Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for 2wenty 2wenty Music.
What’s Next for YNW Melly After Double-Murder Mistrial?
The double-murder trial of controversial rap star YNW Melly was declared a mistrial last month. So, what happens next? To get a clear understanding of the next steps, let’s take a look at what happened.
"Our system doesn't work without getting people from the community to come in here and listen to the facts of the case and make these types of decisions," Judge John J. Murphy III, of the Broward County courts in Florida, said to the jury before excusing them from duty at the end of the YNW Melly trial last month. "They are hard decisions."
On July 22, the 19-day-long double murder trial of controversial rap star YNW Melly was declared a mistrial by Murphy III, after 14 hours and 16 minutes of deliberations concluded in a deadlocked jury. The jury asked the judge for instructions on how to handle an indecisive group — refusing to budge on a split decision seven hours into deliberation — resulting in the court activating the Allen charges, which gives a jury the instructions to urge them to agree on a verdict. Murphy III ruled a mistrial after the jury was ordered to continue deliberation for another day but was still unable to reach a unanimous verdict, with neither side open to changing their respective decisions.
So, what happens next? To get a clear understanding of the next steps, let’s take a look at what happened.
WHO IS YNW MELLY?
YNW Melly - Murder On My Mind [Official Video]www.youtube.com
Born Jamell Demons, the 23-year-old Gifford, Florida recording artist is best known for the hit songs “Murder on My Mind” and “Mixed Personalities” with Kanye West. The breakout star of the YNW collective signed a joint deal with 300 Entertainment and Atlantic Records in May 2018, mere months before the murders that Melly would be charged with took place. YNW Melly has been incarcerated in the Broward County jail in Fort Lauderdale the last four years after voluntarily surrendering to authorities in February 2019.
WHY IS YNW MELLY ON TRIAL?
YNW Melly is charged with capital murder in connection to the deaths of his best friends Anthony “YNW Sakchaser” Williams, 21, and Christopher “YNW Juvy” Thomas Jr., 19. Both were both shot and killed after a recording session in Miramar, Florida, on October 26, 2018. The state is seeking the death penalty in the belief the crime was committed based on gang affiliation or financial gain (Melly is an alleged member of the G-Shine Blood gang in connection with the United Blood Nation criminal organization. He is also rumored to owe the deceased a large sum of money in music-related earnings, according to the deceased's father).
Sakchaser and Juvy were both pronounced dead upon early morning arrival at Miramar hospital. Initially, their deaths were reported as the result of a drive-by shooting by unknown assailants on Miramar Parkway and Interstate 75, based on statements told to police by the driver — and only other person in the vehicle — YNW Melly’s co-defendant, Cortlen “YNW Bortlen” Henry. However, Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) investigators refuted Henry’s claims months later. After further reconstructive investigations and evidence like gunshot residue discovered on Bortlen’s hands and broken car glass patterns, it was suggested that the shooting deaths of Sakchaser and Juvy happened inside the vehicle in a different location based on forensic examination with Bortlen and Melly. In addition to this, there was surveillance camera footage captured of Melly entering the left rear passenger side of the car with the group leaving the studio session, contradicting statements Henry gave to authorities when he was questioned.
YNW Melly claims he is innocent of any charges. During the trial, it was revealed — by the defense’s sole witness, Adrian Rashad Davis — that Melly exited the vehicle before the murders of his best friends to use the restroom. He then got into the second vehicle, a red Mitsubishi, with an entourage, and returned to the two-story home where he and eight others resided in Vero Beach, Florida. However, Melly told authorities during a 2018 investigation, that he exited the vehicle hours before the murders, and was picked up by his friend and frequent collaborator, Fredo Bang. Following a thorough investigation by Broward County investigators that also included support from the FBI, the state of Florida believes Melly and Bortlen gave cover-up stories, with Melly being the murderer and Bortlen the accessory.
Melly and his defense believe the state prosecutor and Broward Sheriff’s Office are targeting the recording artist because of his high-profile persona, as well as previous allegations between the YNW Collective and BSO. Melly was the prime suspect in the 2017 shooting death of Indian River County, Florida Deputy Gary Chambliss; a case that is still unsolved. Melly’s defense claims that Bortlen is the shooter of Juvy and Sakchaser, as he tested positive for gunshot residue and initially told officers that it was a drive-by shooting at the hospital the morning of the murder.
WHAT DOES A MISTRIAL MEAN?
A mistrial means YNW Melly lives to fight another day, although he’s not a free man.
A hung jury and mistrial are widely believed to prove Melly's innocence, but they are simply the extension of the inevitable. Melly must be found guilty or not guilty by a jury of his peers before the case can be resolved.
The multi-platinum recording artist’s family, fans, and superstar collaborators like Trippie Redd saw the mistrial as a victory, but Melly can be retried repeatedly by the prosecution.
Melly is still in custody. On Tuesday, August 15th, his lawyers filed a motion requesting he be freed while he awaits a new trial. His bond hearing is set for September 15th.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE YNW MELLY TRIAL THAT LED TO A MISTRIAL?
