One day into rapper YNW Melly’s double murder trial in Broward County, Florida, and all indications point to a contentious, knock-down, drag-out courtroom battle between the defense and the state.
Melly, whose given name is Jamell Demons, is a 24-year-old member and co-founder of the YNW Collective. He stands accused of two counts of murder for the 2018 shooting and killing of his friends, and fellow collective members, Chris Thomas, 20, who was known as YNW Juvy, and Anthony Williams, 21, who was known as YNW Sakchaser.
A stunning claim from the prosecution
Prosecutor Kristine Bradley claimed the defendant himself actually bragged about and admitted to the deadly shootings in a direct message on Instagram. In the immediate aftermath of the violence, people were checking to make sure Melly wasn’t also hurt, she said.
One direct message allegedly received by Melly asked: “Yo, homie. You good? Let me know something.”
The state claims the rapper “succinctly” replied: “I did that. Shh.”
The defense slams law enforcement
Defense attorney David A. Howard sought to cast the state’s investigatory efforts as haphazard and their case as full of holes.
“Prosecutors are given great power, endless resources to perform their mission of pursuing justice, but that’s not what occurred here,” Howard said. “What they will bring you is a case that is riddled with reasonable doubt, that is founded on an incompetent and incomplete investigation and exercised poor judgment at every turn. The state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt the allegations they have made, and there’s a reason for that.”
Howard said the co-defendant in the case, Cortlen Henry, known as YNW Bortlen, repeatedly lied about the shooting to police and had gunshot residue on his hands – whereas his client had been honest.
“There’s a difference between cases that are investigated and cases that are fabricated. When a case is investigated, the state uses all its resources – its investigators, its experts, and all its energy – to identify leads and run them to ground. When a case is fabricated, first a target is chosen and then the state uses all its resources – its investigators, its experts, and its energy – to run that target into the ground. That’s what occurred here.”
Pieces of evidence and the defendant’s eyes
Prosecutors went through a substantial amount of evidence in the case on Monday.
Jurors were shown footage of Melly, his co-defendant Bortlen, and the two men they allegedly murdered leaving the recording studio in Fort Lauderdale before the deadly shooting. The jury was also shown footage of Bortlen arriving at Memorial Hospital Miramar on Oct. 26, 2018, after what he claimed was a drive-by shooting.
“The drive-by is completely and utterly false,” Bradley said at one point.
A crime scene investigator also painstakingly walked the court through several exhibits – including images of bullet casings and the blood-soaked clothes taken from the victims when they were killed.
Melly, who often appeared to look away from gory images of his deceased friends, repeatedly made eye contact with jurors on Monday.
A mocking accusation from the defense
Howard also reminded jurors that Bradley repeatedly mentioned the state did not have to prove Melly’s alleged motive in committing the crime – but argued that’s because law enforcement knows their theory doesn’t make any sense.
“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.”
The state offers an alternative theory
Prosecutors intend to show that the killings “benefit, promote and further the interests of a criminal gang,” namely the G Shine Bloods. That allegation was added to a superseding indictment filed in 2022.
Bradley mentioned this alleged affiliation on Monday – but did not elaborate on how the murders would have helped the gang.
“This is not just in music videos,” Bradley said near the end of the state’s opening salvo – raising her hands in a don’t-blame-me-like pose.
“This is not just in lyrics,” she went on. “We’re not going to get into that because that’s artistic expression. That’s not why we’re here today. We are here because the defendant murdered two individuals.”
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