The two suspects charged with gunning down rapper Young Dolph in a deadly daylight ambush at a Memphis bakery last November pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder Friday.
Justin Johnson, 23, and Cornelius Smith, 32, entered their pleas through defense lawyers in Shelby County Criminal Court in Memphis, Tenn.
After the hearing, Prosecutor Paul Hagerman said outside the courtroom that authorities believe they know the motive for the killing, but he declined to elaborate, the Associated Press reported.
Johnson and Smith were indicted last month for allegedly stepping out of a stolen Mercedes-Benz on Nov. 17 and fatally shooting Young Dolph as he was visiting a Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies.
Johnson was arrested Jan. 11 after authorities tracked him to a truck stop just outside Terre Haute, Ind.
Smith was arrested in December on an auto-theft warrant involving the stolen Mercedes.
Johnson’s lawyer, Juni Ganguli, said his client appeared “sad and confused” when they met at the courthouse Friday, according to the AP.
Young Dolph was born in Chicago but moved to Memphis with his parents when he was a toddler. Known for his deep voice and inventive lyrics, he gained notoriety with the 2008 mixtape Paper Route Campaign, then later his 2016 debut album King of Memphis and his collaborations with fellow rappers including Megan Thee Stallion, T.I., and Gucci Mane.
The rapper, 36, also was a beloved fixture in his hometown community and often mentored other local talent with his independent label, Paper Route Empire, also known as PRE.
Johnson, meanwhile, was pursuing his own rap career under the name Straight Drop, prosecutors previously confirmed. His recently deactivated Instagram account featured a photo posted Nov. 5 in which Johnson was wearing a large “PRE” charm on a chain at his waist.
Young Dolph’s aunt, Rita Myers, told Rolling Stone Jan. 5 that the family was still reeling from her nephew’s senseless slaying. “Our family has suffered a tremendous loss, because he was the glue that held our family together,” Myers said of her nephew. “I’m still crying, day and night.”
Judge Lee Coffee set the next hearing in the case for March 24.