MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee man pleaded guilty Friday to helping two other men charged with fatally shooting rapper Young Dolph in a daytime ambush at a Memphis bakery.
Jermarcus Johnson, 26, pleaded guilty to three counts of accessory after the fact. Judge Lee Coffee approved a plea deal with prosecutors, allowing him to avoid trial. He could testify at a future trial in the November 2021 killing of Young Dolph, whose real name was Adolph Thornton Jr.
Johnson is the first of four defendants to plead guilty or be convicted in the Young Dolph shooting, which rattled Memphis and shook the entertainment world. The 36-year-old rapper, label owner and producer was buying cookies near his boyhood home in Memphis when he was gunned down by two men who drove up to the bakery in a stolen Mercedes Benz, authorities said.
Johnson acknowledged helping the two shooting suspects communicate by cellphone after the killing while they were on the run from authorities and helping one of them communicate with his probation officer after the killing.
During questioning by prosecutor Paul Hagerman, Johnson acknowledged taking possession of a car from shooting suspect Justin Johnson, his half-brother. The car was not the one tied to the killing, Hagerman said. Jermarcus Johnson also identified a photo in which Justin Johnson was wearing the same clothing as one of the two shooters accused of gunning down Young Dolph the day the rapper was killed.
Hagerman said Jermarcus Johnson had no role in the actual killing of Young Dolph, but he was one of “multiple players” doing different things in connection with it.
Need help keeping up with your true crime obsession? Sign up for COURT TV’s free newsletter for the latest crime stories, ongoing trial coverage, weirdest crimes and unsolved casefiles sent straight to your inbox.
Hagerman said after the hearing that dealing with a case with several defendants is “a little bit like chess.”
“You’ve got to set up your pieces,” he said.
Jermarcus Johnson was initially charged with the more serious offense of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, an indictment said. Jermarcus Johnson helped Justin Johnson communicate with the other suspect, Cornelius Smith, the indictment said.
Jermarcus Johnson’s lawyer, Josh Corman, told reporters his client was an unwilling participant who was dragged into the aftermath of the killing.
“Sometimes it’s one of those lessons of, you have to be careful who you know and who you associate with,” Corman said. “In this case, it was a half-brother of his who showed up to his apartment one day and had a phone and a car.”
Justin Johnson and Smith have pleaded not guilty to charges including first-degree murder. The fourth man accused in the indictment, Hernandez Govan, also has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. Govan is accused of arranging the killing.
A motive for the killing has not been disclosed.
Young Dolph was known in Memphis for his charitable works and his success as an independent musical artist and businessman. When he was killed, Young Dolph was in the city to visit a sick relative and hand out Thanksgiving turkeys at a church.
After his death, Memphis named a street after him and the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA honored him during a game. Murals of the rapper have been painted around the city and a pop-up museum featuring him was opened earlier this year.
The bakery, Makeda’s Homemade Cookies, became an impromptu memorial site for the slain rapper. It was closed for months after the shooting, but has since reopened.
Justin Johnson and Smith are being held in jail. Govan was given a $90,000 bond based on safety and health issues and he is on house arrest.
Johnson faces six to 12 years in prison at sentencing at a later date.
Associated Press writer Rebecca Reynolds in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.