By Jeremy Binning
South Florida rapper, YNW Melly, is currently facing murder charges in relation to a drive-by shooting that took the life of two of his friends.
Anthony Williams and Christopher Thomas Jr., also known as YNW Sakchaser and YNW Juvy respectively, were both shot multiple times in late October 2018 as they were sitting in the backseat of a car with another YNW associate, YNW Bortlen. Bortlen, born Cortlen Henry, drove his friends to the Memorial Miramar hospital in Miramar, Florida where they were pronounced dead shortly after arriving. Bortlen is also being charged alongside Melly.
Born Jamell Demons, Melly rose to stardom with his breakout song, “Murder On My Mind,” which details a vivid interpretation of a murder Melly had done, as portrayed in the music video. One of the chilling lyrics that caught fans attention was “his body dropped down to the floor and he got teardrops in his eyes” which many fans pointed out after he was arrested for being too similar to the actual events that happened with his friends murders. The song was written while Melly was serving a one-year sentence for aggravated assault and possession of a firearm. This song came out early in 2017, over a year before the murders. However, prosecutors have used the lyrics to help build their case against him.
After the death of his friends, Melly was arrested again in early January 2019 for a probation violation and was credited with time served. In February, he was released and went on to do a couple interviews. In his Billboard interview he explains how close he was with his deceased friends and how hurt he was about their passing, “They were my day one brothers.”
Around the same time, his music career began picking up at a tremendous speed. Daniel Cantwell, a junior majoring in broadcast journalism, felt that he was on his way to becoming one of the top hip-hop artists because of how “unique and raw his music is.”
He was seen in Miami with Kanye West in early 2019 before he was arrested recording new music and was also seen with rapper Young Thug. He discussed with Billboard in January 2019 about his upcoming collaboration albums with Tee Grizzley and the late Juice Wrld, although neither project was ever released or marketed.
Melly was arrested Feb. 13, 2019 after police allege that he shot and killed Williams and Thomas, while Bortlen tried to stage the deaths as a drive-by shooting. More details emerged after his arrest including phone records proving that he was there at the scene of the crime. Autopsy reports suggest that he shot both from inside the car. Police argue that the bullets outside the car were staged to mislead detectives on the case.
Melly and Bortlen both plead not guilty in March 2019. If convicted, both are looking at life inprisonment with prosecutors seeking the death penalty for Melly. Bortlen was granted house arrest in May 2020, but violated parole after being seen at a strip club. He would again be released on house arrest in may 2020 after it was proven during his hearing for house arrest that he did not commit any other crimes during that time.
In October 2020, the families of Willams and Thomas filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Melly and Bortlens estate. The complaint revealed that the group of friends had a lot of tension arising over disputes of money and how the funds should be split.
The case is currently under trial, with their first court appearance coming this past week April 4.