A Timeline of YNW Melly's Legal Situation
YNW Melly has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. From the arrest to testing positive for coronavirus, here's a timeline of his legal situation
Image via Getty/Broward's Sheriff's Office
Jamell Demons, best known as YNW Melly, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder on Wednesday, February 13. The 19-year-old Florida rapper turned himself in to Miramar, Florida police for the fatal shootings of his friends Anthony Williams and Christopher Thomas Jr.—aspiring rappers who went by YNW Sakchaser and YNW Juvy, respectively.
Since the news of Melly’s charges hit the internet, mugshots and song lyrics have been flying, causing a lot of confusion about the exact order of events. So much happened, but when is YNW Melly coming out of jail? Well, no one knows yet. But here is a complete timeline of YNW Melly’s career milestones and legal issues, with updates to his criminal charges.
According to local reports, Melly fired a gun toward a group of people near Vero Beach High School, but not on school grounds. (The reason for the fired shots was never revealed.) The three people he was aiming at were reportedly students at Vero Beach, between the ages of 17 to 20. Melly was charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of discharging a firearm in public.
After being charged for firing his gun near a school, Melly served a one-year sentence in a Florida jail. According to his verified annotation on Genius, he wrote “Murder On My Mind” while behind bars. “I literally woke up in the jail cell and I was like, ‘Wake up in the morning, I got murder on my mind. AK-47, MAC-11, Glocks, and nine’s.’ And then the bitch was like, ‘Get up, get up. Time to get up.’ Like, ‘Yeah, fuck that song.’”
Melly also noted that he “wasn’t really fucking with nobody like that for like 3 months” while in jail. “Ain’t nobody know I could rap,” he wrote. Eventually, he shared his talents with another inmate, a local rapper who declared Melly as his new favorite after hearing the early version of “Murder on My Mind.” Melly says, “He kept telling everybody like, ‘Bruh, you the best rapper in the compound, Melly. This music you can feel.’”
On March 4, 2017, YNW Melly uploaded “Murder on My Mind” to SoundCloud. Five days later, he released the the audio on YouTube, where it has more than 16 million plays. Since its release, the song has been described as “haunting,” due to lyrics that go into uncomfortable detail about Melly’s imaginary murder story: “Yellow tape around his body, it's a fucking homicide/His face is on a T-shirt and his family traumatized/I didn't even mean to shoot him, he just caught me by surprise/I reloaded my pistol, cocked it back, and shot him twice.” In an August 2018 interview with Fader, Melly explained those lyrics may have contributed to him bouncing back to jail. “The second verse, in which he describes a murder, caught the attention of the state attorney, who read it aloud in court,” the magazine explained. “Though he said they brought up other petty infractions, Melly contends it was the lyrics that landed him back in jail for violating his probation.”
Last summer, Melly was arrested for possession of marijuana, possession of weapon or ammunition by a convicted felon, and drug paraphernalia. In addition to Melly, Cortlen Henry, AKA YNW Bortlen, Melly’s longtime friend, was also arrested, for possession of a weapon or ammunition by a convicted felon. They both posted bonds and were released the following day.
Just days before Halloween, reports revealed that YNW Melly’s friends, Anthony Williams AKA YNW Sakchaser, and Christopher Thomas Jr. AKA YNW Juvy, had been killed. They were each reportedly shot multiple times, and driven to Memorial Miramar Hospital, where they were pronounced dead shortly after arrival. Sakchaser was 21, and Juvy was 19.
The Sun Sentinel reports, “Before sunrise on Oct. 26, a Jeep Compass with the rear window punched out delivered mortally wounded Anthony D’Andre Williams and Christopher Thomas, Jr. to the emergency bay of Memorial Hospital Miramar. Doctors declared them dead. Henry [YNW Bortlen] was the driver of the Jeep, and the only passengers were the dying men. Demons [YNW Melly] was not at the hospital that early morning, according to police.”
At the time of their deaths, the incident was thought to have been a drive-by shooting. The day after the murders, Melly posted a photo of himself with his deceased friends on Instagram. “They Took My Brothers From Me Over Jealousy,” he wrote. “I know y’all watching over me it’s #ynw4l @ynwsakchaser1 @ynwjuvy for Life and after, they wanna see me break down and stop or in jail or a box but my niggas still need me they parents need me they family need me till we meet again my twins my slimes.”
Melly’s lawyer Bradford Cohen, who has also represented Kodak Black, spoke on behalf of the young Florida rapper shortly after the deaths. "He's sad, he's upset, obviously," Cohen told the Sun Sentinel on October 31. "Those were his best friends."
At the top of the new year, YNW Melly was arrested in Fort Myers, Florida for possession of marijuana. His viral smiling mugshot was taken during this arrest.
On February 12, 2019, YNW Bortlen AKA Cortlen Henry was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts as an accessory after the fact, in connection with the deaths of YNW Sakchaser and YNW Juvy.
On February 13, 2019, YNW Melly AKA Jamell Demons was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of his childhood friends, YNW Sakchaser and YNW Juvy.
Hours before his arrest, Melly posted another photo of himself with Sakchaser and Juvy, this time also including Bortlen. "To all my fans and supporters no I did not get locked up in Washington, but I am turning myself in today,” he wrote on Instagram. “I want you guys to know I love you and appreciate every single one of y’all, a couple months ago I lost my two brothers by violence and now the system want to find justice.. unfortunately a lot of rumors and lies are being said but no worries god is with me and my brother @ynw.bortlen and we want y’all to remember it’s a ynw Family I love you @ynwsakchaser1 and @ynwjuvy.”
