Prosecutors have dropped an attempted murder charge against Tampa Bay-based rapper Antonio Nelson, who goes by the stage name T9ine, after the reliability of evidence that investigators used in the case was called into question.
The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office dropped a first-degree attempted murder charge as well as a felony robbery charge during a court hearing Wednesday. Nelson, 21, pleaded guilty to a separate charge of dealing in stolen property.
Nelson, who signed with Columbia Records in 2020, said “I love you, Ma,” across the courtroom to his mother, Pavielle Moore, before he was taken into custody.
The case centered on a robbery and shooting at a Mobil gas station in East Tampa on July 11, 2021.
Two people wearing masks and holding guns stole $8,000 in cash along with a Rolex watch and other valuables from a victim who drove to the gas station in a Mercedes while a third person waited in a black Hyundai, according to Hillsborough County court records. The suspects reportedly waited at the gas station for more than 40 minutes until the victim arrived. One of the robbers shot the victim as he was trying to escape; the victim, whose name is redacted from court records because of Marsy’s Law, survived.
Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies arrested Nelson and Kahiem Dennard, 19, weeks later in connection with the robbery and shooting.
They said Nelson was with another man, Malik Herrington, when Herrington sold the Rolex at a Tampa pawn shop the day after the shooting. And they said cellphone location data placed Nelson at the scene of the shooting.
Nelson has been under house arrest since he bailed out of jail following his July 27, 2021, arrest. On Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to dealing in stolen goods and was sentenced to nine months in county jail and 36 months of probation. (Herrington previously pleaded guilty to a charge of dealing in stolen goods.)
But Nelson and his lawyer, Gretchen Cothron of Bernhardt Riley, PLLC, contested Nelson’s involvement in the robbery and questioned the state’s cellphone data, saying Nelson was home the night of the robbery. The legal team pulled cellphone logs showing that Nelson’s mother called him at 9:50 that night. At that time, AT&T marked Nelson’s location in Brandon, where he lived.
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Court documents show that the robbery vehicle the sheriff accused Nelson of being in was at the Mobil in Tampa from 9:15 p.m. to 9:58 p.m., when the suspects fled the scene. Nelson couldn’t have been in Tampa and Brandon at the same time, the defense argued.
Cellphone location data used by law enforcement agencies is often gathered by finding which cell towers a person’s phone connects to at certain times of the day, even when it is not being used.
Studies show that several factors affect the location data, including the number of available cell sites (which can be affected by repairs and maintenance), the technical characteristics of the cell tower and the type of phone itself. The weather, topography and population of the area, along with whether the phone is being used indoors or outdoors, can also affect the quality of the information.
In this case, the sheriff’s office used a cell data capture technology called CellHawk, which has faced scrutiny in the past for problems with accuracy and lack of oversight.
Last week, Nelson signed paperwork from the state that said the attempted murder and robbery charges would be dropped, and it was made official Wednesday in court. Those charges were also dropped against Dennard, also because of the reliance on the cellphone location evidence.
The state attorney’s office declined to comment on the record.
“My whole career was put on pause for crimes not fully investigated,” Nelson said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “But last year I found some amazing lawyers that put some very hard work into my case and truly believed in me. I can’t thank them enough. I want to thank God and my mom for never leaving my side through it all.”
He thanked his fans for supporting him.
Outside of the courtroom his mother, Moore, said, “I’m just glad this is all over.”