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Fearing for his safety, an accused killer of ‘Young Dolph’ seeks new confinement

One of the accused killers of Memphis rapper Young Dolph is OK with spending twenty-three and a half hours locked in a cell at the Shelby County Penal Farm. In fact, that’s the request he has made through an attorney.

From Justin Johnson’s point of view, the issue is safety after he was beaten while making a telephone call in the Downtown jail.

Johnson, aka “Straight Drop,” will be staying put, at least until Chief Jailer Kirk Fields reports back to Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee after conferring with the office of Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr.

The developments elevated Friday’s status hearing beyond the expected “routine” procedure.

The status hearing (Nov. 4) for defendants Justin Johnson and Cornelius Smith before Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Johnson and fellow defendant Cornelius Smith appeared before Coffee as the prosecution continues for the pair charged with hunting down 36-year-old Adolph Robert Thornton Jr. – “Young Dolph” – and shooting him to death in one of his favorite stops, Makeda’s Homemade Cookies in South Memphis, on Nov. 17 of last year.

The funeral program for Adolph Thornton Jr., renowned by his stage name, Young Dolph.

“Your honor, because of some ongoing safety concerns and conditions of confinement, my client is asking if he can be moved to the penal farm,” said Luke Evans, the attorney Johnson’s family hired about a month ago.

Evans did not expound on any specifics regarding safety or conditions from which Johnson was seeking relief. He asked Coffee to facilitate the move as quickly as possible.

According to Johnson’s former attorney, Juni Ganguli, Johnson was on the telephone when another inmate walked up and punched him. Johnson reportedly did not hit back.

Ganguli did report that when he visited his client all movement among staff and inmate populations were halted because of the case’s high profile. Friday was Evans’ first appearance before Coffee.

“Any decision made about where an inmate is housed would be made by the Shelby County Sheriff,” Coffee told Evans.

Shelby County Judge Lee Coffee details next steps after defendant Justin Johnson’s request for a transfer to the Shelby County Penal Farm. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Coffee asked Johnson if he was aware that he would spend 23 ½ hours locked in his cell at the penal farm. Johnson said he still wanted to be moved.

Coffee then sent for Fields to enlighten the court about housing policy concerning inmates who had not been tried. Fields could not give a definitive answer, committing to talk with Bonner and report back to court.

The next court date was set for Jan. 20 after Evans asked Coffee to change the original proposed date to Dec. 9. Evans said he was still going through “discovery,” the process by which the defense is given all the evidence against a client.

Defendant Cornelius Smith follows the proceedings in his status hearing in the killing of Young Dolph. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Johnson and Smith were indicted on Jan. 12, 2022. Both entered not-guilty pleas in February. They are on the hook for first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, employment of a firearm and theft of property over $10,000.

The theft charge relates to the stolen white Mercedes from which the killers – captured on video – leaped, charged into the store and sprayed bullets, with 22 of them hitting Young Dolph.

Cornelius Smith (upper left) and Justin Johnson killed Memphis rapper Young Dolph, according to local enforcement officials, and now are in jail on charges that include first-degree murder. Video captured the ambush as it went down.



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