YNW Melly, his mother, and his manager are among the people who could be on the hook for millions of dollars in two civil suits filed last week against the rapper by the families of two crew members he is accused of murdering.
A separate legal issue is also winding its way through the Broward County, Florida court system, involving access to a recording of Melly appearing to confess to the crime, a month after the Oct. 2018 deaths of Christopher “YNW Juvy” Thomas Jr. and Anthony “YNW Sakchaser” Williams.
Melly and his fellow YNW member Cortlen “YNW Bortlen” Henry were arrested in Feb. 2019. They were both charged with first-degree murder, accused of killing their crewmates and then staging the scene to make it look like a drive-by shooting.
Attorney John M. Phillips is representing Thomas’ family. He tells Complex that he had to file the civil suit now, as Florida’s two-year statute of limitations was about to expire. A civil suit, as opposed to the criminal case currently slowly winding its way through the courts, is one in which the jury decides whether the plaintiffs are entitled to monetary damages, as opposed to prison time if the defendant is guilty. The suit Phillips filed on Oct. 30, which Complex obtained a copy of, charges Melly with the wrongful death of Thomas (the similarly-worded Williams suit uses the term “murder” instead), and claims that “damages are in the millions or tens of millions of dollars or more.” The exact amount, Phillips explained, will be left up to a jury to decide.
Todd Baker, who is representing Williams’ family (or, technically, representing Edward Holodak, an attorney who is acting as the “anticipated personal representative” of Williams’ estate), makes mention in his suit that, prior to the killings, “tension began to develop between the once cohesive group of friends about how the money should be distributed. When there are less people splitting up the prospective money, the people on the receiving end will get more.”
When asked why he brought that up in the filing, Baker said, “The only thing I feel like saying at this time would be: you really don’t typically see two members of a group murder the other two.”
Melly’s mother Jamie King, his manager Jameson Francois, and his co-defendant Henry are named in both suits. Phillips explains that he added King because of a leaked Snapchat message of hers that contains threatening language towards Sakchaser. The attorney draws a straight line between that and the killings.
Phillips said that if it turns out Sakchaser was killed as retaliation for his dispute with King, “Unfortunately my client is there as well, and he’s also shot.”
“We could be completely wrong” about the theory, he admitted, “but that’s what we’re going to find out.”
Melly’s manager Francois is also mentioned in both civil suits. In the lawsuit from Williams’ family, he’s accused of “encouraging, inciting, soliciting, and/or making possible” Williams’ shooting. The suit also says Francois “knew or should have known about Demons’ and/or Henry’s plan to murder” Williams.
John Phillips is also involved in a second, separate legal concern with Melly and Bortlen’s legal teams. It all goes back to a hearing for the case in Aug. 2019, in which the state was laying out their case against Melly and Bortlen. In the hearing, Broward County Assistant State Attorney Kristine Bradley played a video that she says was found on Melly’s phone. It was recorded one month to the day after Juvy and Sakchaser were killed. In the hearing, she called it “a video of Mr. Demons admitting to shooting two individuals in the head.”
Phillips attempted to get a copy of the video, and Melly and Bortlen’s lawyers motioned to block its release. The publicity from it, they said, could deny their clients a fair trial by causing “pretrial prejudice.” Their filing mentions that Phillips has in the past tweeted about the case.
“It seems to me that it’s both a prevention of public records from being public and a gag order back door,” Phillips says. To him, Melly’s team mentioning his social media posts about the case is “hypocritical,” given that Melly, Bortlen, and others are posting as well.
“[They’re] going on social media every day and saying, ‘Mr. Demons and Mr. Henry are innocent, and they’re going to get out any day, and this is all frivolous,’ and all of that,” Phillips says. “My client isn’t going to be sidestepped for them to be able to speak. It’s not fair.”
“There’s just something so angry and venomous by—I hate to even call them fans—but they are fanatical,” he says. “The death threats, the urinating on my mother’s grave comments, they’re hurtful. We report them, we investigate them. My family hates to see them. But it’s a part of what we do.”
Complex reached out for comment to two of Melly’s attorneys and Bortlen’s lawyer Fred Haddad, but none of them have responded as of this writing. The Broward State Attorney’s Office had no comment, but pointed to a part of the motion to block the video’s release stating that “the Court can use its authority to ensure a fair trial to enforce [rules] regarding publicity and dissemination of materials.”