The day after 9-year-old Z’Yon Person was fatally shot last summer, his accused killer posted a clip of himself on Instagram rapping, smoking and holding what looks like a gun in front of crime-scene tape.
The clip was one of many social media posts by Antonio “Lil Tony’ Nathaniel Davenport, 24, and his rap group, 83 Babies, which has 136,000 Instagram followers.
The group’s star has been rising. In August, they signed with Atlantic Records, according to multiple media outlets. Court documents say Davenport had a deal with Rich Forever Records, a division of Atlantic Records.
On Oct. 15, Davenport was charged with murder in the Aug. 18 drive-by shooting that killed Z’Yon and injured his cousin as Z’Yon’s aunt drove them to get snow cones. He remains in the Durham County jail, where he has been since Oct. 9 on unrelated domestic violence charges.
Last week, a post on Davenport’s personal Instagram account, which has more than 32,000 followers, said he would be home soon.
“Preciate all the love. they trynna frame me fo some I didn’t do,” the post said. “#FREETONE”
Court documents tell a different story from Davenport’s social media posts of 83 Babies’ rapping, traveling and posing with cash, girls and fancy cars.
In the seven months before he was accused of killing Z’Yon, Davenport was charged with 11 crimes in three incidents of alleged domestic violence.
In 2016, he was convicted of second-degree burglary, larceny and speeding to elude arrest. He spent nearly two years in jail and prison.
From 2012 to 2018, he faced more than 25 other charges, the most serious including assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, trafficking opium, and robbery with a dangerous weapon.
All of those charges were dismissed. Prosecutors cited not having enough evidence or witnesses, according to court records.
Court documents also indicate that Davenport was on electronic monitoring — typically an ankle bracelet — at the time of Z’Yon’s shooting.
Davenport’s attorney, David Robinson, says his client deserves the presumption of innocence, especially given the dismissal of previous charges. The guns and cash in 83 Babies’ videos are fake, he added. As a convicted felon, Davenport is not allowed to have guns.
Davenport’s father and namesake, says his son didn’t kill Z’Yon and that the violent themes in his music doesn’t represent who he really is.
Rather, his son’s success has made him a target, Antonio Davenport Sr. said.
In August 2018, someone shot up his son’s car with an AK-47, injuring his son in the back of the head. A Durham Police Department report lists Davenport as the victim, but police did not respond to The News & Observer’s questions about the shooting, including whether there was an arrest.
Recently, Davenport said, his son was targeted at The Streets at Southpoint mall in an incident someone recorded and shared on a Facebook post that said “Lil Tony from 83 babies gettin trashed.”
The video shows a scuffle in a store while people in the background are heard saying “beat his a--” and “take his chains.” Durham police responded to the mall that day for a report of a fight, but no report was completed after all the parties had left, said City Manager Tom Bonfield.
‘The most dangerous’
In court, Assistant District Attorney Kendra Montgomery-Blinn called Antonio Davenport Jr. “the most dangerous type of person.”
At the time of Zyon’s shooting, she noted, he was out on pre-trial release for multiple charges, including 2017 drug charges and 2019 domestic violence charges in Durham and Wake counties.
The News & Observer contacted the woman involved in the 2019 incidents, but she declined to comment.
Court documents show that while Davenport has faced charges in three domestic violence incidents in 2019, prosecutors didn’t move forward with two felony charges and a misdemeanor charge against him until after Z’Yon was killed.
It wasn’t until Oct. 7, more than a month after the Aug. 18 shooting, that a grand jury indicted Davenport on existing April 19 charges, including possession of a firearm by a felon. Indictments move felony cases to Superior Court, where they are resolved. Sometimes an indictment results in new charges.
The grand jury also indicted Davenport on an existing June 28 charge of communicating threats; and added second-degree kidnapping, misdemeanor child abuse and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The child abuse charge alleges Davenport drove with his child on his lap, according to court documents.
Davenport was arrested on the June charges Oct. 9 and taken to Durham County jail, where he was charged with Z’Yon’s murder on Oct. 15.
After Montgomery-Blinn was assigned the case, she and a domestic violence investigator determined the additional charges were warranted, according to Sarah Willets, a spokesperson for the Durham County District Attorney’s Office.
“Cases are presented for indictment when investigators and prosecutors believe evidence has been collected to support a finding of probable cause,” Willets wrote to The News & Observer. “It is not unusual for there to be a gap between the date of offense and the date of indictment as cases are referred to the DA’s Office, assigned to prosecutors, and reviewed.”
Z’Yon’s grandmother, Sandra Person, says she is concerned that Davenport seems to have slipped through the court system’s cracks.
