Faced with a judge’s ruling that they cannot seek the death penalty against YNW Melly, Florida prosecutors are now fighting to overturn that decision – and asking to further delay trial for a rapper who has already been in jail for more than three years.
With the first phase of a jury trial set to kick off Tuesday, prosecutors argued Friday (July 8) that Judge Andrew Siegel was wrong in his ruling last week, which said that the state had forfeited the right to seek the death penalty by failing to give Melly and his attorneys proper notice.
If granted, the motion could once again delay trial for Melly (real name Jamell Demons), who faces two counts of first-degree murder over accusations that he and another rapper, YNW Bortlen, shot and killed Anthony “YNW Sakchaser” Williams and Christopher “YNW Juvy” Thomas Jr. in 2018. A trial had previously been scheduled for April but was called off at the last minute.
In the motion filed Friday, prosecutors argued it was “clear” that Judge Siegel’s ruling to block the death penalty was legally flawed – so much so that Florida’s attorney general’s office had already indicated that it planned to ask an appeals court to overturn the decision.
Prosecutors also argued that if Judge Siegel wouldn’t reconsider his own ruling, he should hit pause on the case to allow the appeals court to tackle the case. That would include delaying trial despite Melly’s recent so-called “speedy trial” demand, which would otherwise require a trial by this month.
During court proceedings on Monday (July 11), Judge Siegel denied the motion to reconsider his ruling but left open until Tuesday the question of whether he would delay Melly’s trial, which was set to kick off with jury selection this week.
The Broward County State Attorney’s Office declined to comment on pending litigation. Attorneys for Melly did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A first-degree murder defendant in Florida would typically face the possibility of execution if convicted, but Melly’s attorneys argued in April that the state had failed to comply with strict laws on how they must warn defendants that they’ll seek the death penalty.
Florida requires prosecutors to give notice 45 days after arraignment if they plan to seek capital punishment. In Melly’s case, the state attorney filed such notice when they originally indicted the rapper in 2019 but failed to do so when a so-called superseding indictment was handed down earlier this year.
Last week, Judge Siegel sided with Melly’s attorneys and said the failure was not merely a paperwork technicality: “The State’s discretion to seek the death penalty does not absolve it of its duty to strictly comply with the notice requirements,” the judge wrote on Wednesday (July 6). “To permit the State to seek the death penalty when it has not complied with the 45-day notice requirement would run clearly counter to the requirements of the rule and the intent of the Florida Supreme Court.”
In Friday’s new filing, prosecutors argued that Judge Siegel’s ruling was mistaken and ripe to be overturned. They said that the facts of Melly’s case were “substantially different” than earlier cases cited by Judge Siegel and that it didn’t make sense to require a new death-penalty notice for a largely-similar indictment.
“It is clear that the filing of a superseding indictment did not begin a new case, and that this is the same criminal episode,” prosecutors wrote.
Proceedings will continue in Judge Siegel’s court on Tuesday.
Read the full motion from prosecutors here: