The double murder trial for rapper Jamell Demons, better known as YNW Melly, began in earnest with opening statements from both sides in Broward County, Florida, on Monday morning.
A breakout musician in recent years, the 24-year-old faces two counts of murder for the 2018 shooting deaths of his YNW collective members Chris Thomas, 20, who was known as YNW Juvy, and Anthony Williams, 21, who was known as YNW Sakchaser.
The defendant and one of his surviving friends – who is also a member of the collective – insist that the two died in a drive-by shooting; Florida law enforcement claims that they couldn’t find any evidence at the scene of the crime to support that theory of the murders.
Near the tail end of the state’s first presentation to the 12 jurors who were empaneled to determine Melly’s fate, Prosecutor Kristine Bradley claimed the defendant himself actually bragged about and admitted to the deadly shootings in a direct message on Instagram.
The state took the opportunity to try and ding the rapper’s popularity.
“In the Instagram, because the defendant had a moderate social media following at the time of these events, people are reaching out to him,” Bradley said, “People are reaching out to him. Some fans, some friends, some associates. You’ll see on October 26th, after about 8:00 a.m. in the morning, Eastern Time, multiple messages are coming in. Messages are coming in from individuals checking to see if he’s okay.”
Melly has well over 4 million Instagram followers as of this writing.
The prosecutor went on to say that people were checking to make sure Melly wasn’t also hurt in the “drive-by,” using her hands to make quotation marks in the air in order to disparage the characterization.
One message allegedly received by Melly asks: “Yo, homie. You good? Let me know something.”
Bradley then went on to discuss the concept of “context” and explained to jurors why it matters – in an attempt to argue that Melly’s alleged response to that direct message had to be read in context.
The state claims the rapper “succinctly” replied: “I did that. Shh.”
Melly has been in jail since he turned himself in on Feb. 13, 2019, announcing his decision to surrender in an Instagram post.
“[A] couple months ago I lost my two brothers by violence and now the system want to find justice,” he wrote. “[U]nfortunately a lot of rumors and lies are being said but no worries god is with me and my brother.”
As his trial began, Melly’s Instagram account encouraged people to stream the proceedings on Law&Crime – and asked for prayers.
The trial’s livestream was also shared on his Twitter account.
During opening statements, the rapper’s defense attorney strongly hit back against law enforcement’s alleged nonexistent theory for why Melly would have killed his friends all those years ago.
Defense attorney David A. Howard acknowledged the state does not have to – because the law does not require the state to – prove his client’s alleged motive in order to convict him of murder – but he invited Broward County jurors to look beyond the law and into the mind of the person on trial for the brutal deaths of two young men.
“Do you know what does require motive?” the defense asked out loud before answering. “A young man to wake up one day and decide that he’s going to kill two of his best friends – best friends that he grew up with; best friends that he hangs out with; best friends who he lives with; best friends whose careers he was trying to launch alongside his own. They have no reason for why he would do this because there is no reason. And if there’s no reason, it doesn’t make sense.”
Howard then went on to mock the alleged ineptitude of police and prosecutors by mimicking their voices in a cartoony fashion.
“And, if after four years of investigation, the state comes and says, ‘Hey, he killed two of his best friends.’ And you’re wondering why, and their answer is, ‘Uh, I dunno.’ That’s the first indication that they’re just guessing and don’t know what they’re talking about,” Howard went on. “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is, by itself, reasonable doubt.”
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