Trial starts for NC rapper charged with killing Durham 9-year-old to advance in gang

·11 min read

After a scuffle at a Durham mall, and a related shaming on social media, Antonio “Lil Tony” Davenport Jr. and fellow gang members hunted for their rivals, according to federal prosecutors.

The three members of the Eight Trey Gangster Crips, a violent Durham street gang, were in Davenport’s maroon Honda Accord looking for rival gang members staying at the Oaks at Northgate Park, a sprawling apartment complex between Broad and North Duke streets in northern Durham, court documents state.

But when they opened fire on a Ford Explorer they thought belonged to their targets, they instead hit an SUV full of kids on their way to get snow cones that hot, August night in 2019. An 8-year-old was injured. Nine-year-old Z’Yon Person was fatally shot.

The criminal trial for Davenport, 27, a rapper and former member of group 83 Babies, started Monday in the federal courthouse in Greensboro. He faces federal murder, gun and racketeering charges that could result in two life sentences, plus another 10 years or more.

In March, Davenport’s two co-defendants pleaded guilty to similar charges under deals with prosecutors. As part of the pleas, prosecutors submitted court documents that outlined their crimes and the evidence against them and Davenport.

The court documents include rare details about a deadly Durham gang that allegedly trafficked drugs, intimidated witnesses, stole from a bank, and mistakenly killed Z’Yon in a years-long dispute with a rival organization.

The co-defendants are named on the list of witnesses for the prosecution. Davenport also plans to testify, his attorney said.

Attorney David Robinson, on left, and his client Antonio Nathaniel Davenport Jr. appear in Durham County court on Monday, Oct. 22, 2019 on domestic violence charges. Davenport is charged with killing Z’Yon Person in a drive-by shooting on August 18, 2019.
Attorney David Robinson, on left, and his client Antonio Nathaniel Davenport Jr. appear in Durham County court on Monday, Oct. 22, 2019 on domestic violence charges. Davenport is charged with killing Z’Yon Person in a drive-by shooting on August 18, 2019.

Davenport denies gang dispute

In a 2021 interview at the Durham County jail, Davenport denied being involved in Z’Yon’s killing and dismissed the gang-dispute scenario that prosecutors have put forward.

“The whole thing is false,” Davenport said.

Davenport also said that scenario, which was also advanced by Durham prosecutors, is built on information that confidential informants made up to get out of trouble. He said he was in the area but was not involved in Z’Yon’s shooting.

In opening statements Monday, one of Davenport’s attorneys, Alec Carpenter, argued his client wasn’t a member of the Eight Trey Gangster Crips, which were based in the Braggtown area of northern Durham, but another Crips set.

Carpenter told the jury that Davenport was driving the night that Z’Yon was killed but didn’t know that the others in the vehicle planned to shoot at the SUV.

Documents filed by Davenport’s attorneys include a report by an expert who interviewed Davenport three times. Davenport told the expert that he joined the Eight Trey Gangster Hoover Crips while in jail in 2016. Once released, Davenport concentrated of rapping with three others, which became 83 Babies. The Eight Trey Gangster Braggtown Crips approached Davenport, offering him a gang membership as an “affiliate,” since he didn’t live in Braggtown, Davenport said, according to the report.

Davenport didn’t have to participate in gang activity but was exploited for 83 Babies’ popularity and his money, the documents state.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric L. Iverson, however, told the jury that all three of the people in the car were armed and that Davenport drove with one hand while shooting a 9 mm gun with the other. Davenport’s bullets didn’t appear to kill Z’Yon, Iverson said.

Evidence in the case includes GPS data from an ankle monitor that Davenport was wearing at the time of the killing, prosecutors say.

They also have surveillance footage from a school near the shooting, a convenience store and gun shop that Davenport visited, along with location data from his co-defendants’ cell phones, according to court documents.

The evidence also includes social media conversations with other members of the gang.

Antonio Davenport, who now faces federal racketeering and related charges for the killing of Z’Yon Person, spoke with a News & Observer reporter via video at the Durham County jail on Jan. 6, 2021.
Antonio Davenport, who now faces federal racketeering and related charges for the killing of Z’Yon Person, spoke with a News & Observer reporter via video at the Durham County jail on Jan. 6, 2021.

