FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida prosecutors have charged rapper YNW Melly with witness tampering ahead of his retrial on double murder charges even as his attorneys accused them of conspiring to hide evidence that the lead detective may have lied in a related investigation.
Prosecutors charged Melly this week with making sure a key witness didn’t testify at his first murder trial, which ended in July with a hung jury that voted 9-3 for conviction. Jury selection in the retrial of the 24-year-old rapper is set to start next week with opening statements anticipated in early November.
Prosecutors said in documents released late Wednesday that Melly is with the Bloods street gang. They say he used phone calls made by other jail inmates at his request and letters passed between them to get messages to Blood members on the streets. Those members successfully made sure a the key witness didn’t testify, prosecutors say.
James Benjamin, Melly’s attorney, told The Associated Press the tampering charges “are clearly retaliation” after he and law partner Daniel Aaronson accused Broward County State Attorney Harold Pryor “and his underlings” of a coverup.
He said Pryor, lead prosecutor Kristine Bradley and others conspired to hide that the lead detective in the murder investigation had been accused by a prosecutor in their office of asking another law enforcement officer to lie in a related case. They have asked Circuit Judge John Murphy to dismiss the charges or, at the least, assign new prosecutors from outside the county as they plan to call Pryor and others from his office as witnesses. A hearing on those motions is planned Friday.
Melly faces a possible death sentence if convicted of first-degree murder in the 2018 slayings of two childhood friends, Christopher “YNW Juvy” Thomas and Anthony “YNW Sakchaser” Williams. Their stage names all include “YNW” because they belonged to the same hip-hop collective. It stands for “Young New Wave” or another phrase that includes a racial slur.
Prosecutors say Melly, after a late-night recording session, shot Thomas and Williams inside an SUV and he and Cortlen “YNW Bortlen” Henry then tried to make it look like a drive-by shooting. Melly, whose legal name is Jamell Demons, remains jailed without bond. Melly’s biggest hit, “Murder on My Mind,” reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2019.
Meanwhile, Benjamin and Aaronson have alleged in court documents that Bradley failed to tell them that the lead detective, Mark Moretti of the Miramar Police Department, had been accused by one of her colleagues of asking a Broward sheriff’s deputy to lie. Moretti and that deputy have denied Assistant State Attorney Michelle Boutros’ claim.
Aaronson wrote in a court motion, “The only remedy is dismissal and let him (Melly) free.”
According to a transcript, Boutros said in a deposition last week that she was assigned last year to investigate Melly’s mother, Jamie King, for possible witness tampering. The mother was never charged.
As part of her investigation, Boutros brought King in for an interview with her attorney. Moretti was present, along with a deputy. She knew Moretti had a search warrant to seize King’s cellphone, but Boutros expected him to serve it when she wasn’t present — a standard procedure to prevent a case’s prosecutor from being called as a witness if something goes awry.
Boutros said Moretti was questioning King and grew frustrated with her answers. At some point, the observing deputy left, Boutros said.
Suddenly during the interview and with no deputy present to witness the service, Moretti gave King the warrant and tried to grab her phone, Boutros said.
“There is almost like a scuffle” between Moretti and King before he got it, Boutros said. The interview soon concluded and King and her attorney left. Another deputy, Adam Gorel, entered the room.
Boutros said Moretti told Gorel that if anyone asked, “You need to say you were here when I served the search warrant.” She said Gorel didn’t reply.
Boutros said she reported Moretti’s alleged statement to Pryor and her direct bosses and withdrew from the investigation, saying she couldn’t work with the detective. She said Bradley, Melly’s prosecutor, was informed.
She said that under the rules of evidence, she believes Bradley needed to tell Melly’s attorneys about her accusation because it could impeach Moretti’s credibility. She also reported Moretti to Miramar Police Department’s internal affairs unit. She said Moretti told investigators he was joking — something she said wasn’t true.
Boutros said that only last month, two months after Melly’s first trial, she learned his attorneys were never told about her accusation. She said she again contacted her supervisors and only then were his attorneys informed.
Miramar’s internal affairs department recently cleared Moretti of wrongdoing after Gorel told investigators the detective only asked for his name and identification number. He said Moretti never asked him to lie.