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YNW Melly Murder Trial Delayed Until Death Penalty Issue Is Resolved

A state appeals court will now decide whether Melly could face the death penalty if convicted.

A Florida judge on Wednesday postponed the start of YNW Melly’s trial on first-degree murder charges until a state appeals court can rule on a suddenly unresolved issue: whether prosecutors can seek the death penalty against the rapper.

Jury selection had been set to kick off this week, but that schedule has been derailed by a decision last week in which Judge Andrew Siegel ruled that that state had forfeited the right to seek the death penalty by failing to give Melly and his attorneys proper notice.

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After that ruling, prosecutors argued that it was clearly incorrect and asked Judge Siegel put the death penalty back on the table. Though he denied a request to overturn his own ruling, the judge ruled Wednesday that he would halt the trial until a higher court can give legal clarity on the particular death penalty issue in the case — a novel legal question that has never been decided by a Florida court.

It’s unclear how long it might take for an appeal to be filed and decided. Judge Siegel set a status conference for July 21, but that doesn’t mean a ruling will have been issued by then.

The order means another delay for Melly (real name Jamell Demons), who has been in jail awaiting trial since 2019 on accusations that he and another rapper 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, prompting Melly’s attorneys to file a so-called “speedy trial demand” that would require the case to start within 60 days.

An attorney for Melly did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday. A spokesman for the state attorney’s office declined to 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.”

Days later, 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.

Now that issue will be resolved by a state appeals court.