By EMANUELLA GRINBERG
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Court TV) — South Florida rapper YNW Melly was a rising star in 2018 when two of his best friends were killed in what was first reported as a drive-by shooting.
Melly, whose real name is Jamell Demons, grieved the deaths of Christopher “YNW Juvy” Thomas, 19, and Anthony “YNW Sakchaser” Williams, 21, on Twitter.
“They took my brothers away from me over jealousy,” Demon, then 19, said in a heart-filled tweet after the October 26, 2018, shootings. “I know y’all watching over me.”
Now, Demons is standing trial on accusations that he killed his friends in a gang-related hit and tried to make it look like a drive-by shooting.
Broward County prosecutors are laying out the case against Demons in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom on two counts of first-degree murder. He could face the death penalty if convicted under a new state law that only requires a majority jury vote, even though the incident occurred before the new law was enacted.
An indictment charges Demons and fellow aspiring rapper Cortlen “YNW Cortlen” Henry with committing the murders with the intent to benefit a criminal gang. Assistant District Attorney Kristine Bradley told the jury in the prosecution’s opening statement that Demons was learning the oath of loyalty to the G-Shine Bloods and adopting their practice of substituting the letter “B” for “C” in messages before the shootings.
Demons’ defense accuses the state of fabricating a motive and a case around Demons to capitalize on his celebrity — “because if you become involved in prosecuting a star, you become a star,” Demons’ lawyer, David Howard, said in the defense’s opening statement.
Surveillance video shows Demons’ co-defendant, Cortlen Henry, pulling up to Memorial Miramar Hospital around 4:35 a.m. on October 26, 2018, with the victims’ bodies inside his bullet-ridden Jeep. Miramar Police Officer Jessica Amengor, who was on security detail at the hospital that morning, recalled telling Henry how “lucky” he was to have escaped unharmed as he described ducking for cover in the driver’s seat from a hail of gunfire from a mystery vehicle.
Miramar Police investigators quickly discovered that there was no evidence of a shooting in any of the locations Henry gave. Cell phone evidence led investigators to another location on the edge of the Everglades where they found spent shell casings and broken glass – evidence of a drive-by, Bradley said. Investigators also traced a FaceTime call Demons allegedly made to his girlfriend to the area, saying he and his friends were the victims of a drive-by shooting.
Meanwhile, investigators had also tracked the victims and Henry to the Fort Lauderdale music studio where security cameras caught them getting into Henry’s Jeep the morning of the shooting with Demons. “That is the first time detectives learned that there were actually four people in that gray Jeep and that the defendant, Jamell Demons, is in the rear driver’s side seat,” according to prosecutor Bradley.
The victims’ injuries suggested that they were shot inside the car from the rear driver’s side seat where Demons was seen on camera entering the car, Bradley said.
“The other interesting thing the medical examiner’s office will tell you is when the drive-by was staged at 4:02 a.m., the victims were already dead,” Bradley said. “The medical examiner will tell you that the fatal shots to Anthony Williams’ head enter in the back of his head and exit through the top, blowing out the front passenger window.”
But Demons’ defense said had no reason to kill people he cared for, “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,” Demons’ lawyer said in the defense opening.
“What they will bring you is a case that is riddled with reasonable doubt, that is founded on an incompetent incomplete investigation at every turn.”