YNW Melly’s Murder Trial Begins Next Week. Here’s What to Expect. (UPDATE)

YNW Melly's murder trial begins next week. Complex has obtained transcripts of depositions and previously unseen materials via public record requests.

YNW Melly's murder trial starts next week

Image via YouTube/Lyrical Lemonade

YNW Melly's murder trial starts next week

UPDATED 4/26 12:38 PM: YNW Melly’s trial is now scheduled to begin on July 6.

UPDATED 4/4 11:43 AM: Due to unresolved legal issues, the start of YNW Melly’s trial has been delayed. No new date has been set.

See original story below.

At 9 a.m. EST on Monday, April 4, the case of the State of Florida versus Jamell Demons will begin. Demons, better known as YNW Melly, is charged with two counts of murder in the first degree. If convicted, he faces the potential of a death sentence.

Complex has obtained previously unseen evidence via public record requests, as well as transcripts of recently revealed depositions. All of this new evidence sheds light on what to expect in Melly’s upcoming trial. 

It’s been a long time since our last update, so here’s everything you need to know as the trial begins.

YNW Melly courtroom


Melly is charged with killing two of his YNW crew members, Christopher “YNW Juvy” Thomas Jr. and Anthony “YNW Sakchaser” Williams, in the early morning hours of Oct. 26, 2018. Prosecutors claim that Melly and Cortlen “YNW Bortlen” Henry drove Thomas and Williams out to a deserted area, where Melly shot and killed them. Henry, they say, then drove the bodies to a nearby hospital and falsely claimed that the crew had been the victims of a drive-by shooting. 

Henry is also charged with the killings, as well as with being an accessory after the fact. He will be tried separately. A date for that trial has not yet been set.

The first phase of Melly’s trial, known as jury selection, begins on Monday in the Broward County Courthouse. In capital cases like Melly’s, this can be a long process. In order to be on the jury for a death penalty case, jurors must be death qualified. That means the potential juror must not be opposed to the death penalty and must not believe that death should be the punishment for capital murder all the time—that is, they must be willing to at least consider prison time as an alternative. 

Finding people who meet those qualifications can be tough. The pool of death-qualified jurors is being depleted by other cases in the same jurisdiction: There is at least one other capital case in Broward County in the jury selection phase right now, and jury selection for the sentencing of Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz begins on Monday.

Despite some speculation to the contrary, Melly will not be pleading insanity, or anything similar. He is sticking with his initial not guilty plea. His defense team explicitly ruled out any use of insanity or mental health concerns as a defense in a Feb. 22 court hearing.

The state’s theory of the case, mentioned briefly above, is laid out in detail in the Complex’s Spotify podcast Infamous: The Story of YNW Melly. Here are some of the reasons they believe it:

The state has cell phone records tracing Melly’s location during the time the murders took place. There is a large amount of forensic evidence linking Melly to the crime—enough that the state plans to use experts in crime scene reconstruction, footwear impressions, and more as witnesses. They also want to drive the jury along the actual path they claim Melly and Bortlen took during the morning of the murders. 

The state has access to much of Melly’s social media. There are several Instagram messages from the day of the murders that the state may point to as incriminating. In particular, there is one Instagram exchange that took place hours after the killings, which was obtained by Complex via a public records request. In it, Melly’s account says, “I did that,” in one message, followed two minutes later by “Shhhh.” There is no definitive proof in the rest of the exchange that the DMs are referring to Juvy and Sakchaser’s murders. However, the timing and content will likely be used by the state to make the case that those messages amount to an admission by Melly of his guilt.

Not long afterwards, the recipient of those messages tells Melly, “It’s a sig 9 on the market,” (meaning, the state will likely claim, a Sig Sauer 9mm gun) and Melly’s account replies, “I want it.” The would-be seller returns with what appears to be a price (“It’s 460.”)

There is one Instagram exchange that took place hours after the killings, which was obtained by Complex via a public records request. In it, Melly’s account says, “I did that,” in one message, followed two minutes later by “Shhhh.”

As a possible motive, the lead detective on the case said in a deposition that YNW Sakchaser was set to receive around $200,000 from his record label. The police attempted to subpoena 300 Entertainment during their investigation in order to investigate this, but the detective explained that the company “refused to honor our subpoena.”

Sakchaser’s mother, Jana Thompson, expanded on the $200,000 payment in a March 2022 deposition, though she specified that she didn’t know exactly who the alleged payment was from or what it was for. She said that her son reached out to her a few days before he was killed.

“My son hysterically called me,” she said. “[H]e was very concerned about my whereabouts. He was concerned about his sisters’ whereabouts. He’s concerned, like something is going to happen to us. And he told me that he would not get his money,” she continued. “He said: ‘I’m probably not going to get my $200,000. I’m probably not even going to get my money, Ma.’”

“I said [to the case’s lead detective], I believe something happened when it came down to my son—somebody owed him some money… Because he said he wasn’t going to get it.”

She said that the surviving YNW crew members’ “response to my son’s death was not what I expected… So I’m like, they’ve got to know something, because they’re not acting right. They’re acting strange.”

Maybe—if the state can find them.

Several key witnesses gave statements to the police in the early stages of the investigation. However, once Melly was charged, they repeatedly missed scheduled depositions and have not responded to attempts from the state to reach them. 

Among these witnesses are Melly’s ex-girlfriend Mariah Hamilton and her mother Felicia Holmes. Initially, they told police that they received a call from Melly right after the shootings occurred, in which he said he’d been the victim of a drive-by. Since then, neither the state nor the defense has been able to contact Hamilton or Holmes. 

