At barely 5-feet-2 inches and 110 pounds, rap newcomer YNW Melly is not an imposing figure in his mugshots. Before he was arrested for double murder, the 19-year-old Florida rapper surrounded himself with grimy gangsters-turned-rap wannabes who were born and raised in the same small town he called home in South Florida.
They referred to themselves as the YNW (Young Nigga World) collective. Melly lovingly referred to them as his "brothers", his "best friends" and his "twins".
They looked out for each other on the road. When they made it big they split the tens of thousands of dollars they earned playing club gigs. Then police say Melly got greedy and murdered two of his "brothers" for "financial gain".
Police say Melly executed aspiring rappers Anthony "YNW Sakchaser" Williams, 21, and Christopher "YNW Juvy" Thomas, Jr., 19, in Fort Lauderdale on October 26, 2018.
Both victims were shot in the head at close range from the back seat of a vehicle they were riding in.
Melly waited 24 hours after the shooting to mourn his best friends in a post on his popular Instagram page.
An image, posted on Oct. 27, shows Melly, left, rapping with victims YNW Sakchaser, center, and YNW Juvy, right. In the caption, Melly wrote, "They Took My Brothers From Me Over Jealousy. I know y'all watching over me."
On Monday, the State of Florida announced its decision to seek the death penalty against Melly.
View this post on Instagram
They Took My Brothers From Me Over Jealousy ?? I know y’all watching over me ??? it’s #ynw4l @ynwsakchaser1 @ynwjuvy for Life and after ????, they wanna see me break down and stop or in jail or a box but my niggas still need me they parents need me they family need me till we meet again my twins my slimes ? ? #thankyouallforyourprayers
Another aspiring rapper Cortlen Henry, aka YNW Bortlen, is accused of assisting Melly after the shooting. Miramar police say the two teens drove around with their friends' bodies in the car "for a period of time" until they were sure they were no longer breathing. Then they drove the victims to a hospital.
Police say they staged a drive-by shooting and concocted an alibi placing themselves as witnesses at a location different from the original crime scene.
Bortlen later told police that Melly was in the same car as the victims but eventually got into another vehicle. Surveillance footage shows Melly exiting the back seat of the vehicle where the victims were shot.
All four "brothers" are pictured together in a photo Melly posted on Instagram announcing his decision to turn himself in to police on Feb. 13.
"To all my fans and supporters... I am turning myself in today ... a couple months ago I lost my two brothers by violence and now the system want to find justice.."
Bortlen is pictured on the left, victim Sakchaser is standing next to Melly on the right, and victim Juvy is squatting in the photo.
View this post on Instagram
To all my fans and supporters no I did not get locked up in Washington , but I am turning myself in today 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 @ynw.bortlen and we want y’all to remember it’s a ynw Family I love you @ynwsakchaser1 and @ynwjuvy #freeus
Melly was born Jamell Maurice Demons on May 1, 1999 in Gifford, Florida, a small town 150 miles northeast of Miami. His unwed mother was only 14-years-old at the time she gave birth to her only son.
The boy took an interest in music at a young age. He was inspired by his idol Michael Jackson and closely studied his dance steps and performances. Melly eventually made a name for himself on the Florida rap scene.
But without a strong father figure in his life, trouble soon followed.
Melly was convicted of aggravated battery, discharging a firearm in public and two counts of aggravated assault for shooting at a group of students near Vero Beach High School. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to serve several months in prison.
After leaving prison, Melly established himself as a 16-year-old SoundCloud rapper. He eventually caught the ear of rap producer Kanye West who blessed the youngster with collaborations on Melly's second mixtape called We All Shine.
A music video for "Mixed Personalities" featuring Kanye was released. By March, Melly's single "Murder On My Mind" garnered over 200 million streams and was certified platinum.
Melly was arrested on June 30, 2018, in Fort Myers, Florida for drugs and weapon possession. He was released from jail pending trial.
During one of his prison stints, Melly was reportedly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He often touched on his diagnosis on social media, identifying himself as both "Melly" and his psychotic alter ego "Melvin" in pictures.
"Which one am I, Melly or Melvin?" he asked in one post featuring a series of photos of himself. He promised to send money via Cash app to the first follower who guessed correctly.
In an effort to gain a foothold in the competitive mainstream market, Melly took a page from Atlanta rapper Young Thug's book and began wearing stereotypical feminine clothing including dresses and skirts.
His efforts worked. In August, Melly was featured as an emerging artist in Fader magazine's "Gen F" series. Rumor has it that he declined Fader's request to wear a frock in his photo shoot.
Melly was arrested again on January 3, 2019, in Fort Myers for possession of marijuana. He used his short stint in jail to promote his mixtape and music videos. The hashtag #FREEYNWMELLY littered his social media posts, and was still trending when he turned himself in for double murder a month later.
In his Fader magazine interview, Melly talked about Gifford, the little town where he was born and raised. He fondly recalled when Gifford got its first Popeye's franchise.
"Ain't nobody ever made it outta there. Period," he explained. "We had one NFL player made it out, but he brought his ass right back. Lost souls out there... 'cept for the people I'm with."