Criminal Justice

Broward Prosecutors Can Seek Death Penalty Against Rapper YNW Melly, Appeals Court Rules

YNW Melly
YNW Melly Photo by Ziggy 2milli via Wikimedia Commons / Broward's Sheriff's Office
The Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled Broward County prosecutors can seek the death penalty in their double-murder case against rapper Jamell Demons, also known as YNW Melly.

The appeals court overturned a county judge's decision that prosecutors failed to provide notice of their intent to seek the death penalty after filing a superseding indictment against Demons. According to the appeals court, the prosecutors already had filed the required notice with the original indictment and did not need to refile it.  

"Notice is notice," the ruling reads. "The superseding indictment was clearly a continuation of the original indictment."

In February 2019, Demons was arrested and indicted on two counts of first-degree murder with a firearm. Miramar police claim Demons shot two aspiring rappers, Anthony Williams (YNW Sakchaser) and Christopher Thomas Jr. (YNW Juvy), on October 26, 2018. Police say Demons and his accomplice Cortlen Henry then drove the two fatally injured men around before taking them to the emergency room, in a plot to make it seem like a third party had gunned down the victims in a drive-by shooting.

Demons has pleaded not guilty in the case.

Following the rapper's 2019 grand jury indictment, state prosecutors filed their notice of intent to seek the death penalty.

Nearly three years later, the state filed a superseding indictment to add a claim that Demons committed the crime as part of gang activity. The move stands to make Demons' alleged gang affiliation a central point in his upcoming trial. (Prosecutors had already listed gang activity as an aggravating factor in their 2019 death penalty notice.)

Demons secured a victory in the lower court in July, briefly avoiding the prospect of being put to death, after his attorneys convinced Broward Judge Andrew Siegel that the state failed to refile a death penalty notice for the new indictment.

But prosecutors successfully appealed the decision to a three-judge panel for the Fourth District, who put the death penalty back on the table in their November 9 ruling.

"We find that the state complied with its statutory obligations when it filed its notice of intent to seek the death penalty within 45 days of arraignment," Judge Spencer Levine wrote for the appeals court. "The fact that the state filed a superseding indictment does not vitiate the already filed and timely notice of intent."

Before his arrest, Demons, who rose in popularity thanks to SoundCloud, was a budding rapper and had recently collaborated with Kanye West on his song "Mixed Personalities."

Demons moved to Broward County from the Treasure Coast to help bolster his rap career. He joined a  growing wave of popular Broward-based rappers, which included Kodak Black and the late XXXTentación.

Demons has had multiple songs go platinum after his arrest, including "Suicidal," "Butter Pecan," and "Mama Cry," according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). "Murder on My Mind," a song he wrote as a teenager after he was allegedly involved in a shootout near his high school, has sold six million copies in the last three years, according to the RIAA.

An attorney for Demons, Philip Horowitz, calls the appellate court's decision "disappointing." He says the defense team looks forward to arguing their position before the Florida Supreme Court.

"The appellate court certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court of great public importance regarding our position that the death penalty should not apply," Horowitz adds.

Attorneys for Demons have argued that he was formally re-arraigned on the new indictment — and that Florida law states that prosecutors are required to file notice of an intent to seek the death penalty "within forty-five days of arraignment."
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Naomi Feinstein is a fellow at Miami New Times. She spent the last year in New York City getting her master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism. She is also a proud alum of the University of Miami.
Contact: Naomi Feinstein

Latest Stories