FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Both the defense and the prosecution in the trial of Florida rapper YNW Melly delivered their closing statements on Thursday in Fort Lauderdale. The defense said there is reasonable doubt, and the prosecution asked the jury to follow the law and find the rapper guilty.
Broward County Circuit Judge John Murphy asked the jury to select a foreman and prepare to begin deliberations. Assistant State Attorney Kristine Bradley is seeking the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders of two YNW Collective rappers over four years ago in Miramar.
After 16 days of witness testimony, Jamell “Melly” Demons wore a navy blue suit, and he listened quietly to Bradley deliver her closing argument to the jury accusing him of fatally shooting his two friends in the head while inside the gray Jeep Compass that they were in together on the early morning of Oct. 26, 2018.
“Back when you first started here, some of you as early as April 10th, you agreed to follow the law and the law is clear that this defendant committed two counts of first-degree murder,” Bradley told the jury.
The relatives of Demons, 24, and the two murder victims, Christopher “Juvy” Thomas Jr. and Anthony “Sakchaser” Williams, also listened without interrupting the prosecution or the defense.
“You folks are going to determine this young man’s fate,” Attorney Stuart Adelstein, who is representing Demons told the jury.
The relatives of Cortlen “Bortlen” Henry, a co-defendant in the case who is awaiting trial for the same murders in Broward County, were also following the case closely.
“I suggest to you folks that we have a reasonable doubt … that there is a conflict in the evidence, and there is a lack of evidence,” Adelstein said during his closing statement.
Bradley showed the jury several surveillance videos. One video, she said, shows Demons, Thomas, 19, and Williams, 21, getting in a Jeep Compass at a recording studio in Fort Lauderdale that Henry, then 19, was driving.
Thomas’s grieving mother Leondra Phillips was among the witnesses in the case. Bradley played the surveillance video that last shows her son alive outside of the New Era Recording Studio at 805 NE 4 Ave.
“He got on the back seat on the right-hand side,” Phillips said during her testimony in court.
This surveillance video also shows Williams getting into the Jeep’s front passenger seat and Demons getting into the back of the Jeep by the left rear seat, according to detectives and prosecutors.
They left at about 3:20 a.m., Bradley said. She also displayed a surveillance video that she said shows Henry at the emergency entrance of a hospital at about 4:35 a.m., in Miramar.
Witnesses told the jury the bodies of Thomas and Williams were inside the Jeep Compass parked outside of Memorial Hospital Miramar, at 1701 SW 172 Ave.
“The shooting happened from somebody inside the car,” Sgt. Christopher Williams said during his testimony.
The jury also saw a video of Henry talking to a detective about the drive-by shooting on Miramar Parkway that he said killed his two friends in the Jeep Compass.
Bradley said it was there where Demons and Henry shot at the Jeep in an attempt to cover up the murders.
A grand jury indicted Demons on Feb. 7, 2019, and he surrendered to Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies on Feb. 13, 2019. Deputies have held Demons without bond for over four years. Opening statements were on June 12.
The defense alleged the case against Demons is the result of an opportunistic detective who spotted a high-profile case without DNA evidence or a weapon. Bradley said there was DNA evidence on the Jeep’s door handle.
Bradley was relying on circumstantial evidence that includes an alleged gang association and expert witnesses with opinions about the estimated trajectory of the bullets that delivered the fatal shots.
The pathologists who performed the victims’ autopsies and a shooting reconstruction expert who investigated the possibility of the drive-by shooting said the entrance of the victims’ fatal head wounds was on the left side.
Even though the defense argued that the cell phone data had not been independently verified, Bradley also presented written messages that showed there were alleged conflicts among the rappers and their families. One after the murders said, “I did it,” but the defense argued it could have been related to anything.
Another set of messages on Aug. 30, 2018, Bradley said was from Demons to his mother, Jamie King.
“Get me a Glock ASAP ... Like go now ... I just don’t want no illegal gun,” Demons wrote, later settling for a “Glock 40 ... or 19,” according to Bradley.
King gave birth to Demons when she was 14 in Indian River County. He grew up in the Gifford community and had an arrest record there and in Lee County, records show. The rapper is also in YouTube videos with the victims playing with what appears to be 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 when he was signed with 300 Entertainment.
Demons later partnered with Kanye West for “Mixed Personalities.” He released “Melly vs. Melvin,” his debut album, in 2019, and his second album “Just a Matter of Slime” — which features Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black, and Lil Baby — in 2021.
The defense argued that the evidence didn’t show that Demons was a member of a gang, but the gang was trying to recruit him because of his success.
“The overall picture puts Mr. Demons in the backseat of that Jeep,” Bradley told the jury during her closing statement. “It puts him holding a gun. You don’t need a murder weapon to know he committed these two crimes.”
Outrage over the verdict in the case of the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School prompted Florida lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis to pass a law to no longer require a jury’s unanimous consent for the death penalty.
The first week of trial: Opening statements were on June 12
The second week of trial: Prosecution’s witnesses continue to testify
The third week of trial: Testimony continues
The court is in recess
The fourth week of the trial: Testimony continues
The fifth week of the trial: State and defense rest
Day 17: Watch the 12 p.m. report
Watch the 3:30 p.m. report
Watch the 5:30 p.m. report