MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A man accused of orchestrating the murder of Young Dolph pleaded not guilty Thursday — a year after the rapper and record label owner was mugged and shot while walking in a bakery in bought cookies in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.
Hernandez Govan, 43, appeared briefly before the Shelby County Criminal Court in Memphis.
He was arrested last week after being charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the murder of the rapper, who was 36 when he died. The judge scheduled Govan’s next hearing for December 16.
Govan is the third man charged with the November 17, 2021 murder of Young Dolph, whose real name was Adolph Thornton Jr. The murder in broad daylight stunned Memphis and shocked the entertainment world.
Police said two men got out of a white Mercedes-Benz and fired shots at Makeda’s Homemade Cookies, which is near the rapper’s childhood home in the Castalia neighborhood. Police released photos from surveillance video that captured the shooting, and authorities later found the car abandoned.
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 prison without bail. They are scheduled to appear in court on January 20.
In a weekly newsletter, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Govan “demanded and engineered the murder.” However, no evidence has been released to support this statement and a suspected motive has not been disclosed. The investigations are ongoing.
“I know you want all the 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 knew her, we couldn’t tell you. For ethical and legal reasons, we must limit ourselves to what is made public.”
Govan’s attorney, Bill Massey, said he is seeking the prosecution’s evidence in the case, which Massey says may not go to trial until after next year due to the amount of evidence and number of defendants.
Known for his portrayals of tough street life and his independent approach to the music business, Young Dolph was admired for his charitable work in Memphis. He organized Thanksgiving turkey giveaways, donated thousands of dollars to high schools, and paid rent and funeral expenses for people in the Castalia Heights neighborhood where he grew up.
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 town days before his assassination to visit an ailing relative and organize a turkey giveaway , which took place without him.
After Young Dolph’s death, a section of street near his childhood home was renamed after him. A private funeral was held and he was honored during a public ceremony at FedExForum, home of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzles and the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.
City officials and community activists also pointed to the murder 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 car theft in their driveway; the kidnapping and shooting death of an elementary school teacher who police say was kidnapped during an early morning run; and a man’s days-long killing spree, partially livestreamed, that resulted in the deaths of three people.
Young Dolph is one of several prominent hip-hop artists to have been 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 on November 1 after a party in Houston outside a bowling alley.
In an article in Tuesday’s The Atlantic, rappers Too Short and E-40 urged the hip-hop community to find ways to come together and support one another amid the industry’s tide of gun deaths.
Born in Chicago, young Dolph 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. He also collaborated on other mixtapes and albums with fellow rappers Key Glock, Megan Thee Stallion, TI, Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz and others.
He has had three albums that reached the top 10 on the Billboard 200, with 2020’s “Rich Slave” peaking at #4.
Makeda’s, the bakery where he was shot, was boarded up and closed before reopening in September.