The prosecution and defense wrapped their closing arguments on Thursday in the YNW Melly trial and have set off for deliberations.
Before closing arguments began, Judge John J. Murphy III issued directions to the jury to decide if YNW Melly, whose real name is Jamell Demons, had committed first-degree murder, manslaughter, or justifiable homicide (self-defense).
Melly is facing two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of his friends, YNW Anthony ‘Juvy’ Williams and Christopher ‘Sakchaser’ Thomas.
While reading out lengthy directions to the jury, Judge Murphy explained the considerations for first-degree murder or lesser committed crime by the jury. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victims are dead, that the deaths were caused by the criminal actions of Jamell Demons, and that there was a premeditated killing of the victims; premeditated acts means “a series of related actions arising from and performed for a single desire or purpose.”
“The decision must be present at the time of the killing. The law does not fix the exact period of time that must pass between the formation of the premeditated intent to kill and the killing. The period of time must be long enough for reflection by the defendant,” the judge read to the jury, who are directed that the question of premeditation is a question of fact to be determined by them from the evidence.
After the judge read the directions, the prosecution began its closing arguments by focusing on the police investigation to answer the questions of who, what, when and where the bullets came from that killed the two victims.
Prosecution Closing Arguments
Lead Prosecutor Kristine Bradley went on to remind the jury of witness Sgt. Chris Williams, who reconstructed the crime scheme to figure out what happened. Williams testified that the crime reconstruction revealed that the shots were fired inside the grey JEEP SUV. She went through evidence that shows blood on the seats of the car and inside of the car door where Melly is alleged to have sat. No blood stains are found on the seat, which she says proves that someone was sitting in that seat, but the bloody doors mean that the person sitting used their bloody hands to open the door. A DNA test showed that it included Melly’s.
The forensic evidence also showed that Juvy, who was seated in the front passenger seat, was shot from a side angle from behind the seat based on the direction of the blood.
The prosecution also shared a photo of a t-shirt worn by Melly’s co-accused, Cortlen ‘Bortlen’ Henry, which showed a blood stain at the front of the shirt. A DNA test revealed that the blood drop belonged to Juvy. Behind the shirt is clean, she says, saying that it proves that Bortlen is not the shooter.
“During the course of this shooting, Cortlen Henry has his back against the driver’s seat and is driving wearing this shirt when the shooting occurs. You know from that that he is not the shooter,” she said, adding that if he was the shooter, the blood stain may have been at a different angle.
There is also a blood stain on the back of the shirt, which proved to be from Sakchaser, proving that the blood splatter came from behind him, proving that Sakchaser sat in the seat behind the driver’s seat.
She also raised the “stippling” tattoo- an imprint of unburnt gunpowder on the left side of Juvy’s face suggesting that the shot that killed him was from as close as three inches to no more than 3 feet.
The prosecution took great pains to debunk the defense argument that it was Bortlen who fired the shot, noting that if he had done it, stippling would have been all over Juvy as well as Bortlen’s shirt.
As for the theory that a drive-by occurred, the prosecution touched on the reconstruction evidence, which showed that one gunshot from outside – Strike ‘K’ was fired while the back door was open as it was impacted.
“You have them [strikes] coming in 90-degree angles,” she said, adding that one of the bullets lodged in the door, but if it was a real drive-by, it would have lodged in the knees of the person who sat across from Sakchaser proving that the car was not moving and the door was opened when the shots were fired.
In the meantime, projectiles were found underneath the brake pad of the car.
“You don’t see any injuries on Mr. Henry. He got out of that car too,” Bradley said.
As she wrapped her argument, Bradley touched on the question of why Melly would kill his friends Juvy and Sakchaser but not Bortlen and the question raised by the defense that Melly lost his phone before the murders.
“He always has his phone,” she says after showing a video of Melly holding his phone as he left the New Era Recording Studios along with a cross-body satchel he carried. The satchel is missing.
While the defense has raised the presumption that the cell-tracking data may be unreliable, Bradley used juxtaposed the phone tracking information from cell phone towers with surveillance video of the grey SUV and red Mitsubishi stopping at McDonald’s, passing a Montessori institute and traffic stops to prove that the phones were exactly where the cell tracking data said it was at 4:03 am.
“Doesn’t mean it is 100% accurate; we’re saying that it is reliable, the data is also able to be corroborated with other evidence,” she said.
The statement from Bortlen was also disclosed, which read:
“I was getting sleepy, I was almost home…out of nowhere I just heard gunshots,” he said. “I just ducked down,” he said and said he didn’t see the car that fired the shots.
“He’s embellishing, trying to sell the story because there is no evidence that shows any sort of tire, or rim damage whatsoever,” Bradley said.
Less than two weeks after the murders, Melly’s Snapchat also sees him seemingly explaining that Bortlen did “one of the realest sh*t” for him and he was not leaving him behind, this the prosecution says is the rapper’s confession which supports another message to blood gang member Peezy Gambino that “I did that,” referring to the killings.
As for motive? The prosecution raised that the possible motives for the murder could have stemmed from an argument between Juvy and Melly’s mother, Jamie King, or the fact that there was a 16 million deal on the table for the YNW collective.
“Splitting something four ways or two ways with Mr. Henry?” she said.
Defense Closing Arguments
Melly’s lawyer Stuart Adelstein went through an extensive closing argument a little over an hour and raised doubt on the prosecution evidence that did not establish which was the first shot that was fired.
Adelstein raised the question that the police had not conducted a proper investigation and that they overlooked other key suspects, including Melly’s manager, because they were targeting the rapper.
“Ask yourself why a lead detective of a double homicide would not ask Jamieson Francoise (Melly’s manager) where are the guns…I suggest to you that he doesn’t want to know because God forbid, those or one of those could be the murder weapon and this rap star is down the tubes,” he said.
“You learned about Fredo Bang, supposedly takes him somewhere, why in the heck don’t you search his house? What kind of investigation is this woman talking about? Putting a young kid on death row or life without parole,” Adelstein said, adding the Miramar Police Department was out of depth in investigating the crime.
As for Henry, Adelstein also raised a text message sent by another person, which claimed that it killed two members of the YNW collective hours after the murder.
The attorney urged that the rapper be freed with the jury.
Meanwhile, the jury began deliberations mid-afternoon on Thursday and is going to be staying over at a hotel to continue deliberations on Friday. It’s likely a verdict may or may not come on Friday given the large swathe of evidence presented by the prosecution and the fact that Melly is facing the death penalty, which means that the Death Qualified jury will need to take care at arriving at a verdict.