2 Men Tied to Killing of Rapper Young Dolph Have Violent Histories: Prosecutor

Prosecutors said Wednesday that two men arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of rapper Young Dolph at a popular cookie shop in Tennessee have a history of violent criminal activity.

Adolph Thornton Jr., also known as the rapper Young Dolph, went to buy cookies at Makeda's Homemade Cookies bakery in Memphis on November 17 when he was gunned down and fatally shot in broad daylight.

Police arrested Justin Johnson, 23, and Cornelius Smith, 32, in connection with the killing, but it isn't their first run-in with law enforcement.

At the age of 17, Johnson was in juvenile custody after he was charged with aggravated rape and aggravated robbery, according to Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich.

Additionally, Johnson had been arrested on weapons and drug charges and previously served time for shooting three people at a bowling alley. He was arrested Tuesday in Indiana for his connection to Young Dolph's death.

Smith also has a violent criminal record. He previously served three years in prison for attempted robbery and aggravated assault, Weirich said. Police arrested Smith last month on an auto-theft warrant for the vehicle used in the shooting.

Smith is currently being held in the Shelby County jail in Memphis and Johnson is waiting to be extradited to Tennessee.

Young Dolph Shooting Death
Prosecutors say two people arrested in connection with the shooting death of rapper Young Dolph had a history of violent crimes. Above, rapper Young Dolph backstage during day 1 of 2021 ONE Musicfest at Centennial Olympic Park on October 9, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. Prince Williams/Getty Images

Authorities said they have not yet identified a motive for the shooting.

Johnson was traveling on a highway in Indiana on Tuesday when he was stopped and arrested outside of Terre Haute by authorities from the U.S. Marshals office, U.S. Marshal Tyreece Miller said. Johnson is being held on a federal probation violation and appeared before a federal magistrate in Indiana on Wednesday, Miller said. Authorities had issued an arrest warrant for him on first-degree murder and other charges. He will be extradited to Memphis, Miller said.

A passenger in the car, Shondale Barnett, 27, was also arrested and charged with being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder and is awaiting extradition to Tennessee, Miller said.

A grand jury indicted Smith on first-degree murder and other charges on Tuesday.

Police previously said two men got out of a white Mercedes-Benz and fired shots into Makeda's Homemade Cookies bakery where Young Dolph, 36, was buying cookies, and killed him. Police released photos taken from surveillance video that captured the shooting. Memphis Police Director Cerelyn "CJ" Davis said Wednesday that she could not provide details on evidence or provide a theory about a motive in the shooting.

"We're just not ready to put that out there right now," she said.

Authorities said they received more than 500 tips from people in Indianapolis, Houston, Dallas, and the state of Virginia.

"It's a major case," Miller said. "It's a big deal."

The shooting stunned Memphis and shocked the entertainment world. City officials and community activists pointed to the killing as a symbol of the dangers of gun violence in Memphis, where more than 300 homicides were reported last year.

Known for his depictions of tough street life and his independent approach to the music business, Young Dolph was admired for charitable works in Memphis. He organized Thanksgiving food giveaways, donated thousands of dollars to high schools, and paid rent and covered funeral costs for people in the Castalia Heights neighborhood where he was raised. When he was killed, the 36-year-old rapper was in Memphis to hand out Thanksgiving turkeys and visit a cancer center.

A private funeral was held on Nov. 30 and a section of a street in the neighborhood where he grew up was renamed for him Dec. 15. He also was honored at a public celebration at FedExForum, the home of the NBA's Memphis Grizzles and the University of Memphis men's basketball team.

Young Dolph was born in Chicago and moved to Memphis with his parents when he was 2. He released numerous mixtapes, starting with 2008′s "Paper Route Campaign," and multiple studio albums, including his 2016 debut "King of Memphis." He also collaborated on other mixtapes and albums with fellow rappers Key Glock, Megan Thee Stallion, T.I., 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.

Young Dolph had survived previous shootings. He was shot multiple times in September 2017 after a fight outside a Los Angeles hotel. In February of that year, his SUV was shot at in Charlotte, North Carolina, more than 100 times. That was the inspiration for the song "100 Shots." He said he survived because he had bulletproof panels in his vehicle.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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