Could the death sentence of a US rapper YNW Melly mark a terrifying turn in Florida law?

YNW Melly was charged after the deaths of Anthony Williams and Christopher Thomas Jr. in 2018. Credit: Getty Images

A judge in Florida has lowered the threshold for a death penalty sentence after a 24-year-old rapper was arrested on two counts of first-degree murder over four years ago.

YNW Melly, whose real name is Jamell Demons, was charged after the deaths of Anthony Williams and Christopher Thomas Jr. in Vero Beach, Florida.

Best known for hit song Murder On My Mind and a collaboration with Kanye West, his life is now in the hands of a jury who only need to vote 8-4 in favour of the death penalty.

His trial is due to begin on June 20, according to the Miami Herald.

How has the lowered threshold come about?

In April, Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis signed into law a new statute that allows juries to recommend a death sentence with an 8-4 vote instead of a unanimous vote.

It came after public outrage around Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, avoided death after a split jury in October 2022.

"Proper justice will be served in the state of Florida," DeSantis said at the time.

It is just one of a multitude of controversial political stances DeSantis has taken in his home state.

He has backed laws making it easier to own a gun amid a flurry of mass shootings in the US and continued his efforts to hinder abortion access in Florida.

Ron DeSantis signed the new statute into law in April. Credit: AP

Why could this case mark a terrifying turn in Florida law?

The 8-4 vote to recommend a death sentence is the lowest threshold in the country.

Alabama is the only other state that allows split juries to recommend death sentences, and it requires a 10–2 majority.

Judge John Murphy granted state prosecutors’ motion to follow the new law in the sentencing of Mr Demons, whose trial is set to begin on June 20.

If sentenced, Mr Demons would be one of the first to receive a death penalty verdict as a result of the new statute.

YNW Melly could change Florida law forever. Credit: AP

What are the charges against him?

Both Mr Demons and another man, Cortlen Henry, are charged with two counts of first-degree murder with a firearm.

They had originally told police that the 2018 deaths of Mr Williams and Mr Thomas had come about through a drive-by shooting, of which they were also victims, but authorities believe the incident was staged "in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner" for financial gain, according to a court filing.

The day after the shooting, Mr Demons posted on Instagram mourning the loss of his "brothers".

"They Took My Brothers From Me Over Jealousy," he wrote.

"I know y'all watching over me."

But in February, he took to the platform again to say he was turning himself into the police, referring to "rumours and lies".

"I want you guys to know I love you and appreciate every single one of y’all.

"(A) couple months ago I lost my two brothers by violence and now the system want to find justice.. unfortunately a lot of rumors and lies are being said but no worries god is with me and my brother."

As he was arrested, Mr Demons had just begun a concert tour across the US.

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