He’s a rapper who had nearly everything going for him.
Signed to Young Thug’s label, and working with the likes of Kanye West, YNW Melly (real name: Jamell Demons) racked up nearly 100 million listens on SoundCloud and had a promising future in Hip Hop.
But suddenly, on February 13, 2019, Melly was arrested for the deaths of two members of his rap crew, and charged with first-degree murder. Under Florida law, Melly and his alleged co-conspirator YNW Bortlen (real name: Cortlen Henry) face either life in prison with no chance of parole, or — worse yet — the death penalty, if convicted. (N.B.: If the Florida prosecutor intends to seek the death penalty in the YNW Melly case, s/he must notify the court within 45 days of the arraignment of his/her intent to do so.)
So how did this 19-year-old manchild go from rising star to facing capital punishment? Let’s break down the facts.
Who Is YNW Melly?
Jamell Demons was born in May 1999 in Gifford, FL, located north of Palm Beach County in the Vero Beach district. It’s here, in a district steeped in African-American history — and home to some of the most prominent families in Black America, including the Jackson, McGriff, Hart, York, Bryant, Moore and Williams families — that YNW (short for “Young Nigga World”) Melly first began uploading his music to SoundCloud when he was just 15 years old. As he slowly, but surely, began building an online presence, he began working with the likes of Lil’B before signing to Young Thug’s label.
He then collaborated with Kanye West on the hit track, “Multiple Personalities,” a track which is YNW Melly’s only charting single to date.
The Night Of The Alleged Murders
On October 26, 2018, two members of Melly’s crew are shot and killed. The victims — YNW Juvy (Christopher Thomas Jr., 19) and YNW Sakchaser (Anthony Williams, 21) — were last seen alive reportedly at approximately 3:00 a.m. in Broward County, Florida. At approximately 4:00 a.m., they both arrived at the Memorial Hospital Miramar, near Fort Lauderdale, each with multiple gunshot wounds. Both subsequently died from their injuries.
That night, YNW Melly took to Twitter to share his grief with his followers.
They Took My Brothers From Me Over Jealousy 💔💔 I know y’all watching over me 🙏🏾🌍 it’s #ynw4l 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 slimes 🐍 💔 pic.twitter.com/wuKuhulqAW
— Melvin & Melly 2 Face 🌗 (@YNWMelly) October 27, 2018
YNW Melly’s Arrest
Simply put, Melly’s perceived involvement with the crime has to do with an unfortunately-timed documentary and a subsequent Genius breakdown video.
On December 4, 2018, Melly’s official documentary — titled, simply, MELLY — was dropped, and it documented the young rapper’s rise to the top. Juvy and Sakchaser are both heavily featured in the documentary, and their deaths are explained at the end of the video as Melly and his mother reveal that they are moving from Florida to Atlanta.
Just seven days later, on December 12, 2018, a Genius breakdown video for “Murder on My Mind” is released. Perhaps cognizant of the woefully ill-timed optics, Melly is heard saying, “I’m a pussy murderer. I murder the vagina. And I murder the beat. I am not no hu—human murderer.”
And it’s the look in his eye as he stumbles over “human murderer” that subsequently goes viral and triggers a police investigation that leads, ultimately, to his arrest and arraignment.
Nigga face said it all smh pic.twitter.com/IELnIeSFbR
— Omari 💎 (@Omari_1k) February 14, 2019
According to TMZ, who obtained a copy of YNW Melly’s booking report, the police say that YNW Bortlen was the one who presented with Sakchaser and Juvy at the hospital where the duo subsequently died. However, when the police searched the car, they found a shell casing in the backseat, which led them to believe that the victims’ murders happened in the back seat of the car, and YNW Melly and YNW Bortlen staged the entire “drive-by shooting” scenario. Additionally, police say surveillance video revealed that the quartet all left in the same car, which contradicted YNW Melly’s earlier statement about a drive-by shooting. However, no forensic evidence in the case tying the bullet to the murders — or to YNW Melly — has yet been released.
Rightly or wrongly, YNW Melly’s past seems to be considered a factor against him, as is his current single.
(1/2) 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 pic.twitter.com/ArzVCLRxjd
— Miramar Police (@MiramarPD) February 14, 2019
(2/2) Demons shot and killed Williams & Thomas Jr. and that Demons and Henry staged the crime scene to resemble a drive-by shooting. pic.twitter.com/EukFxD4OEq
— Miramar Police (@MiramarPD) February 14, 2019
When he was 16-years-old, Melly was involved in a shootout near Vero Beach High School. He ultimately served time as a result of his ties to the shooting, when he was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of discharging a firearm in public.
Additionally, in June 2018, Melly was arrested on a charge of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and drug equipment possession.
So, Melly isn’t exactly what one would call a saint on Earth. While it’s against the Florida corpus delecti doctrine to use someone’s past crimes against them in a current charge, the poor optics of the matter are self-evident.
Then there’s the newest single, “Murder On My Mind” (viewable atop this article) that, according to The Fader, will be introduced at trial as evidence of his guilt. While this is a bit of a reach, per the outlet, the Broward County district attorney feels it’s a relevant factor, and legal scholars are trying to get this evidence excluded. To wit:
“Charis E. Kubrin, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at University of California, Irvine, wants to see rap lyrics excluded from the courtroom in almost all cases. Her research indicates that the benefits of using lyrics in court are far outweighed by their misleading impact when read out to a jury. No other genre, she says, is treated as plain autobiography — David Byrne wasn’t actually a “Psycho Killer” — but rap musicians at every level have to contend with their lyrics being read as incriminating journal entries. Jurors and judges are unlikely to understand the conventions of rap, the exaggerations and fictions built into its foundations, or even the line between art and artist.”
And then there’s yet another charge that’s been levied against him. According to XXL (via VeroNews), YNW Melly and his alleged accomplice, YNW Bortlen, are currently being investigated in the 2017 shooting death of an Indian River County Sheriff named Gary Chambliss.
Captain Tony Consalo, head of the Sheriff’s Department of Investigations, said that while he cannot confirm or deny if the two rappers are suspects in Chambliss’s murder, he felt that their current charges merited a re-opening of the investigation and subsequent questioning of their involvement.
“After that shooting in Miramar, our detectives will be following up for possible information in connection to the Garry Chambliss homicide. Perhaps, given their current situation, they might be able to shed some light on the case.”
Consalo went on to say that, according to an unnamed “source,” Melly and Bortlen were present on the night of Chambliss’s death. Both rappers were standing in a group when a member of the group (it’s unclear who) threw an empty bottle at a passing car. The car’s driver then opened fire on the group, which caused one of the rappers (again, Consalo didn’t make clear which one) to return fire. Chambliss, who was caught in the crossfire, was hit with one of the bullets and subsequently died from his injuries.
Under Florida law, the murder of a police officer — whether intentional or not — carries an automatic first-degree murder charge, which carries the automatic penalty of either life in prison without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty.
While this news is, no doubt, disturbing, it begs an even bigger question: why did it take this long for the long arm of Florida law to make YNW Melly face repercussions for these charges? Either Melly is a serial killer who needed to be stopped a long time ago, and the Florida legal machine failed miserably in protecting the public, or the long arm of Florida law is looking to pin bodies on him to take him out because they have a vendetta.
Melly and Cortlen’s trials have no date as of press time.