FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Defense attorneys argued Thursday that rapper YNW Melly was being denied the right to face his accuser when a masked witness took the stand to testify about alleged gang connections during the performer’s double murder trial in South Florida.
Broward Circuit Judge John Murphy permitted Broward Sheriff’s Office Detective Danny Polo to testify with his face covered because he had received death threats from people unrelated to the case against YNW Melly. Defense attorney Jason Roger Williams said jurors are supposed to consider the demeanor of a witness to determine his credibility, and they can’t do that if they can’t see his face, the Sun Sentinel reported.
“The state could have chosen any expert in gangs,” Williams said. “They were elected to choose one who has threats against his life that don’t concern this case, and who is undercover. They have precipitated this problem.”
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Polo was eventually allowed to testify, tying YNW Melly, whose legal name is Jamell Demons, to membership in G-Shine, an offshoot of the Bloods. Polo said there are hundreds of photos of Demons with other Bloods.
Demons, 24, is facing a possible death sentence for the October 2018 fatal shooting of his childhood friends, Anthony Williams and Christopher Thomas Jr.
Williams and Thomas were both part of the YNW collective, known respectively as YNW Sakchaser and YNW Juvy.
Demons, Williams and Thomas were riding in a Jeep driven by Cortland Henry, known as YNW Bortlen, after a recording session in Fort Lauderdale when Demons fatally shot Williams and Thomas, the prosecutors said. Henry is charged as an accomplice in the case but will be tried separately.
After killing Williams and Thomas, prosecutors said, Demons and Henry drove the bodies to an area near the Everglades, where they shot at the back and passenger sides of Henry’s Jeep from the outside to make it look like Williams and Thomas were the victims of a drive-by shooting.
Prosecutors say the shooting was part of a gang action, while defense attorneys say the motive lacks credibility because Demons and the victims were close friends.
The gun used in the shooting has not been recovered.
On Wednesday, prosecutors and defense lawyers argued over whether a cell phone that appeared to be in Demons’ possession at one point on the day of the killings actually belonged to Demons. Witnesses tested that the phone was in the Jeep where the victims were killed, but defense lawyers say the state has not proved Demons held the phone while the crime was being committed.
Demons gained attention with his breakout song “Murder on My Mind” in 2017. He later worked with Kanye West on “Mixed Personalities,” which was released in January 2019, a month before Demons was arrested on the murder charges.