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It has been close to a year and a half since the indictment involving rapper Young Thug was handed up to a judge and on Monday, Nov. 27 opening statements in YSL RICO trial are finally set to begin.
The RICO trial against Grammy-nominated rapper, Atlanta native Young Thug, and members of the alleged gang named Young Slime Life is one of the most historic trials to take place in Fulton County over recent years. There has been much controversy surrounding the case; from the expectancy of how long the trial would last, contraband being brought into the courtroom, a defense attorney being arrested, and a courtroom deputy fired and arrested after an alleged inappropriate relationship with a defendant.
Perhaps one of the most important turn of events happened in early November when a Fulton County judge made the decision to allow rap lyrics as evidence against Young Thug and other defendants.
Judge Ural Glanville conditionally admitted 17 sets of rap lyrics that prosecutors can use as evidence in the gang trial against Young Thug and his alleged associates. The judge agreed that prosecutors have to lay a foundation in order to use them.
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Young Thug whose real name is Jeffery Williams, was arrested in May 2022, since then the rapper has been held in jail after numerous bond requests were denied by Judge Glanville.
In the initial indictment, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis alleged that Young Thug, fellow rapper Sergio Kitchens, known as Gunna, and 27 others were involved in events dating back to 2015 that included numerous murders, attempted murders, and other crimes.
As of Nov. 8, only Young Thug and 5 others are set to stand trial. The other initial defendants either took plea deals or have been severed from this trial.
The indictment details the 2015 murder of Donavon Thomas Jr., referred to as ‘Nut’ throughout the rap industry. The indictment also mentions the attempted murder of rival rapper YFN Lucci by alleged members of the YSL gang that were incarcerated with him.
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Ahead of opening statements, we’ve taken time to answer some questions you may have about the trial and those involved:
WHO IS YOUNG THUG?
Young Thug’s eccentric style and mumble rap — along with breakout hits such as “Stoner” and “Best Friend” — have made him popular. His squeaky high-pitched vocals can be heard in the background of Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” a social-political hit that became the first hip-hop track to win the song of the year Grammy Award.
Young Thug won a Grammy in 2019 for his co-writing efforts on the track, which included 21 Savage, Quavo, BlocBoy JB, Slim Jxmmi of the duo Rae Sremmurd. He has had several mixtapes and three studio albums including his recent “Business is Business” music project, which was released in June.
Young Thug has collaborated with some of music’s best including Drake, Chris Brown, T.I. and Travis Scott. Elton John called working with Young Thug an “amazing moment” after recording the song “Always Love You” featuring Nicki Minaj and Gunna.
Young Thug has three chart-topping songs including “Havana” with Camila Cabello, “Way 2 Sexy” with Drake and Future and “Franchise” featuring Travis Scott and M.I.A.
He signed with Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records in 2013.
In a hyper-masculine hip-hop scene, Young Thug refused to play by traditional gender rules. He wore a dress on the cover of his 2016 mixtape “Jeffery” and said there’s no such thing as gender as part of a Calvin Klein campaign.
On social media, some noticed Young Thug referencing his male friends as “bae,” “lover” and “hubby.”
Young Thug grew up in a rough suburban Atlanta housing project near Cleveland Avenue where crime was the norm. He became a father at the age of 17 and currently has six children.
Prosecutors have painted Young Thug as a gang leader known as King Slime, someone who calls the shots and directs others to engage in criminal activity.
WHAT ARE THE CHARGES YOUNG THUG FACES?
A Fulton County grand jury indicted Young Thug in May 2022, and more charges were added in a subsequent indictment in August of that year. The second indictment accuses Young Thug and 27 other people of conspiring to violate Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO. The rapper is also accused of participation in criminal street gang activity, as well as drug and gun charges.
Prosecutors say Young Thug and two other people co-founded a violent criminal street gang in 2012 called Young Slime Life, or YSL, which they say is associated with the national Bloods gang. The indictment says Young Thug “made YSL a well-known name by referring to it in his songs and on social media.”
Fulton County District District Attorney Fani Willis said in a news conference in May 2022 that Young Thug and the alleged members of YSL operated as a criminal street gang and “commenced to do havoc in our community,” since 2012.
Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant called Young Thug one of Atlanta’s “top offenders” who needed to be taken off the streets.
“They are committing conservatively 75% to 80% of all the violent crime in our community,” Willis said. “It doesn’t matter your notoriety or fame, if you come to Fulton County, Georgia, and you commit crimes, you are going to be a target and a focus of this District Attorney’s office.”