A car full of kids

On Aug. 18, 2019, the night of Z’Yon’s killing, Davenport and his co-defendants Derrick Dixon and Dival Magwood spotted an SUV believed to be occupied by the rival gang members they were looking for, court documents state.

The men in car drover around the SUV and opened fire, the prosecutors’ documents state.

At 8:38 p.m. a woman called 911 to report a shooting. She was taking her children and her niece and nephew to get snow cones when another car opened fire on her, she said.

“I’m getting ready to turn and ... I hear gunshots,” Danyell Ragland told ABC11, “but I didn’t know they were shooting at me.”

There were five kids in the car. Two in the backseat were hit.

Ragland’s 8-year-old son was shot in the arm. After a bullet hit her nephew Z’Yon in the forehead, he fell into his 11-year-old sister’s lap. He was pronounced dead at the hospital, according to previous interviews with the family.

Davenport, Magwood and Dixon were charged with murder and other crimes by Durham officials in the months that followed, as the community mourned and demanded answers and arrests.

In February 2021, the case was upgraded to the federal court system. The murder charges were tied to racketeering and gang activities.

What do prosecutors say happened?

In March, Magwood and Dixon pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in acts of racketeering and commission of a violent crime in aid of racketeering. Their sentencing hearings are set for late summer.

Their plea documents include a history of the Eight Trey Gangster Crips, their penchant for the color royal blue and their “beat in” rituals, in which new members are assaulted for 83 seconds. They don’t mention Davenport by name, but refer to him as co-conspirator one.

The purpose of the gang was to make members money through selling drugs, burglaries, robberies, and bank fraud, the court documents contend.

The gang used social media to communicate in private groups about robberies and shootings. They also used social media to track and find rivals through live posts.

When Z’Yon was killed, the filings state, the Eight Trey Gangster Crips’ chief rival was a neighborhood-based gang known as O-Block.

O-Block formed after Kyle Maurice Fisher, who was known as O, was killed in August 2017. O-Block blamed the Eight Trey Gangster Crips.

Since then, O’Block has joined with other gangs, United Blood Nation sets that include Southside, Brentwood and Nine Trey Gangsters. Another group called 8 AM, composed of former Eight Trey Gangster Crips members who were kicked out of the gang, is also a rival, according to the filings.

Z’yon Person
Z’yon Person

‘A helpful little man’

Z’yon, a rising fourth-grader at Penny Road Elementary School in Cary, was “a helpful little man,” his grandmother Sandra Person told The News & Observer in 2019.

“Grandma, you do the dishes and I’ll take the trash out,” he would say, she said. “He’s just that kind of kid. All the teachers love him because he is so lovable.”

Z’yon was typically a running back on the Capital City Steelers Mitey Mite Gold youth football team, but he learned the day before he was shot that he would play quarterback in an upcoming game.

“He was so excited, ” his grandmother said, adding that he probably did this dance he used to always do when he got excited, like the Dab plus some shoulder dancing.

“Oh my God,” she cried, as she remembered. “My baby.”

Z’yon Person’s mother, center, is embraced by friends and family members that attended the Sunday night vigil to remember and honor her 9-year-old son who was shot in a drive-by shooting.
Z’yon Person’s mother, center, is embraced by friends and family members that attended the Sunday night vigil to remember and honor her 9-year-old son who was shot in a drive-by shooting.

3 days before the killing, Southpoint mall assault

Three days before Z’Yon was killed, O’Block members assaulted Davenport at The Streets at Southpoint mall in southern Durham and shared a video on social media to shame him and the Eight Trey Gangster Crips by extension, the filing states.

A Facebook post with the video described it as “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 [expletive]” and “take his chains.”

The people who attacked him at the mall weren’t members of the O’Block gang, Davenport told The News & Observer. He said he didn’t know who they were.

In the days that followed, Davenport and other members of the gang shared in private social media group conversations potential locations of the men and encouraged each other to act if they saw them, according to the filing.

“All this yatter and ain’t nobody made the news yet,” Dixon wrote on social media about four hours before Z-Yon was killed.