The evening Melly turned himself in, Miramar police tweeted their take on the case: “Jamell Demons, a.k.a. YNW Melly & Cortlen Henry have been arrested and charged with two counts of first degree murder. The victims, Anthony Williams & Christopher Thomas Jr., were killed on 10/26/2018. The investigation, supported by forensic evidence, has concluded that Demons shot and killed Williams & Thomas Jr. and that Demons and Henry staged the crime scene to resemble a drive-by shooting.”
The day after turning himself in to authorities, YNW Melly appeared in court. Broward County Judge Jackie Powell ordered that Melly remain in jail without bond, per the Sun Sentinel. Judge Powell also ordered Henry to be held without bond and instructed the two friends to avoid contact with each other.
The Sun Sentinel reported Henry was not cooperating with prosecutors in the investigation. “Mr. Henry is not going to be a witness,” a prosecutor said during his hearing. “At this point, the state will not be extending offers of any sort to Mr. Henry.”
In addition to Bradford Cohen, who provided a statement of grief on Melly’s behalf immediately after the shooting, the rapper is also being legally represented by Mitchell Polay. Polay declined to speak on Melly’s behalf, after his client’s arrest.
Court documents from that day reveal more details. Camera footage and phone records don't match up with YNW Bortlen's account of the night, and evidence from the autopsy contradicts Melly's statements. Suspicious Snapchat messages from Melly were also highlighted in the documents.
A February 21 article in the Vero News reported that detectives in Indian River County believe it's "common knowledge" that Melly and Bortlen were at the scene of the killing of deputy Gary Chambliss. Chambliss was killed by a stray bullet in February 2017 during an exchange of gunfire that began when someone threw a bottle at a passing car. The article says: "Detectives believe one of the rappers possibly fired the fatal shot."
Reports of Melly pleading not guilty surfaced on March 5, though the actual plea was not filed with the Clerk of the Courts until three days later. As part of the plea, Melly demanded a jury trial. YNW Bortlen would also plead not guilty on March 11.
On March 6, Aye Code posted footage of Melly's mother on its YouTube page. The video is undated, but it features her criticizing YNW Sakchaser. She also accuses Sakchaser of threatening her. "Who the fuck you ever rob? Who the fuck you ever shot at?" she asks. "My credentials is real. Don't ever try to come for me... You threaten me with your little gun? Bitch, I got big guns."
Two lawyers weren't enough for Melly. In early April, he added a new member to his legal team (on top of his existing group of attorneys, Bradford Cohen and Nicole Burdett). Jason Rogers Williams worked with Boosie during the rapper's murder trial, which ended in acquittal in 2012.
In mid-April, the State of Florida filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty for Melly. They list four "aggravating factors" in their decision. First, that the murder was done "for pecuniary gain." Second, that it was "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel." Third, that it was "committed in a cold, calculated, and premediatated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification." And fourth, that they can prove Melly is "a criminal gang member."
YNW Melly's legal team filed court documents arguing that he should be released from jail on bond in part because he self-surrendered to the murder charges. In court documents obtained by Complex, Melly has also "never purposefully missed a court date" and is not a flight risk. Attorney Bradford Cohen claimed that the investigation had "very little actual evidence." Melly's team also criticized what they characterize as a lack of witnesses, alleging that there is "no indication" of a murder motive.
On Thursday, July 11, YNW Melly's Instagram account shared footage of the young rapper smiling in a courtroom, along with the message: "I'll be home soon. I'm smiling because God is with me - Melly #innocent #icee." Doubling down on their confidence in the case, whoever is currently running Melly's Instagram account also shared a photo of YNW Bortlen on IG Stories with the caption: "Bort be home soon too."
YNW Bortlen and his lawyer Fred Haddad appear at an Arthur hearing, in an attempt to get Bortlen free, pending trial. The prosecution relies heavily on cell phone records, placing Melly and Bortlen at the scene of the shooting. Haddad, for his part, says, "There's not a single scintilla" of evidence that his client killed anyone. "He is...at best an accessory after the fact," the lawyer continues.
At an August 23 Arthur Hearing (a pecial hearing where a defendant asks for bond) for YNW Cortlen, Florida's assistant state attorney shows the judge a number of photos from the day of the killing. The ASA claims that the photos prove Cortlen and Melly's accounts of the shooting cannot be true. Two months later, prosecutors release the photos. You can see them here.
Months after his Arthur hearing, YNW Bortlen comes out on top. Circuit Judge Andrew L. Siegel buys attorney Fred Haddad's argument that the first-degree murder charges against Bortlen aren't up to snuff. "The State of Florida has not met its burden of proof" about those charges, the judge rules. Therefore, Bortlen has a very good chance of being let out on bond. They have a hearing on the issue at the end of February, but the ruling is deferred. Haddad nonetheless remains confident his client will be let out, telling Complex, "The fact that he got a bond speaks volumes to the weakness of the state’s case, against him at least."
Melly and Bortlen both appear in court for a hearing that mostly dealt with technical issues concerning depositions, as both sides prepared for trial. Melly seemed happy throughout the hearing, and his mother and his little brother YNW BSlime were in the gallery. Bortlen's potential release on bond ran into some snags. He was planning on living in an apartment controlled by one of Melly's attorneys—an arrangement that would violate a "no contact" order between the two defedants. Once that is taken care of, Bortlen's release on bond until trial seems all but certain. The next hearing in the case is set for May 28.
Hours after Tekashi 6ix9ine was released from prison and allowed to serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement due to his high-risk coronavirus concerns, YNW Melly reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. “Melly has tested positive for COVID-19 today while awaiting his trial in Broward County Jail,” the caption said. “He’ll be filing a motion for restricted release in hopes of better care due to any jails not being prepared to treat this new virus. He hopes for your support and to recover soon #prayformelly send positive energy to him please.”