FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Florida rapper YNW Melly was back in court on Thursday, the fourth day of his trial for the murders of two YNW Collective rappers on Oct. 26, 2018, in Broward County.
At 24 years old, Jamell “Melly” Demons could face the death penalty if convicted of the murders of Christopher “Juvy” Thomas Jr., and Anthony “Sakchaser” Williams.
Prosecutors accuse him of killing Thomas, 19, and Williams, 21, when he was 19 years old and they were all in a Jeep. Felicia Holmes, a registered nurse, testified.
“I heard that there might have been a shooting,” said Holmes, whose daughter Mariah Hamilton, now 22, was in a relationship with Demons that she said started in 2016 and lasted about three years.
Attorneys argued about the reliability of Holmes’s testimony after she said she didn’t remember what happened or her statements during a follow-up deposition on the record.
“I feel threatened,” Holmes said when she first took the stand, later adding that she was referring to Assistant State Attorney Kristine Bradley.
Broward Circuit Judge John Murphy, who is presiding over the case, declared Holmes was a “hostile” witness to the state and allowed her testimony to continue.
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Holmes said in court that Demons’s music manager Jamison “100K Track” Francois gave her $5,000 to rent an Airbnb, but “not for personal use.” Prosecutors appeared to be hinting at the possibility of witness tampering.
“I was making 9000 weekly. I didn’t need [expletive] from them,” Holmes wrote in a message on Instagram, according to the prosecutor’s records displayed in court.
The Instagram posts, as displayed in court, showed Holmes complaining about alleged failed promises and her intent to cooperate with law enforcement.
“The state has ruined my life,” Holmes said during her testimony in court adding that she had been “intimidated” with threats of arrest and that the prosecution had lied about a subpoena, which forced her to hire an attorney.
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Defense Attorney David Howard moved for a mistrial after Murphy dismissed Holmes and the jury alleging there had been a “prejudicial fiasco” in court.
The defense accused the prosecution of calling Holmes to read out-of-court statements despite the court’s ruling that it could not be done to accuse them of witness tampering.
“This jury sat there and watched this fiasco unfold with at least 10, maybe 15 sidebars, after every two questions,” Howard said adding that the “highly prejudicial” testimony had “tainted” the jury.
Murphy asked the defense to talk to Demons about the motion for mistrial and said he was going to review the transcripts of the testimony before making a decision about the motion. The court is in recess until 9 a.m., on Tuesday.
EVIDENCE IN THE CASE
Surveillance video shows Demons, Cortlen “Bortlen” Henry, and the two victims leaving together outside of the then New Era Recording Studio at about 3:20 a.m., in Fort Lauderdale.
Another surveillance video shows Henry after he arrived at about 4:30 a.m., at Memorial Miramar Hospital in a damaged Jeep with the two bodies, according to prosecutors.
“They are dead, they are riddled with bullets, and the car is full of blood,” Bradley said during her opening statement on Monday in court.
Henry reported they had been the victims of a drive-by shooting. Detectives said the bullets came from within the Jeep, and they weren’t best friends, but fellow gang members.
During her testimony on Thursday, Tarah Helsel, a forensic scientist, discussed the gunshot residue samples that the Miramar detectives submitted. Detectives alleged Henry had gunshot residue on his hands after arriving at the hospital.
With mobile phone records and a forensic scientist’s bullet trajectory estimations, detectives accused Demons of being the shooter and Henry of helping him to cover up the murders.
On Wednesday, jurors listened to the testimony of Jorge Bello, a Broward Sheriff’s Office firearms expert, who said a .40 caliber gun was involved.
Detectives couldn’t find the gun, so Bello, who said he examined the shell casings and projectiles in evidence, didn’t know its make and model.
“As far as the projectiles, two of them came from one firearm,” said Bello, who concluded during questioning by the defense that there could have been more than one weapon involved in the murders.
The defense accused the detectives of fabricating the case once they had realized that there was a known rapper involved.
Demons grew up in Indian River County’s Gifford community and had an arrest record there and in Lee County. His experiences as a juvenile defendant and convict there fueled his lyrics.
The defendants and the victims are seen in music videos published on YouTube with other teenage boys who appeared to be playing with guns, cash, alcohol, and marijuana.
Demons became known as YNW Melly when he released his breakout song “Murder on My Mind” on SoundCloud and on YouTube in 2017. His golden single made it onto the Billboard Hot 100, and he partnered with Kanye West for “Mixed Personalities.”
YNW Melly released “Melly vs. Melvin,” his debut album, in 2019. “Just a Matter of Slime” — which features Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black, and Lil Baby — was his second album, released in 2021. He has over six million subscribers on YouTube.
Demons surrendered to face two counts of premeditated murder on Feb. 13, 2019, and a judge denied him bond. About four years later, Demons and Henry maintain their innocence. Prosecutors are handling their cases separately.