Dissecting YNW Melly’s Bizarre Behavior in Court During Double Murder Trialyoutu.be
YNW Melly’s trial was presented to a 12-member panel of his peers, with the prosecution obligated to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Melly killed his friends.
The jury reviewed over 500 photos and videos, and listened to hours of expert analysis and contradicting testimonies from 28 witnesses throughout 18 days from mid-June to mid-July. One of these included testimony from Davis, YNW Melly’s alibi, who was excused from the witness stand after claiming that Melly got out of the Jeep Sakchaser and Juvy were murdered in, and got into the red Mitsubishi. “Sad case, get your lying ass off that stand,” Leondra Phillips, YNW Juvy’s mother, wrote on her Facebook account in response to Davis’ testimony.
All of YNW Melly's mistrial requests were denied by the presiding judge throughout the trial. Several popular legal experts (i.e., @LawyerforWorkers) predicted a mistrial before the judge's ruling due to the questionable strategies and inability of the defense and prosecution to provide convincing evidence. Therefore, they expected the jury would be confused by the jargon explained. Prosecutor Kristine Bradley constantly reminded the jury – who appeared to be between 35 and 50 – of high school geometry and biology referrals during firearm and medical experts’ lengthy testimonies, to prove the possibility of Melly committing the accused charges. Stuart Adelstein, one of Melly's defense attorneys, would joke that he and the jury were experts in firearms and human anatomy after the Ted-Talk-style cross-examinations they had just witnessed.
I was present in the courtroom for the majority of the trial. I believe a mistrial was declared because of insufficient evidence, hostile witnesses, and questionable decisions by the defense and prosecution.
Bradley must be addressed as the primary reason for a mistrial, with the jury relying on the attorney’s guidance after hearing all the evidence and arguments to reach a verdict. The prosecution called on cell phone, medical, and firearm experts to explain every piece of a gun and differences in bullets, how gunshot residue dispersed, the human anatomy before and after death, and cell tower mechanics for days. The long testimonies often tired out the jury and Melly, as they appeared to doze off occasionally with no idea of what they just listened to and how it applies to the case, something Melly’s defense would reference in cross-examination.
Outside the testimonies, there was a lack of physical evidence. The night of the shooting, Melly's clothes were never tested for gunshot residue, his DNA was only discovered in a thumbprint on the door handle of the vehicle that Juvy and Sakchaser were killed in. Also, crucially, a murder weapon was never recovered.
It’s extremely challenging to prove a murder without evidence of a murder weapon. A surveillance video that doesn’t show Melly with a firearm getting into the left rear passenger side hours before the initial murder can not accurately prove that the recording artist committed the crime.
HOW DID MELLY'S DEFENSE TEAM PERFORM DURING THE TRIAL?
Entering the fight of his life, YNW Melly enlisted David A. Howard, Stuart Adelstein, and Raven Ramona Liberty for his defense — veterans in high-profile cases involving rappers. Liberty made headlines in 2017 for her impressive legal performance in the Kodak Black probation violation case, where the rapper avoided jail time. While Howard helped Lil Boosie beat a similar death penalty case in 2012.
Howard, in particular, performed a masterclass on discrediting the expertise of experts in almost every cross-examination in the trial. He asked simple questions that exposed the mishandling of evidence in the case (“Did you find my client’s DNA on the scene?” “Can you pinpoint the exact location?” “What weapon was used in the crime?”).
Also, the admission of threats and the lack of follow-up with witnesses by the prosecution's witness Detective Mark Moretti affected the jury significantly; the witness' testimony became unreliable.
“The prosecution in the YNW Melly trial made a huge mistake by not telling the jury that the lead detective didn’t follow through for further investigation with Davis, one of the individuals who was in the vehicle with Melly on the night in question,” Criminal Defense attorney Bridgette Williams said in an email regarding the mistrial. “This made them appear sneaky and less trustworthy. Instead, the prosecutor focused on mainly cell phone GPS tracking, Melly’s behavior and interactions with friends and family, the trajectory of the bullets, and a statement they believed was an admission. All of those things were purely circumstantial.”
HOW DID FLORIDA'S PROSECUTION FARE DURING THE TRIAL?
While the prosecutor failed to bulletproof her witness, Melly’s defense made a crucial mistake calling on only one witness to testify on behalf of the artist. Davis’ examination by the defense and prosecution took an hour. According to Williams, the defense having one witness to contradict the prosecution’s witness testimony in a case of this magnitude was detrimental. It didn’t help dissolve Melly of the accusation but only added more confusion, which was the main reason for a mistrial.
“ Davis stated that Melly was not in the car when the shooting happened and gave very specific details of where Melly was instead,” Williams said. “It successfully created the reasonable doubt needed for some of the jurors to believe Melly was not guilty of committing the murders of his two childhood friends.”
Radio personality and trial commentator Mina "SayWhat" Llona expanded on Williams' analysis of the prosecution and how they didn’t provide enough proof for the jury.
