A month after being arrested for their alleged involvement in the fatal shooting of Young Dolph, the two men indicted for his murder have pleaded not guilty.
Upon their respective arrests in January, Justin Johnson (23) and Cornelius Smith (32) faced charges of first-degree murder and theft of property between $10,000 and $60,000. Smith was also charged with attempted first-degree murder – it’s alleged he tried to shoot Dolph’s brother during the same incident that killed the rapper – unlawfully carrying or possessing a weapon, and employment of a firearm with intent to commit a felony.
As reported by the Associated Press (via Billboard) Johnson and Smith pleaded not guilty to the charges last Friday (February 11), with both pleas being entered by their lawyers in Memphis’ Shelby County Criminal Court.
In a statement obtained by AP, Johnson’s lawyer, Juni Ganguli, said he’d met with the suspect after Friday’s hearing. The lawyer reportedly said his client was feeling “sad and confused”, noting: “I don’t think anyone’s ever happy when they’re indicted for first-degree murder.”
According to prosecutor Paul Hagerman, the authorities working Dolph’s case are convinced they know the motives behind the rapper’s murder. He stopped short of expounding on any details, but said it’s possible the case will qualify for the death penalty (which is legal in the US state of Tennessee). Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Hagerman asserted that “Memphis is already past ready for justice in this case”.
The AP notes that both Johnson and Smith have prior felony convictions for violent crimes. As for their alleged involvement in the murder of Dolph, Ganguli and Smith’s lawyer, Michael Scholl, both refused to divulge any details of the case. Another court hearing has been set for Thursday March 24, where prosecutors will present their evidence to the defense attorneys.
Dolph was shot and killed in Memphis on November 17, 2021. According to eyewitnesses, the 36-year-old musician was shot through the window of a bakery, Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies. A private funeral was heldon November 30, before a section of a street in the neighbourhood he grew up in was renamed in his honour on December 15.
Warrants for Johnson and Smith’s arrests were launched in early January, with both brought into custody with a week. A third suspect – 27-year-old Shundale Barnett – was arrested later that month, and was charged as an accessory to Dolph’s murder.
It was alleged that Barnett had convened with Johnson shortly after Dolph was shot. According to a US Marshall, the pair were seen travelling together in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Johnson was arrested. Barnett was not present during Friday’s hearing.
In a statement given to Rolling Stone last month, Dolph’s aunt, Rita Myers, said the rapper’s family were traumatised by his murder. “Our family has suffered a tremendous loss, because he was the glue that held our family together,” she said on January 5. “I’m still crying, day and night.”