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Young Dolph murder case takes plea-bargain turn

The winding route in pursuit of the prosecution of the alleged killers of Memphis rapper Young Dolph now includes a plea bargain deal with one of the defendants.

Jermarcus Johnson, 26, pleaded guilty to three counts of accessory after the fact for the Nov. 17, 2021 slaying of Adolph “Young Dolph” Thornton Jr.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Hagerman laid out details of the plea to Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee, who approved the agreement, on June 9. The guilty plea could result in Johnson testifying in the trial of other defendants in the case.

Jermarcus Johnson, the half-brother of one of the alleged shooters, Justin Johnson, pleaded guilty to charges indicating he aided his brother after Thornton was ambushed at Makeda’s Cookies on Airways near Interstate 240 in the Charjean neighborhood.

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee shows Jermarcus Johnson the paperwork that documents his agreement to plead guilty to three counts of accessory after the fact for the Nov. 17, 2021 slaying of Adolph “Young Dolph” Thornton Jr. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

During the court hearing, Coffee asked Jermarcus Johnson, “… can you read, sir?”

Johnson responded, “Yes, sir.” 

Coffee ascertained that Johnson had attended Wooddale High School and fully understood the terms of the state’s plea agreement. 

The judge continued, “Mr. Johnson, do you testify that no one has coerced or you to promised you anything by signing this agreement?”

Johnson replied, “No, sir.” 

Coffee reminded Johnson that once a defendant signs a plea deal, he or she loses all rights to file an appeal. Johnson, who has been jailed at 201 Poplar for seven months, said he understood the terms of the agreement and had willingly signed the pact.

Johnson was first indicted on conspiracy to commit first-degree murder a year after Young Dolph was killed. 

One week later, Johnson turned himself in. Jermarcus Johnson had no criminal history before his involvement in helping his brother, Justin Johnson, escape capture.

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

In a brief press conference following the hearing, Hagerman said Johnson has been “very helpful” to the case. 

“He has given us a clearer picture, more and more of what happened,” said Hagerman. “Jermarcus turned in the phone, the car, although I can’t say anything more about the car. He has admitted his part in the conspiracy to help Justin evade capture. The state is even more confident that Justin and (co-defendant Cornelius) Smith were the shooters.”

Jermarcus Johnson was not offered the plea deal on a condition that he would testify in the murder case, however, Hagerman said, if Johnson is called to testify, he “must tell the truth.”

Johnson’s original conspiracy charge carried up to 60 years in prison. The three accessory charges are Class E offenses, which means Johnson faces 6-12 years in prison, Hagerman said.

Hagerman said Jermarcus Johnson pleaded guilty to helping alleged shooters, Smith and Justin Johnson, in the following ways:

Approximately, one week after the murder, Jermarcus Johnson had contact with Justin Johnson while he was a fugitive from the law. Accessory charges involve a vehicle and a phone. 

Jermarcus used a phone at Justin’s direction to deceive Justin’s probation officer that he was still in Memphis and coordinate communications with Smith on behalf of his brother.

The vehicle in question may have been one of several used by Justin to evade capture. Hagerman declined to say anything about the car in question. However, Jermarcus Johnson turned both a phone and a car over to the state for evidence.

Jermarcus Johnson, 26, is scheduled to appear on Thursday, Aug. 10. Sentencing could take place, but Johnson’s defense attorney, Josh Corman and Hagerman, both, agree that sentencing could be pushed back, depending on the status of the other three defendants. In the event of a trial, Jermarcus Johnson could be called to testify.

Hagerman declined to comment on whether another plea deal might be expected from the Young Dolph murder case.

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