Judge rules on jury in death of rapper

MEMPHIS -- Jurors in the trial of two men charged with killing Young Dolph will come from outside Memphis because of intense media coverage of the fatal shooting in the rapper's hometown, a judge ruled Friday.

Judge Jennifer Mitchell decided in favor of a change-of-venue motion filed by Justin Johnson's lawyer, who argued during a Feb. 2 hearing that Johnson cannot get a fair trial before Memphis jurors due to the intense media attention and "public visceral outrage" over the slaying.

A jury will be be brought to Memphis from outside Shelby County for the June 3 trial of Johnson and Cornelius Smith Jr. Both men have pleaded innocent to first-degree murder charges in the daytime ambush of Young Dolph, who was gunned down in November 2021.

"This court is wary that jurors from Shelby County will not be able to lay aside their opinions or impressions and render a verdict based upon the evidence presented," Mitchell said while announcing her ruling.

Young Dolph, whose real name was Adolph Thornton Jr., was a rapper, producer and independent music label owner. He was gunned down while he was visiting his hometown to see a sick relative and hand out Thanksgiving turkeys.

Johnson's lawyer, Luke Evans, had argued that the killing has received relentless attention from news outlets and on social media, where some commenters have called for Johnson to be lynched or killed in prison.

Evans said Friday he was pleased with the judge's ruling.

Prosecutor Paul Hagerman recommended that questionnaires be sent to a potential jury pool of about 150 to 200 people in Shelby County to gauge the effect of news coverage and social media commentary. Once that pool is winnowed down, the judge would question the remaining members of the jury pool about the media coverage.

Mitchell said Friday that such a process could delay the trial, which already was pushed back from March 11.

Two other men were charged in the killing, which shocked Memphis and the entertainment world.

Hernandez Govan has pleaded innocent to organizing the killing. A trial date has not been set for him. Jermarcus Johnson pleaded guilty in June to three counts of serving as an accessory after the killing by helping Smith and Justin Johnson, his half brother.

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