The man accused of organizing the murder of rapper Young Dolph pleaded not guilty Thursday, a year after the rapper and record label owner was ambushed and shot to death while shopping for cookies at a bakery in his hometown.
Hernandez Govan, 43, made a brief appearance in Shelby County Criminal Court in Memphis, Tennessee.
Govan was arrested last week after being indicted on charges including first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the rapper’s murder. The judge scheduled Govan’s next hearing for December 16.
Around what would have been the late rapper’s 37th birthday, a mural commissioned by the IdaMae Family Foundation to commemorate Young Dolph, whose real name was Adolph Thornton Jr., in the Castalia Heights neighborhood was defaced with buckets of paint. The foundation was formed in memory of the rapper after his death.
Govan is the third man charged with the murder of Young Dolph on November 17, 2021. The murder in broad daylight stunned Memphis and shocked show business.
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Police said two men got out of a white Mercedes-Benz and opened fire on Makeda’s homemade cookies, which is near the rapper’s childhood home in the Castalia neighborhood. Police released photos taken from surveillance video that captured the shooting, and authorities later found the abandoned car.
Justin Johnson and Cornelius Smith Jr. have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other charges in the shooting and are being held in jail without bail. They are scheduled to appear in court on January 20.
In a weekly bulletin, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Govan “requested the assassination and got it going.” But no evidence to back up that claim has been made public, and no suspicious motive has been revealed. The investigation is ongoing.
“I know all of you want details, you want facts, you want answers to some of these mysteries and things like that,” prosecutor Paul Hagerman told reporters after Thursday’s hearing. “Even if we did know, we couldn’t tell them. As a matter of ethics and our requirements under the law, we have to limit ourselves to what is made public.”
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Govan’s attorney, Bill Massey, said he was seeking prosecution evidence in the case, which Massey said may not go to trial until after next year because of the amount of evidence and the number of defendants.
Known for his depictions of tough street life and his independent approach to the music business, Young Dolph was admired for his charity work in Memphis. He organized Thanksgiving turkey giveaways, donated thousands of dollars to high schools and paid rent and funeral costs for people in the Castalia Heights neighborhood where he grew up.
His work in the Memphis community inspired what is known as “Dolphin Day” in the city, a day of public service projects scheduled for November 17 of each year.
His work as a rapper, producer and owner of the independent label “Paper Route Empire” took him away from Memphis, but the father of two had returned to the city days before his murder to visit a sick relative and organize a turkey raffle that took place without him.
After Young Dolph’s death, a section of a street near his childhood home was renamed. He was held a private funeral and was honored during a public celebration at FedExForum, the home of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzles and the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.
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City officials and community activists also pointed to the killing as symbolic of the scourge of gun violence in Memphis. Since the rapper’s death, Memphis has seen several other high-profile murders this year, including the shooting of a United Methodist Church pastor during a carjacking in his driveway; the kidnapping and shooting of an elementary school teacher who police say was kidnapped during a morning run; and the all-day shooting of a man that was partially broadcast live and killed three people.
Young Dolph is one of several prominent hip-hop artists killed in recent years. His independent approach to the music business drew comparisons to Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was fatally shot in 2019. Other rappers who have lost their lives to gun violence since 2018 include XXXTentacion, Pop Smoke, and most recently, Takeoff, who was killed. outside a bowling alley after a party in Houston on November 1.
Young Dolph was born in Chicago and moved to Memphis with his parents when he was 2 years old. He has released numerous mixtapes, beginning with 2008’s “Paper Route Campaign” and several studio albums, including his 2016 debut “King of Memphis.”
The musician has also collaborated on other mixtapes and albums with rappers Key Glock, Megan Thee Stallion, TI, Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz, and others.
He had three albums reach the top 10 on the Billboard 200, with 2020’s “Rich Slave” peaking at No. 4.
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Associated Press contributed to this post.