UPDATED: 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 30, 2023
The trial against Atlanta rapper Young Thug began Monday as opening statements from the prosecution started with some hiccups.
Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Lamar Williams, was indicted last year along with more than a dozen other YSL members for violating Georgia’s anti-racketeering and gang laws.
According to MSNBC, Chief Deputy District Attorney Adriane Love told the jury, “What you will not hear any evidence of is that the defendants were not involved in a criminal street gang.”
Young Thug’s defense attorney then objected to Love’s statement claiming the prosecution was burden-shifting, which the judge sustained.
The defense team also tried to move for a mistrial after Love potentially violated judicial orders in her PowerPoint presentation. The motion for a mistrial was ultimately dismissed by the judge.
Young Thug’s lawyers tried to change the narrative around their defendant by explaining to the jury that his name wasn’t gang-related but instead meant “Truly Humbled Under God.”
They also explained the meaning of Young Thug and Gunna’s hit track, “Pushin P,” saying it meant “Pushing Positivity.”
“It means, any circumstance you’re in, if you think positively about something, you can make it through. You’re pushing positivity,” Young Thug’s lawyer told the court.
On Wednesday, Detective Mark Belknap, testified in court about the history of street gangs in Atlanta, particularly the “Raised on Cleveland” or the “ROC Crew.” According to Fox 5, he is the first of potentially several hundred who are expected to take the stand in the trial of rapper Young Thug and five associates.
The trial is projected to last for months and has several high-profile figures as witnesses.
Lyrics To Be Allowed In Court
On Thursday, a judge ruled in favor of lyrics being used as evidence against rapper Young Thug in his upcoming trial.
According to AP, Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Ural Glanville said prosecutors will be allowed to use rap lyrics as evidence against Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Lamar Williams.
Specifically, Judge Glanville will allow prosecutors to introduce 17 sets of rap lyrics to the jury, but they must show how the lyrics are related to crimes the rapper and his co-defendants are accused of committing.
“The question is not rap lyrics. The question is gang lyrics,” prosecutor Mike Carlson told the judge.
“These are party admissions. They happen to come in the form of lyrics.”
Carson also argued the defendants were not protected under the First Amendment because they were not being prosecuted for the lyrics, instead, the lyrics were related to criminal acts or criminal intent.
Young Thug’s defense attorney, Doug Weinstein, argued that his lyrics were not an admission of guilt and that they could lead to unfair prejudice from the jury.
“They’re going to look at these lyrics and instantly say they are guilty,” said Weinstein. “They are not going to look at the evidence that’s actually probative of their guilt once these lyrics get in front of them.”
For instance, on May 17, New York’s State Senate passed a bill that would place limitations on how rap lyrics can be used as evidence in criminal cases. Now, Senate Bill S7527, or the “Rap Music on Trial” must pass the state assembly before it can be enacted into law.
Jay-Z is one of the leading music industry giants advocating for the groundbreaking piece of legislation. In January, the rapper’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, sent a letter to state lawmakers urging for the bill to be passed.
“This is an issue that’s important to (Jay-Z) and all the other artists that have come together to try to bring about this change,” Spiro said, according to Rolling Stone. “This is a long time coming. Mr. Carter is from New York, and if he can lend his name and his weight, that’s what he wants to do.”
Jury Finally Seated In Trial
On Wednesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys chose 12 jurors and six alternates. The jury was chosen from 40 qualified people, according to AJC.
The trial is expected to begin Nov. 27 and is anticipated to last four months to a year.
Jury selection in the case, which began in January, has taken an unprecedented amount of time to complete, with attorneys calling it “the longest in Georgia history.”
According to AJC, about 1,200 potential jurors were been summoned, many of whom said they couldn’t afford to miss work for a case that could last nearly a year once the selection process is over.
Young Thug, whose legal name is Jeffery Williams, has remained in jail since his May 2022 arrest.
The Atlanta rapper was arrested and charged with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, citing his participation in street gang activity. Williams and 28 members of his YSL team were named in the indictment, including popular Atlanta rapper Gunna, who was later released.
The charges ranged from murder and attempted armed robbery, to conspiracy to violate the state RICO Act.
Prosecutors labeled YSL, the rapper’s music label, a criminal gang.
Young Thug Health Concerns
In May, Williams was reportedly rushed to the hospital due to his failing health conditions behind bars. He was treated at and released from Grady Hospital in Atlanta.
Williams’ attorney has also been very vocal about his health as he claims his client has been showing signs of declining health while in prison. Some of his hardships have been said to include poor diet options, limited access to exercise in a small jail cell and a lack of available fresh air.
From 11 Alive:
In a motion filed on April 24, Williams’ attorney Brian Steel says the 31-year-old is not able to stay healthy. Steel lists in the motion that Williams has access to limited healthy food options and relies on food with ‘zero health benefits,’ like chocolate and chips.
Steel says Williams has had little access to fresh air and sunlight since May 2022, outside of when he’s transported to and from the courthouse, and exercise is limited because of the small cell.”
Jury Selection A Tall Order
Seating a jury in the Young Thug case and his alleged associates has been anything but easy.
In April, a potential juror in the case was thrown in jail for three days after she was caught filming on her cell phone during court proceedings.
According to AJC, Juror 1004 was put in handcuffs Monday by Chief Judge Ural Glanville, who visibly scolded her for violating his instructions.
“I went through a very long and arduous process of telling people what they could and could not do and you violated that,” Judge Glanville said to the juror.
The court initially thought the juror was livestreaming court proceedings, but when she admitted to filming she said she just recorded a video and deleted it once the juror next to her told her she was in the wrong.
“It wasn’t livestreamed at all,” the potential juror said. “I did take a video and then the young lady next to me said I couldn’t do that.”
When the juror’s phone was confiscated, the video clip was found by deputies in her “recently deleted” folder.
The woman also claimed that she didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to film since it was her first time being summoned to jury duty.
Gunna Released from prison
In December 2022, Atlanta rapper Gunna was released from jail after he pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge in the ongoing RICO indictment against fellow rapper Young Thug and several other members of YSL, a record label that prosecutors allege to be a criminal street gang.
According to WSBTV, Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, negotiated an Alford plea deal during his court trial on Wednesday. Under the agreement, a defendant does not have to admit that they committed a crime. However, the defendant must admit that the evidence presented by the prosecution could likely be used to persuade a judge or jury to find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Under the plea deal, the “Pushing “P hitmaker was sentenced to five years with one year to serve in prison. His one-year sentence was commuted to time served, and the remaining sentence was suspended.
Now, Gunna will be required to complete 500 hours of community service, with 350 of those hours speaking to young men and women in the community about the dangers of gangs and gang violence, Fox 5 Atlanta noted.
Threats To Kill Or Harm Witnesses
In July 2022, a motion was granted by Judge Ural Glanville, that forces defense lawyers to withhold witnesses’ contact information from their clients, after prosecutors cited, “numerous threats to kill or harm witnesses.”
Although defense lawyers denied any claims of witness intimidation, prosecutors allege witnesses have said: “that they fear not only for their own lives but for their families’ lives should they testify.”
District Attorney Fani T. Willis, also filed a motion with the court stating that YSL had, “a history of intimidating witnesses.” She also described an incident from the indictment in which a YSL member was accused of attempting to murder two Atlanta police officers.
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