A Chart-Topping Rapper Awaiting Trial for Murder Got Coronavirus in Jail. Now He Wants Out.
The 20-year-old rapper YNW Melly, of “Murder on My Mind” fame, is awaiting trial for a pair of murders. Now that he has COVID-19, his lawyer is fighting for his release.
As of this week, three inmates in Broward County Jail, the massive, 3,400-person jail in South Florida, have tested positive for COVID-19. One of them is YNW Melly. The rapper behind the haunting and melancholic single, “Murder on My Mind,” has been held in the facility for more than a year, awaiting trial on two homicide charges, which he vigorously denies. In two court motions filed Friday and Monday the rapper’s attorney, Bradford Cohen, called for an emergency release to relocate the rapper, born Jamell Maurice Demons, to a hospital, citing the jail’s failures of oversight, environment, and medical preparedness.
“We have the motion filed and we are waiting on the Judge to make a decision regarding the removal of Mr. Demons to a hospital setting,” Cohen wrote in a statement to The Daily Beast. “I cannot comment on his condition. I can say the jail has placed him in a cell with another inmate that is positive for corona...which is ill advised according to the CDC. They also are supposed to be checking on him every hour and have failed to do so.”
Despite his symptoms, Cohen claims, the jail has failed to comply with medical recommendations, like providing inmates with masks and cleaning supplies, or making hourly check-ups on his condition. “[The guards] are supposed to be monitoring him every hour,” Cohen wrote in the filing, “as most medical care physicians have acknowledged that they know very little about the virus—if it can worsen after getting better, if it can return multiple times, and if it does return, if that individual is better or worse off the first time they had the virus.”
The court filings described YNW Melly’s deteriorating condition, including “severe chills and heavy labored breathing,” “headaches and body aches,” and drastic weight loss. “Mr. Demons is 114 lbs,” Cohen wrote in the filing. “The jail is just ill prepared if his diagnosis takes a turn for the worse.”
According to Cohen, the rapper is also rooming with another inmate who tested positive for COVID-19. “Again, that is not recommended by any health care worker,” Cohen wrote in court documents. “They have no idea if the virus can be mutated or passed reoccurring between individuals.”
On their website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call the grouping of COVID-19 patients together in semi-isolation “cohorting.” Generally speaking, the CDC cautions against cohorting, in favor of individual isolation. They have made an exception on their website for jails, prisons, and detention centers—not for medical reasons, but due to space concerns. “Some correctional facilities and detention centers do not have enough individual cells to do so and must consider cohorting as an alternative,” the CDC states.
The filings are not requesting permanent bond, but rather permission to place YNW Melly in a hospital setting. The rapper volunteered to foot the bill, according to court documents, paying for both his own care and the officers who will monitor him. “This is simply a case where jail is not equipped to handle the spread of this disease,” Cohen wrote. “No one, not even the individuals at the jail, can assert with a degree of confidence that they are prepared for an onslaught of cases.”
The 20-year-old rapper began releasing music in 2017, while serving a one-year jail sentence for firing a gun near his school. He uploaded his most famous song, the jarring and brilliant single, “Murder on My Mind,” about a man who accidentally kills his best friend, to SoundCloud and YouTube in March of that year. He followed up with a debut EP, Collect Call, in December. The following year, he dropped his first mixtape, I AM YOU, featuring “Murder on My Mind,” and its partner song, “Mind on My Murder,” in which the rapper mulled over his own death. In January of 2019, YNW Melly released a second mixtape, We All Shine, which included his chart-topping hit “Mixed Personalities,” featuring Kanye West.
Just one month later, YNW Melly was charged with two counts of murder for the deaths of his two friends, YNW Sakchaser, or Anthony Williams, and YNW Juvy, or Christopher Thomas. The two young men, 21 and 19 respectively, had been fatally shot in October of 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Prosecutors alleged that Melly had staged the murders to look like a drive-by shooting. But Melly, who surrendered himself on Feb. 13, 2019, denied any involvement. “A couple months ago I lost my two brothers by violence and now the system want to find justice,” the rapper wrote in an Instagram caption. “Unfortunately a lot of rumors and lies are being said but no worries god is with me.”
Cohen has said that he believes YNW Melly’s lyrics in “Murder on My Mind” could be used against him in court, despite the fact that he wrote the song a year and a half before the murders took place, and described a different situation. While incarcerated, YNW Melly released his first studio album, Melly vs. Melvin, in November of 2019.
YNW Melly isn’t the only well-known inmate to seek early or emergency release—Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Tekashi 6ix9ine, and R. Kelly have made similar requests. Cohen’s first motion for emergency release came just days after 6ix9ine was released early from prison, where he was serving the last months of a two-year sentence over racketeering charges. The rapper suffers from asthma and was granted compassionate release to minimize his risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. On Tuesday, a judge denied R. Kelly’s request for release, citing the singer’s flight risk.
“It’s a scary situation for all inmates in the jails, as I believe most jails think they can handle this outbreak and my opinion is they cannot,” Cohen wrote in an Instagram post. “They must loosen the regulations on soap, hand sanitizer and wipes. They currently are banned because of alcohol content. Jails and prisons need to get ahead of this curve if it already isn’t too late.”