Third Suspect Charged in Young Dolph’s Murder

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Young Dolph - Credit: Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP
Young Dolph - Credit: Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP

A third man is now facing charges in connection with the shocking slaying of rapper Young Dolph at a Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies in Memphis eight weeks ago, officials revealed Wednesday.

Shundale Barnett, 27, has been charged with being an after-the-fact accessory to the deadly daylight ambush that ended the revered rapper’s life on Nov. 17, U.S. Marshal Tyreece Miller said at a press conference.

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According to Miller, Barnett was a passenger in a vehicle pulled over at a truck stop just outside Terre Haute, Indiana, Tuesday afternoon amid a national manhunt for Justin Johnson, 23, the Memphis man identified last week as the subject of a first-degree murder warrant in the Young Dolph case. Johnson was behind the wheel and taken into custody without a fight, Miller said.

“Shundale Barnett is a person who, we believe, was providing assistance to Justin since we’ve been looking for him,” Miller said, adding that Barnett was being held on a state warrant in Indiana pending extradition to Shelby County, Tennessee.

Young Dolph, 36, was gunned down at the bakery near Memphis International Airport after doing charity work in his hometown that included giving away Thanksgiving turkeys. Though the “King of Memphis” rapper gained great commercial success with his deep baritone voice and venerated verses mixing humor and darkness, he remained deeply connected to his South Memphis community, often mentoring 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 confirmed Tuesday. Though police have declined to discuss any personal connection Johnson may have had to Young Dolph, 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.

Asked Wednesday if police had a theory about the motive behind Young Dolph’s murder, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis said investigators were still sorting through “a wealth of tips” as well as “lots of rumors and innuendo.” “We’re really trying to sift through to the truth of what the real motives are. We’re just not ready to put that out there right now,” she said.

According to Miller, more than 500 tips started flooding in after authorities offered a $15,000 reward for Johnson’s capture last week. It was one such tip Tuesday that led U.S. Marshals to his location on Highway 42 in Indiana, Miller said.

News of Johnson’s capture surfaced just as prosecutors in Shelby County publicly identified Cornelius Smith, 32, as the second alleged gunman sought in the murder case.

From Left: Cornelius Smith, Justin Johnson and Shundale Barnett - Credit: Shelby County Sheriff's Office; Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; Clay County Sheriff's Office
From Left: Cornelius Smith, Justin Johnson and Shundale Barnett - Credit: Shelby County Sheriff's Office; Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; Clay County Sheriff's Office

Shelby County Sheriff's Office; Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; Clay County Sheriff's Office

Johnson and Smith were indicted Tuesday on charges they murdered Young Dolph with premeditation and also attempted to kill the rapper’s brother, Marcus Thornton, during the bakery attack, according to a copy of the indictment obtained by Fox13 Memphis.

The grand jury further indicted Johnson and Smith on counts of being convicted felons in possession of firearms, use of firearms in a dangerous felony and theft of the 2014 white Mercedes-Benz used as the getaway car.

Smith was first arrested Dec. 9 in Southaven, Tennessee, on an auto-theft warrant involving the Mercedes-Benz, prosecutors said. They allege the vehicle was stolen Nov. 10 during a carjacking at a gas station. A tipster helped police find the vehicle stashed behind a residence in Orange Mound on Nov. 20, officials said. Previously in custody at the DeSoto County Jail in Hernando, Smith was moved Tuesday to the Shelby County Jail to face the indictment.

At the press conference Wednesday, Shelby County District Attorney General Amy P. Weirich described Johnson as having an extensive criminal history. In July 2015, while only 17 years old, Johnson was charged with the armed robbery and rape of a woman at an Econo Lodge, Weirich said. He was found to be “delinquent” in the case and held until his 19th birthday, after which he was out of custody until his subsequent arrest in February 2017 for shooting three people at the Billy Hardwick All Star Lanes bowling alley in Memphis a month earlier, she said.

In May 2017, Johnson pleaded guilty in the bowling alley case and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released after serving nine months and later violated his probation when he was found with a handgun in May 2018, Weirich said. He went to federal prison over the handgun and was released in May 2021

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.”

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