A memorial for Z’yon Person, a 9-year-old who was shot in a drive-by shooting, sits at the intersection of Leon and Duke streets in Durham in 2019.
A memorial for Z’yon Person, a 9-year-old who was shot in a drive-by shooting, sits at the intersection of Leon and Duke streets in Durham in 2019.

1 day before the killing, ammunition obtained

After the mall incident, Davenport messaged one of the rival gang members, according to the filing.

“All I got is a scratch but you know how I do … Watch how [expletive] start dropping,” he wrote to one of the O’Block members on Aug. 17, 2019, the filing states.

That same day Davenport sent Magwood a message on social media asking if he needed ammunition.

Davenport then traveled to a Mebane gun store with his baby and girlfriend, who purchased 9 mm and .40-caliber ammunition and was captured on surveillance video, according to statements in Durham County court.

Hours before the killing

Davenport’s ankle monitor showed he went to Magwood’s home for about 20 minutes on the day Z’yon was killed, and then headed to Dixon’s home around 4:44 p.m. He left Dixon’s at 8:08 p.m.

Davenport was at the intersection where Z’Yon was killed at 8:38 p.m., the exact time that Z’Yon’s aunt called 911, the filing states.

Security footage from a nearby middle school shows Davenport’s burgundy car driving by seven minutes before the shooting and again seconds just before.

After the shooting, the data shows Davenport traveled to Magwood’s house, then made two trips to a nearby Circle K, the filing states. The data then shows a stop at Dixon’s home and Davenport heading home.

Dixon’s and Magwood’s cell phone records are consistent with Davenport’s GPS data, the filing states.

Police found a gun in Davenport’s girlfriend’s car that an expert said likely left the shell casings at the scene.

Antonio “Lil Tony” Davenport, a member of 83 Babies, and is facing murder and other charges related to the Aug. 18, 2019 fatal shooting of Z’Yon Person in Durham.
Antonio “Lil Tony” Davenport, a member of 83 Babies, and is facing murder and other charges related to the Aug. 18, 2019 fatal shooting of Z’Yon Person in Durham.

83 Babies

In the months before Z’Yon’s shooting, Davenport and his rap group 83 Babies appeared to be living like stars.

83 Babies performs drill music, a sub-genre of rap that grew out of Chicago and often has harsh lyrics related to street violence.

The group started posting its music and videos online and was noticed by established artists, longtime Durham rapper Joe Murdock, also known as Jozeemo, told The News & Observer in 2019.

“Their age. Their demographic. The young folks, they just gravitated towards it,” he said.

83 Babies signed a deal in 2019 with Rich Forever Records, a division of Atlantic Records, according to court records.

They were performing in New York, Florida, California and other places, posting photos on social media with girls, money and fancy cars.

Davenport was living a life he didn’t know was possible, he said during an interview.

”I had wanted to be a rapper since I was 9 years old,” he said.

But reality sunk in after Davenport was arrested on domestic violence charges. And then he was charged with Z’Yon’s murder.

In April 2020, the group, which has nearly 100,000 followers on Instagram, announced on its Facebook page that Davenport was no longer a member.

“It was a dream come true, and in a blink of an eye it just got snatched away from me,” Davenport said.

The charges

Davenport faces three criminal charges:

Murder in aid of racketeering.

Prosecutors must prove the Eight Trey Gangster Crips existed, that the gang engaged in interstate or foreign commerce and that it was involved in racketeering activity.

They also have to prove Davenport had a position in the gang and that he committed a murder for the purpose of maintaining or increasing that position.

Possession of a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime. Prosecutors have to prove that Davenport used or carried a firearm in relation to a violent crime.

Davenport used or carried a firearm, committed a violent crime in aid of racketeering and caused the death of Z’Yon.

Two of the charges carry a maximum sentence of life and the third is 10 years to life, depending on previous convictions.

Testimony is set to resume at 9:30 a.m.

The Durham Report

Calling Bull City readers! We've launched The Durham Report, a free weekly digest of some of the top stories for and about Durham published in The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. Get your newsletter delivered straight to your inbox every Thursday at 11 a.m. featuring links to stories by our local journalists. Sign up for our newsletter here. For even more Durham-focused news and conversation, join our Facebook group "The Story of my Street."