TAMPA — Sworn to tell the truth, Billy Bennett Adams III trooped to a witness stand Thursday in a Tampa courtroom and calmly explained why he shot and killed Trevon Albury and Daniel Thompson.
Adams, a semi-professional hip-hop artist who performs as Ace NH, described a late-night session in a small Lutz recording studio that turned tense when he overheard Albury and Thompson talk about robbing the studio’s owner, Joseph Meeks.
He said he saw Albury pull a gun and point it at Meeks, who sat unaware of the danger.
“I pulled out my gun and I shot Mr. Albury,” Adams said, “in fear for Mr. Meeks being shot or myself being shot.”
Thompson then reached for Adams’ gun, he said. Adams shot him twice in the face.
“I was in fear that he would have shot me or Mr. Meeks,” Adams said. “So I shot Mr. Thompson, back-to-back.”
Adams’ testimony, coming on the fourth day of his murder trial, will likely be crucial as a jury decides whether he is guilty of murder or killed in self-defense. Closing arguments are expected Friday.
Jurors gazed at Adams pensively as he sat on the witness stand, bespectacled, his long hair tied back, donning a gray suit jacket.
Adams explained that he’d made plans the evening of Nov. 19, 2020, with a friend and fellow rapper, Jimeile Lanier, who performs under the name Juh’Million, to record a song. They had trouble booking a session but eventually made a 10 p.m. appointment at Meeks Beatz Studios.
He knew, Meeks, the proprietor, having previously recorded songs in his establishment, which operated out of a small shed behind Meeks’ parents’ home along N 23rd Street.
Lanier later met Adams there. Albury and Thompson showed up, too.
Adams said he didn’t know Albury. He’d met Thompson, but hadn’t known him very long. He knew that Thompson had been arrested about a month earlier on charges that included robbery with a firearm.
Albury and Thompson lingered in the mixing room — where Meeks sat at a computer — while Adams stepped into a booth to perform his part of the song. When he was done, he came out, and Lanier went into the booth to do his part.
Over the music, Adams said he could hear Albury and Thompson talking. He heard them discuss robbing the studio.
They started asking Meeks if they could stay after Adams finished his session. Meeks told them they couldn’t stay because he had another artist booked for another session.
“Something was off about the way they were acting,” Adams said. They kept glancing at each other. He believed they were intoxicated. Their behavior scared him, he said.
As Meeks worked at the computer, Albury stood directly behind him, Adams said. Thompson sat in a nearby chair.
“They were very insistent about staying at the studio,” he said.
Adams sent Meeks a message on Instagram, trying to alert him, he said, but Meeks didn’t see it.
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He sent Lanier a text message, too. He told him to leave quickly once he was done recording.
“Pull off fast,” he wrote. “I’ve got some business to handle.”
Lanier finished and left.
Standing in the doorway to the booth, Adams said, he saw the pair glance at each other before Thompson stood up. Adams moved forward, he said, stepping between them. He saw Albury pull a gun and point it at the back of Meeks’ head, he said.
Meeks remained at the computer, unaware of the danger, Adams said.
Adams, who had a concealed weapons permit, pulled his own gun and fired.
Albury dropped the gun and fell to the floor. He was later found to have a single gunshot wound to the back of his head.
An instant later, Adams said, Thompson reached toward him.
“He was trying to take my gun,” he said.
He shot Thompson twice.
Adams said he tried to explain to Meeks that they were about to rob him. Meeks, terrified, ran out of the studio.
Adams, too, stepped out of the studio, got in his car, and drove off.
“I didn’t feel safe there,” Adams said. “I was panicking.”
He headed first to his family’s New Tampa home, but passed without stopping, then headed south on Interstate 75 to his cousin’s home in Apollo Beach.
In cross-examination, Assistant State Attorney Melissa Grajales peppered Adams for specifics about the shooting. Where was he standing? How was Albury positioned? Was the gun still in the holster? Did Thompson actually touch him?
To many of her inquiries, Adams said simply he couldn’t remember.
“It happened very fast,” he said.