.