Willis said some of the people being indicted could face life in prison.
Willis said social media and music played a crucial role in the investigation into Young Thug and his associates.
“Social media is a wonderful tool for prosecutors in every indictment we bring these days,” Willis said.
In addition to specific charges, the August indictment includes a wide-ranging list of 191 acts that prosecutors say were committed between 2013 and 2022 as part of the alleged conspiracy to further the gang’s interests.
The indictment also said Williams and YSL member engaged in the activities such as:
Preserving, protecting and enhancing the reputation, power and territory of the enterprise through acts of racketeering activity including murder, assault and threats of violence;
Preserving, protecting and enhancing the reputation, power and territory of the enterprise by the posting of messages, images, videos and songs, demonstrating allegiance to the enterprise and a willingness to engage in violence on its behalf;
Maintaining armed individuals ready and willing to preserve, protect and enhance the reputation, power and territory of the enterprise through the use of violence;
Obtaining money, weapons and other property through acts of racketeering activity, including robbery, theft and the unlawful sale and distribution of drugs;
Obstructing law enforcement investigations and court proceedings through witness intimidation and attacks upon law enforcement officers.
In May 2022, Williams’s attorney Brian Steel told Channel 2′s Mark Winne that his client committed no crime.
“I’ll tell you the response to any allegation is Mr. Williams committed no crime whatsoever and we will fight to my last drop of blood to clear him,” he said.
Police said YSL claims affiliation with the national Bloods gang and Williams is one of three alleged YSL Founders.
WHO ELSE IS CHARGED?
Rapper Gunna was charged with a single count of racketeering conspiracy. Channel 2 Action News was first to break the story when Gunna entered an Alford plea in December, which means he maintains his innocence but recognizes that it’s in his best interest to plead guilty.
Channel 2′s Mark Winne was the only reporter in the courtroom when the rapper responded, “Yes, ma’am” when a prosecutor said that “YSL is a music label and a gang” and that he had knowledge that its members or associates had committed crimes in furtherance of the gang.
The other two people accused of co-founding the YSL gang — Walter Murphy and Trontavious Stephens — were also charged. They each pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to violate the anti-racketeering law.
As of Nov. 8 there are only 6 defendants remaining:
Jeffrey Williams aka YOUNG THUG -- RICO charges, participation in criminal street gang activity
Deamonte Kendrick aka YAK GOTTI -- RICO charges and murder.
Shannon Stillwell aka Shannon Jackson aka SB -- RICO charges, murder, participation in a criminal street gang, gun charges
Rodalius Ryan aka LIL ROD -- RICO charges
Quamarvious Nichols -- RICO charges, murder, participation in criminal street gang activity and gun charges.
Marquavius Huey aka QUA -- RICO charges, armed robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, hijacking a motor vehicle in the first degree, participation in a criminal street gang, possession of a telecommunication device by an incarcerated individual and gun charges.
WHAT HAS YOUNG THUG BEEN DOING SINCE HIS ARREST?
In May, Young Thug was taken to the hospital for a second day in a row after feeling sick before court proceedings, according to the judge presiding over the trial.
More than a year after he was jailed, Young Thug surprisingly released his third studio album “Business is Business,” which was executive produced by Metro Boomin. The album — which featured Drake, Future and Lil Uzi Vert — debuted No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Young Thug’s album dropped a week after Gunna released his new project.
WHAT PENALTIES DOES YOUNG THUG FACE IF HE’S CONVICTED?
Young Thug’s racketeering conspiracy charge and two gang charges each carry a penalty of five to 20 years in prison. The other five charges also carry potential prison time.
WHAT’S NEXT IN YOUNG THUG’S CASE?
Jury selection began in January. Channel 2′s Michael Seiden was there as hundreds of potential jurors filed into the courthouse to fill out a jury questionnaire with more than 250 questions.
It took nearly 10 months to seat a jury, which is highly unusual. Channel 2′s Courtney Francisco was at the Fulton County Courthouse in November as there was a scramble to get a jury seated before Nov. 6. If the jury hadn’t been seated by then, the case would have had to start over, according to speedy trial rules.
At the start of the day, the judge and attorneys were working to whittle 50 potential jurors down to the final 12.
By noon, the judge had excused one woman from the list. The trial is expected to last about nine months, and the judge agreed she could lose her job if she is out for that long.
The makeup of the 12 jurors consists of six black women, 2 black males, 1 white woman, 1 white male, 1 Hispanic woman, and 1 other woman. As for the six alternates, they consist of four black women, 1 black male, and 1 white male.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.