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‘Not guilty’ pleads third suspect in killing of Young Dolph

Prominent criminal defense attorney William Massey told reporters in a brief press conference that his client, Hernandez Govan, “had nothing to do with the murder of Memphis rapper, Young Dolph.

Following the Nov. 17 arraignment of Govan by Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee, Massey told reporters that Govan “was not a murderer.”

“By the prosecutor’s own admission, my client was not one of the two shooters,” Massey said. “He was not on the scene at the time this murder took place. He is completely innocent.”

“Do you really believe that?” One reporter asked.

“Yes, that is what I believe. My client is innocent of all charges.”

Criminal defense attorney William Massey representing his client, Hernandez Govan. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Govan’s appearance in court Thursday was the first anniversary of Young Dolph’s murder. Massey told reporters he attached no particular significance to the fact that his client was arrested one year after Thornton’s murder, only that Govan had no part in it.

Adolph Robert “Young Dolph” Thornton Jr., was gunned down on Nov. 17, 2021, while purchasing cookies in a South Memphis cookie shop in South Memphis.

Govan’s actual court proceeding lasted about 20 minutes, long enough for Massey to walk out with Govan, enter a “not guilty” plea, and request a court date.

Govan, 26, has a long rap sheet.

“How do you plead?” Coffee asked.

“Not guilty, your honor, and we ask for a court date,” Massey said.

Judge Lee Coffee (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Coffee set the next court date for Dec. 16. Discovery, the process by which the defense is given access to the complete body of evidence against a client, will begin immediately. Govan’s court date is nearly a month before alleged shooters, Justin Johnson and Cornelius Smith, are due back in court.

Johnson and Smith have been in custody for nearly a year. They learned this week they must answer to an additional conspiracy charge. All three are accused of plotting the murder for more than six months before the fatal ambush on Nov. 17, 2021. Their charges are:  first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Will they be tried together?

Coffee told The New Tri-State Defender that he intends to try all three together.

Accused in the murder of Young Dolph: (top) Justin Johnson; Cornelius Smith. (Photos: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

“Govan’s next court date is Dec. 16, but discovery will not be complete by that time,” said Coffee. “The other two defendants will appear on Friday, Jan. 20, of next year. Govan will appear in court on that date as well.”

Coffee, however, said it is still early, and it is likely that the trial will not begin in 2023. Any one of the three defendants’ attorneys could file a motion for a severance, requesting that their client be tried separately from the other two suspects.

“The case probably won’t make it to trial until sometime in 2024,” Coffee said.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Hagerman. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Paul Hagerman would not comment on any details directly involved in the case, whether more arrests were forthcoming in the ongoing investigation.

Hagerman would also not comment on any probable motive for the murder. According to court records, Govan once lived a few houses down from Thornton.

Govan began on June 1, 2021 to plot the murder of Thornton, according to Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, who has said Johnson and Smith were asked to do the hit by Govan.

Jemarcus Johnson (MPD photo)

Meanwhile, a fourth person, Jermarcus Johnson, now is in custody after turning himself in to law enforcement on Friday. Earlier in the day, Memphis had posted via social media that they were seeking him for conspiracy to commit first degree murder.




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