Prosecutor Kristine Bradley claimed in court that, in order to discourage their testimony, Melly’s mother made a car payment for Hamilton, and Melly’s manager Jameson “Track” Francois sent Holmes a $5,000 wire transfer. 

“Mr. Demons is doing anything and everything he can to prevent them from showing up,” Bradley said in a February 16 hearing. “The defendant is causing these witnesses not to be available.” After the wire transfer from Melly’s manager, Bradley said, Felicia Holmes “suddenly stopped answering the state’s phone calls.” 

Melly’s legal team did not deny that the money changed hands, but strongly denied that the payments were in return for not testifying. Instead, they explained that Hamilton and Melly were still dating at the time both payments were made. 

“This is all prior to Mr. Demons breaking up with Ms. Hamilton,” said Melly’s attorney Raven Liberty at that same February hearing. “If you wanted to go through his financials now, you would be floored to see what he spends on the new girlfriend. So it’s typical that he would be spending money on his girlfriend. It’s not witness tampering. It’s what he does for his girlfriends.” 

That answer didn’t satisfy Bradley, who accused Melly of “active, ongoing witness tampering” in a March 9 hearing, sparking heated objections from Melly’s lawyers. 

One potential witness who claimed that Francois and Henry hid the murder weapon after the shooting has, like Hamilton and Holmes, proven difficult for prosecutors to reach in recent months, and it’s unclear whether he will testify.

Another friend who was in the studio with Melly in the hours before the murders is listed as a potential defense witness, despite the fact that he has given conflicting statements to police about Melly’s whereabouts that morning.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab has 66 pages of DNA records, which it handed over to the defense in early February. What is in those records isn’t publicly known, but it may be related to the state’s October 2021 request for an oral swab of Melly in order to determine if his DNA was on a yellow jacket found in the trunk of the car where Thomas and Williams were killed.

Complex readers may remember our February story about how prosecutors were trying to prove Melly’s gang affiliation. This is because the state is saying that Melly’s alleged gang affiliation is an aggravating factor in his crime—one of several aggravating factors they are using to justify asking for the death penalty.

So far, there has not been much evidence made public about Melly’s alleged gang ties. The most concrete evidence made public thus far was a statement by the case’s lead detective that Demons “pledges allegiance” to the United Blood Nation in a text message. (A separate interview with a gang cop working on the case reveals that Melly’s phone received, via text message, a loyalty oath which reads, in part, “I take this oath and solemnly swear to uphold the utmost honor and respect for all rules and regulations that govern this chapter GKB [Gangster Killer Bloods], which is under the banner of the UBN [United Blood Nation].”) 

A late-February filing by Melly’s legal team gives more insight into the gang issue. In it, they recount that police in Broward County (where the crime took place) and Indian River County (where Melly grew up) came to believe that Melly and the other YNW members were “affiliated with the Blood Gang based on documented associations, style of dress, and use of hand signs.” 

The document goes on to say that a rival Blood faction, the Dub Street Blood Family, was “taking credit” for the murders of Thomas and Williams (you can see a report on these rumors, from just two days after the murders, here). 

As further evidence of Melly’s gang affiliations, investigators cite insulting tweets directed at Melly from the Florida rapper Crucial, who the filing cites as a Crip. 

Crucial, when reached for comment, says instead that he’s a Gangster Disciple (GD). Though originally from New Jersey, Crucial moved to Fort Pierce, right near Melly’s hometown of Gifford, in 1993, and has been living in the area since. 

He says that, as the state claims, Melly is affiliated with a gang. Specifically, the G-Shine set of the Bloods. 

“It’s more of an up north set that trickled down [to Florida],” Crucial explains of G-Shine. “New York and New Jersey and stuff like that, that’s where they’re more prevalent.”

“He’s loosely affiliated with the Bloods,” Crucial says about Melly. “Every time you see him in the videos, he’s throwing up the signs and disrespecting who he’s disrespecting.” Crucial clarifies that the G-Shine Bloods set has a particular animus against Gangster Disciples. He points out that the set’s original name was “Gangster Killer Bloods,” with the “gangster” part of the name referring to the GDs. 

Crucial explains that his issues with Melly date back to Melly’s 2018 song “Home Invasion,” since the song took shots at people he knew.

“That’s where things happened,” he says. “[Melly] was sneak dissing. From the outside looking in, people are not gonna know. But for the people that’s involved, you’re going to know who he’s talking about. He’s in the song talking about how the .38 jammed up and all that stuff—that was real events.”

Crucial’s Twitter shots at Melly were sent hours after the murders—timing he says was coincidence, as he hadn’t yet heard about the incident. He was, he says, just responding to “Home Invasion.” 

Melly’s list of potential witnesses contains 28 names in total, including the friend from the studio mentioned above. The vast majority of the people on the list are either affiliated with the Miramar police or other law enforcement agencies; or are forensic experts.

The current, tentative start date for testimony to begin is May 23.

In a March 2 hearing, prosecutor Kristine Bradley said that the state will take 12 days to present its case. Melly’s team said their side would take five days. So, not including time for the jury to make up its mind, the case is currently scheduled to run nearly a month, from May 23 to June 21. (The trial will only run four days a week, from Monday to Thursday, so that the judge can handle his other cases on Fridays).

If Melly is found guilty, there will be a break of a few months. Then, both sides and the same jury will reconvene for a second, shorter trial to determine whether Melly receives the death penalty or life in prison. Melly’s team has a list of potential witnesses prepared for this phase, should it be necessary. The list is primarily made up of relatives, and also contains two psychiatrists. This phase, if it happens, is currently scheduled to begin on September 12, and should last around two weeks.

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