YNW Melly murder trial: Details about 2 shooting deaths emerge slowly in case expected to last another month

Witnesses for the prosecution of Jamell Demons, the rapper known professionally as YNW Melly, have placed the defendant in the car where his friends, Christopher Thomas and Anthony Williams, met their demise.

Surveillance video puts Demons in the back seat behind the driver. Testimony from the medical examiner’s office establishes that the bullets that killed the victims, seated in the front and rear passenger seats, came from their left, at close range. Other forensic evidence shows the gun was fired at close range.

Whether that is enough to convict Demons of murdering Thomas and Williams will remain up to the jury, but prosecutors are not done presenting evidence in a case that is expected to last another month.

Demons, 24, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. If he’s convicted, prosecutors say they will ask the jury to recommend the death penalty, a ruling that became more likely earlier this year when state law changed to allow capital punishment even in cases where the jury is not unanimous.

Prosecutors believe Demons killed his former friends in connection with his membership in the G-Shine offshoot of the Bloods gang. Demons, the victims, and Cortland Henry, the driver of the Jeep that became the crime scene, were all members of a rapping circle that used “YNW” as its initials. According to a video he posted on social media, Demons said the initials have a double meaning, “Young New Wave” or “Young N—– World,” with the latter employing a racial epithet commonly used in rap and hip-hop.

The driver, Henry, also has been charged in the murders and will be tried separately. He does not face the death penalty if convicted. Henry’s stage name was YNW Bortlen, while Thomas was YNW Juvy and Williams was YNW Sakchaser.

According to Broward Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Christopher Williams, the victims were not aware as they rode in the Jeep with Henry at the wheel that they were about to be shot.

“Mr. Thomas has a defensive wound on his right hand,” the investigator said. “At some point he turned and put his hands up …” Thomas had a gunshot wound on his thumb, he said.

The testimony was important because it contradicts what Henry and Demons later told police — that Thomas and Williams were gunned down in a drive-by shooting with bullets coming from outside the car on the passenger side.

Defense lawyers have worked to cast doubt on the claim that Demons was in the car at all at the time of the shooting. They say prosecutors cannot prove he was in the vehicle or in possession of his phone at the time.

Investigators also have never located the murder weapon, which is crucial to their efforts to reconstruct the crime for the jury.

The trial will resume Monday.

Rafael Olmeda can be reached at rolmeda@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4457.