TAMPA — Billy Bennett Adams III is a semi-professional rapper who makes rhymes and music videos under the moniker Ace NH. He’s popular on Instagram, where his musical persona and videos have drawn more than 30,000 followers.
Late one night two years ago, Adams shot and killed two men after a session at a Lutz recording studio.
His defense attorneys don’t deny this. But they say there was a reason Adams killed Trevon Albury and Daniel Thompson.
As his trial opened this week in a Tampa courtroom, a jury was told they’d have to decide: Was it self-defense, or was it murder?
In opening statements Tuesday, lawyers walked the jury through differing accounts of what happened the night of Nov. 19, 2020, inside Meeks Beatz Studios.
The audio recording business operates out of a 10-by-10-foot shed behind a home along N 23rd Avenue, north of Bearss Avenue. Joseph Meeks is the business’s proprietor. The shed, which sits behind his parents’ home, includes a recording booth, another room with computers and sound equipment, and a small storage area.
For a fee, Meeks lets artists come in to record their music. He’d worked with Adams before. The rapper arrived late that night with Albury and Thompson. Meeks had never met them. They lingered behind him in the recording room while Adams performed in the booth.
During the session, another man, Jimeile Lanier, who performs as “Juh-million,” arrived to record as a “featured artist” with Adams. When they were done, Lanier left. But about that time, he got a text message from Adams.
“Pull off fast,” it stated. “I’ve got some business to handle.”
As Meeks sat at a computer, preparing and emailing an audio file to Adams, the other men lingered behind him.
Then came two gunshots. Meeks jolted. When he turned around, he saw one of the men lying on the floor, and another slumped in a chair, according to court records and testimony. Adams stood holding a handgun, Meeks would later say.
“They were gonna rob,” Adams uttered.
Meeks ran outside. He heard a third gunshot before Adams took off, Meeks said later. He got in his car and called 911.
Assistant Public Defender Carolyn Schlemmer told the jury that moments before the gunshots, Adams saw Albury pointing a gun at Meeks’ head. He shot him, she said, to protect Meeks. Thompson then tried to grab Adams before he was shot, too, she said.
“Mr. Adams was not only defending Mr. Meeks from an imminent threat,” she said. “He was defending himself.”
Adams will testify in the trial, Schlemmer said. He will explain how he became aware the pair intended to rob Meeks. He sent Meeks a text message minutes before, trying to warn him, she said.
But Meeks, who was among the first to take the witness stand, said the pair did nothing threatening that night.
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Donning a white dress shirt, his shoulders slumped, Meeks wept at times as he recounted what happened, and listened to his own voice on a recorded 911 call.
“We were listening to beats,” he said in the call. “And then one guy pulled out a gun and shot two people and said that they were trying to rob me, or him, or I don’t know what ... happened. But two people are shot in my shed.”
He identified the shooter as “Ace NH.”
He mentioned that one of the men looked like he might have been reaching for a gun.
Investigators did find a .380 handgun in a wallet-style case near Albury’s body, prosecutor Melissa Grajales told the jury.
Before the shooting, Meeks said, Albury and Thompson had asked repeatedly if they could stay there longer, but he told them he already had someone else booked for another session.
“I’m basically telling them they gotta go,” he said in the recording. “And they’re getting rude.”
There is much about Adams, and the circumstances surrounding the case, that jurors likely won’t hear.
They won’t hear anything about how sheriff’s deputies tried, but failed, to convince two judges that Adams was a gang member.
They may hear a little about Adams’ background. He graduated not long after the shooting with a bachelor’s degree in management from the University of South Florida, worked a part-time job in a Wesley Chapel shoe store and planned to join the military after college. He lives with his parents in an upscale gated community north of Tampa and takes care of his father, a disabled veteran.
They won’t hear that Adams has been free on $500,000 bail since his arrest, with conditions that mandate that he remains at home with an electronic monitor most of the time. He’s continued to record songs there, posting them online and teasing a forthcoming release.
The trial continues Wednesday.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Jimeile Lanier’s last name.