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Young Dolph murder suspects appear for first court hearing

Justin Johnson and Cornelius Smith have been indicted in the shooting death of Young Dolph on November 17, 2021, in south Memphis.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The suspects in the murder of Memphis rapper Young Dolph appeared in court Wednesday morning facing charges of murder, attempted murder, and more.

The Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office said Justin Johnson and Cornelius Smith have been indicted in the shooting death of 36-year-old Adolph Thornton Jr. (Young Dolph) on November 17, 2021, at Makeda’s Cookie on Airways Blvd.

Both Johnson and Smith declined a public defender Wednesday, and told the judge they would hire their own attorneys.

The judge gave them both until January 28th to get an attorney or they will be appointed a public defender when return to court that day. 

23-year-old Justin Johnson - a Memphis rapper known as Straight Drop - and 32-year-old Cornelius Smith were each indicted on counts of first-degree premeditated murder, attempted first-degree murder, convicted felon in possession of a firearm, employment of a firearm in the commission of a dangerous felony, and theft of property over $10,000.

Credit: Shelby County Sheriff's Office
Justin Johnson and Cornelius Smith

RELATED: Authorities detail how they tracked down suspects in murder of Memphis rapper Young Dolph

The murder counts are for the death of Young Dolph, while the attempted murder counts are related to Young Dolph’s brother, who was with him at the time of the shooting. The theft count relates to the getaway vehicle from the shooting, which was taken in a carjacking a week earlier.

Both Johnson and Smith are being held without bond in the Shelby County Jail.

Johnson was arrested last week in Indiana by U.S. Marshals. He and a passenger were taken into custody without incident. Johnson waived extradition and was returned to Memphis last Thursday.

The passenger, 26-year-old Shundale Barnett, faces charges including accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. Investigators believe he helped Johnson avoid capture.

Credit: Clay County, Indiana, jail
Shundale Barnett

RELATED: New information on suspects in Young Dolph’s murder; third man faces accessory charge

Smith was extradited last week from DeSoto County, Mississippi, where he was being held on a theft charge since December 9, 2021.

Both defendants have criminal histories. The following is from the Shelby County D.A.:

Smith was convicted in 2011 of attempted aggravated robbery and was sentenced to three years in prison. In 2018 he was charged with aggravated kidnapping in a domestic violence case, but a grand jury declined to indict.

Johnson also faces charges of violation of supervised release on a 2019 federal gun conviction and violation of the Violent Juvenile Sex Offender Registry for an aggravated rape and aggravated robbery case handled in Juvenile Court in 2015 at age 17. A petition by prosecutors to have him tried as an adult was denied by a judge following a transfer hearing. He was placed in state custody and was released before his 19th birthday.     

  • On Jan. 31, 2017, Johnson, then 18, fired an assault into a group of people at a bowling alley, striking three people. He was arrested 10 days later and was held on $250,000 bond. Then, on:
  • May 2, 2017, Johnson pled guilty to three counts of aggravated assault and was sentenced to five years in prison on each, with the sentences to be served concurrently; after serving nine months, Johnson’s petition for probation was granted by the judge;
  • May 15, 2018, Johnson arrested on gun and marijuana charges, and was released on $7,500 bond set by a judge; prosecutors filed a petition to revoke his probation, resulting in his re-arrest a week later;
  • May 25, 2018, Johnson was released on a new $15,000 bond set by the court; two months later federal prosecutors took Johnson’s state gun case under Project Safe Neighborhoods; a federal indictment and conviction followed;
  • Feb. 21, 2019, Johnson’s state bond was revoked and a judge ordered his state sentence to be served concurrently with a federal sentence; Johnson served just over two years in federal prison and was granted supervised release by the federal Bureau of Prisons in May of 2021.

RELATED: Young Dolph slaying suspects have criminal history, district attorney says

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