“Letting stuff just fly, just go on by, like you are flipping a page in a book,” she said. “You have to look back at everything to see if something is repeating itself,” she said. “If it fits a pattern.”
83 Babies started out like many in the Durham underground music scene, putting its music and videos online, and were noticed by established artists, said longtime Durham rapper Joe Murdock, also known as Jozeemo.
“Their age. Their demographic. The young folks, they just gravitated towards it,” he said.
83 Babies performs drill music, a sub-genre of rap that grew out of Chicago and often has harsh lyrics related to street violence.
When 83 Babies came out with the song “No Cap,” the song blew up, Murdock said. Kevin Gates, an established Louisiana rapper, took notice and recorded a remix.
Georgia Rapper Rich the Kid signed them to his label Rich Forever Music, but he wasn’t the only label interested, according to Vibe, a music and entertainment publication founded by producer Quincy Jones.
“We learned that they were in a tug-of-war state as various labels were vying for their talent,” the Vibe article states. “Judging from the Rich announcement of 83 Babies being signed to Rich Forever Music this past March, the fellas made their choice.”
‘A hole in my heart’
Z’Yon was making his own progress.
The rising fourth-grader at Penny Road Elementary School in Cary was a hugger, a helper and a standout on his youth football team.
He was typically a running back on the Capital City Steelers Mitey Mite Gold youth football team, but the day before he was shot, he learned he would play quarterback in a game.
“He was so excited,” his grandmother told The News & Observer.
On Saturday, Oct. 19, Z’Yon would have turned 10. That morning, Z’Yon’s football team dedicated their game to Z’Yon, and held a birthday party on the field for him after they won the game, Person said.
When Person woke up on Sunday morning, she was still filled with joy from the celebrations but also reminded of a tragedy she said still doesn’t seem real.
“I still have this hole in my heart because he is not here,” she said.
Timeline of charges
Apri 19, 2019: Police receive a report accusing Antonio “Lil Tony’ Nathaniel Davenport Jr. of beating two women.
May 21: Davenport is charged with breaking and entering to terrorize and possession of a firearm by a felon, felonies, and two counts of assault on a female and communicating threats, misdemeanors. He is released from jail the same day on $10,000 bail and no-pretrial conditions.
June 17: Davenport is charged with assault on a female and interfering with emergency communications after a domestic dispute in Raleigh involving one of the same women.
June 28: Davenport is charged with misdemeanor communicating threats after another domestic violence report in Durham.
Aug. 7: Davenport is arrested on the following charges: two misdemeanor domestic violence charges from the June 28 incident, a failure to appear in Durham County court charge, and the communicating threat charge from the June 28 incident.
Aug. 9: While Davenport was in jail, HipHopDX published a Q&A with 83 Babies announcing the trio’s deal with Atlantic Records, “co-signed” by Rich the Kid, the article states.
“It feels surreal … it ain’t even hit me all the way,” Davenport said in the interview, which unfolded on “a plush couch” by a window overlooking Times Square in New York City, the article said.
83 Babies social media timelines in August show the trio getting diamond encrusted watches and chains “complimentary from Rich Forever Music,” and Davenport standing in front of a home under a post that says “first investment.”
Aug. 10: Davenport leaves the Wake County jail on $20,000 bail and a court order of electronic monitoring, which he appeared to still be on when Z’Yon Person was killed.
Aug. 18: Z’Yon is killed in a shooting that also injures his 8-year-old cousin.
Sept. 10: A Wake County judge grants Davenport’s request to travel to New York and California but he must return on Sept. 23. (On Sept. 30, a judge will allow him to travel again to New York, and return Oct. 4. He will also be allowed to travel Oct. 8 but must return to North Carolina by Oct. 11.)
Oct. 7: More than a month after Z’Yon was killed, a grand jury indicts Davenport on the April 19 domestic violence charges.
The grand jury also indicts Davenport on the June 28 communicating threat charge and adds second-degree kidnapping, misdemeanor child abuse and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The child abuse charge alleges Davenport drove with his child on his lap, according to court documents.
Oct. 9: Davenport is arrested on the recently indicted charges and will remain at the jail until he is charged with Z’Yon’s murder, and other crimes Oct. 15.
Oct. 21: Davenport is indicted on those charges, which include first-degree murder, felony conspiracy to commit murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious bodily injury, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, five counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of discharging a weapon into an occupied property causing serious injury and three counts of discharging a weapon into an occupied vehicle/residence.
Davenport is currently being held in Durham County jail and isn’t eligible for bail.
The maximum penalty he faces if convicted of those charges is life in prison without the possibility of parole. The arrest warrants indicate that police believe one or more other people were involved in the incident.
Staff writer Ashad Hajela contributed to this story.