“The prosecution laid out their case well… but ultimately the defense poked enough reasonable doubt in their case. They countered the testimony of the prosecution's witness that was there the day of the murders, Traveon Glass, with an alternative story from another friend that was there that night, Adrian Davis,” Llona said over email. “Also, perhaps the most important piece of evidence, a text message saying ‘I did that,’ was shredded by the defense when they pointed out that Melly never used the word "that" only "dat"... and that he may have shared the phone with others. Ultimately, I think it was hard to pass out a guilty plea — especially with the death penalty on the line — when there's so much reasonable doubt and circumstantial evidence.”
WHY WERE HOSTILE WITNESSES FELICIA HOLMES & TREVEON GLASS SO CRUCIAL TO THE TRIAL?
Prosecutor Grills Mom of YNW Melly's Ex About Receiving Money After Murdersyoutu.be
While the defense presented one witness, the prosecution presented 27 — all meant to present an iron-clad case against Melly to a jury. However, several hostile witnesses, like YNW Melly’s ex-girlfriend’s mother Felicia Holmes; producer Treveon Glass; and the elusive Fredo Bang caused significant problems with uncooperative attitudes.
Holmes was presented as the prosecution’s star witness, with a damaging deposition that would include evidence of an Instagram message that mentioned Melly and his manager, 100K Track, promising to financially maintain her and her daughter’s lifestyle throughout the trial in exchange for her cooperation. The since-deleted Instagram message from Holmes to a friend said:
“The promises that were made to us by YNW for me to quit my job & they would take care of us were all lies. They didn’t want us talking with prosecutors, but now they have all disappeared. I quit my job based on what Track & his wife or company said now look. We can’t go home. We spending all my money I worked for & they taking trips & enjoying life. If you think I was a beast before. Wait until this trial. I’m not holding anything back. I’m doing what I should have done in the beginning. They can call me Mz. Snitch B*tch.”
The prosecution got a different Felicia Holmes during testimony, as she revealed to the jury and judge that the prosecutor made her feel uncomfortable, threatened her life, and caused her to lose her job. Holmes delivered clueless answers to the prosecution’s questions about the night of the murder, often responding with “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” Once the prosecution was allowed to treat Holmes as a hostile witness, the testimony turned unprofessional, which led to Judge Murphy III having to reign in the prosecution and regain control of the courtroom.
Holmes led to Melly’s defense requesting a move for a mistrial on the ground that the witness testimony tainted the jury. Judge Murphy III would deny it, but Holmes' lack of cooperation left a lasting impact on both the prosecution and the jury.
Friend Confirms YNW Melly Changed Clothes on Night of Deadly Double Murderyoutu.be
Glass may not have been hostile, but he was an unreliable witness for the prosecution. He revealed to the jury that he was ordered to be a witness for the prosecution or be arrested for prior offenses, as he appeared irritated, grumpy, and obnoxious with his answers in court.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The prosecution requested a retrial of YNW Melly immediately after the mistrial ruling. The prosecution requested to try YNW Melly and YNW Bortlen together during a status hearing on July 28. Melly’s defense immediately objected to the request, as the two defendants have been severed.
The likelihood of YNW Bortlen and YNW Melly being tried together is highly unlikely as it violates Melly’s constitutional right to a speedy trial. According to the Speedy Trial Act of 1974, if a trial ends in mistrial, the second trial must be within 70 days from the date the ruling became final. Brotlen’s October 2 trial date would violate Melly’s retrial, and must begin before September 30 to meet the 70-day requirement.
When asked on Twitter how the scheduled double booking of defendant and co-defendant will work, attorney Terri Austin suggested that either YNW Melly or YNW Bortlen’s proposed court date will have to be postponed to accommodate if they’re not tried together, writing:
“Both trials are currently scheduled for 10/2, but one will need to be postponed unless one party moves to consolidate. Judge Murphy said there is no pending motion to consolidate. My guess is the Bortlen trial will be postponed. We will see.”
On August 4, YNW Melly, his defense, the prosecution, and Judge Murphy III reconvened to establish Monday, October 9, as the official retrial date. Before Melly was escorted to his cell following the status hearing, he told his mother and family in the gallery, “I’m coming home.” Melly will make some changes heading into the second trial, as it was revealed that new lead attorney, Jamie Benjamin, will replace Howard. While Howard has yet to comment on the exit, Benjamin is a former Florida prosecutor with two previous wins in a death penalty case in his 39-year law career. Stuart Adelstein and Raven Liberty, Melly's original attorneys, will join Benjamin in the second trial.
Melly is the first person to be tried under SB-450, a new law filed by the Senate in January and signed by the governor in April, representing the lowest threshold in U.S. history for imposing the death penalty. As a result of the unanimous decision, the second deliberation phase determines whether the defendant is to receive the death penalty. Eight of the 12 members must vote in favor of the death penalty. As one of the last states still enforcing the death penalty, Florida's law is now the easiest state to have the sentence imposed in.
The next phase to the YNW Melly double murder trial begins Monday, October 9, 2023, at 9 a.m. EST in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Bryson "Boom" Paul is a well-known journalist and media correspondent. He has written for OC Weekly, LA Weekly, Dallas Observer, HipHopDX and more.
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