FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The trial of Jamell “YNW Melly” Demons ended Saturday afternoon with a hung jury after more than 14 hours of deliberation over three days.
Jurors told Broward Circuit Judge John J. Murphy they could not reach a unanimous decision even after being instructed on Friday to do everything possible to resolve their disagreements. They wrestled with their decision for more than five hours after telling the judge on Friday they were at an impasse.
The 24-year-old Demons will remain in custody as lawyers for both sides prepare for a retrial in 90 days with a new jury. Prosecutors may reconsider their trial strategy, including whether to continue to seek the death penalty against the popular rapper.
Oral arguments took place on Thursday. On Friday, jurors asked for some testimony to be replayed, then told the judge they were deadlocked. The judge read out a routine instruction called the “Allen indictment,” ordering the jurors to try harder, consider each other’s arguments, and try to reach a unanimous agreement.
After that, they continued for over five hours on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Jurors did not message the court until early Saturday afternoon when they asked to see a damaged cellphone belonging to victim Christopher “YNW Juvy” Thomas.
Thomas and Anthony “YNW Sakchaser” Williams were shot inside a Jeep driven by their friend, Cortland “YNW Bortlen” Henry. Prosecutors said Demons sat behind Henry after an overnight recording session in Fort Lauderdale early on Oct. 26, 2018.
The four young men were part of a collective of rappers and longtime friends. Prosecutors believe Demons mingled with victims over money and creative credit, and that Demons was part of an offshoot of the Bloods street gang.
Defense attorneys say that’s not enough to explain why the demons would, without apparent provocation, fire a gun at Williams and Thomas, killing them.
Still, according to prosecutors, all the evidence points to Demons as the shooter. He was seen on surveillance footage climbing into the seat where forensic experts say the shooter was sitting. He told investigators the victims died in a drive-by, even though the bullets that killed them came from inside the car.
Although prosecutors don’t need to prove motive to win a guilty verdict, it could determine whether the jury can legally recommend a death sentence. The prosecution asked the jury to find that the murders were committed as part of gang activity, which can be used as an aggravating factor allowing for a death sentence.
The jurors should unanimously find the aggravating factor proven beyond a reasonable doubt to recommend death.
Demons and Henry were charged with stopping the car in a remote area off US 27 and shooting at the vehicle from outside to arrange for the car to pass. Henry then drove the victims, alone, to Miramar Memorial Hospital, where they were officially pronounced dead.
But prosecutors say the drive-by was staged when the victims were already dead.
Henry, who has been charged as the principal and accomplice to the murders, is to be tried separately. It is unknown if his trial will be postponed to make way for a new trial of the Demons.