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Judge Steps Down from Young Dolph Murder Case Following Appeals Court Order

In response to an order issued by a Tennessee appeals court, a judge has recused himself from the Young Dolph murder case on Friday. The appeals court had raised concerns about the judge’s ability to remain impartial in the case involving a man charged with the murder of the rapper two years ago.

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee, following the appeals court’s directive, has asked the court clerk to assign a new judge to the high-profile case. The Tennessee Court of Appeals issued the order on September 28 after Coffee had initially refused to step down at the request of Justin Johnson’s lawyer. Johnson is charged, alongside two other individuals, in the fatal shooting of Young Dolph in November 2021.

Johnson’s attorney, Luke Evans, contended that Coffee’s impartiality was in question due to the judge’s failure to inform him about an order that restricted Johnson’s communication with individuals outside the jail, except for Evans.

Both Johnson and Cornelius Smith have entered not guilty pleas in the case of Young Dolph, whose real name was Adolph Thornton Jr. The rapper, music producer, and independent label owner was tragically killed in a daytime ambush at a Memphis bakery while he was in town to visit a sick relative and distribute Thanksgiving turkeys.

Coffee had previously set a trial date for Johnson and Smith on March 11, but it remains uncertain how Coffee’s recusal will impact this schedule.

Hernandez Govan, a third individual, has also pleaded not guilty to orchestrating the killing, which had a significant impact on Memphis and the entertainment industry.

Evans sought Coffee’s recusal following the judge’s restrictions on Johnson’s visitation privileges and the limitation placed on Johnson’s ability to communicate by phone or in writing with anyone outside the jail, including family. Johnson was accused of recording a rap song during a phone call from jail, as reported by the media.

The judge’s order was issued without contacting the defense or holding a hearing, which Evans characterized as “punitive.”

Coffee maintained that he issued the order for Johnson’s safety and denied the allegations of partiality, asserting that he had not formed any judgments about Johnson’s guilt or innocence.

The appeals court also pointed out an improper conversation between the judge and a law enforcement official regarding jail recordings and their release. The appeals court deemed this communication improper because it took place in the absence of Johnson or his lawyer. According to the appeal ruling, this conversation could lead a reasonable person to believe that Judge Coffee had a bias against Johnson.

The appeals court reversed Coffee’s denial of the recusal motion and directed that a new judge should be assigned to the case.

Evans expressed satisfaction with the ruling, stating that Johnson is looking forward to his day in court.

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