Most of the 28 defendants charged in last year’s sweeping Fulton County indictment have had their cases separated from the trial for various reasons. Eight accepted plea deals offered by the state, four didn’t have legal representation in time and two hadn’t been arrested when the trial started Jan. 4.
Six other defendants’ cases were severed during jury selection, bringing the number of remaining defendants set to stand trial together to eight.
More than 2,000 potential jurors have been summoned to the Fulton County courthouse since January, and the last six months were largely spent addressing their hardships. Many have said they have jobs and families to support and can’t afford to serve as jurors in a trial that will likely extend into next year.
The judge presiding over the case, Chief Judge Ural Glanville, expects to begin individual juror examinations by the end of August.
Here are key things to know about the high-profile case:
Who is Young Thug?
For many involved in Atlanta’s hip-hop scene, Williams’ penchant for creating indelible art out of bizarre, unorthodox elements across music and fashion has made him one of the most innovative rappers to emerge from the city in the 21st century.
“He just seemed like one of those guys who was hungry to make it, so seeing him become this megastar is just amazing,” said Zaytoven, a Grammy-award winning producer who has worked with Young Thug. “It’s really a heroic story because that guy looked like he came from absolutely nothing.”
In the past decade, the 31-year-old, chart-topping artist has played a crucial role in catapulting Southern trap music to mainstream success. By 2021, with the release of his sophomore album “Punk” (his third album to debut at No.1 on the Billboard charts), he was starting to forge the beginning of a successful, genre-defying career.
Then, in May 2022, he and 27 alleged associates were indicted on gang and RICO charges by a Fulton grand jury.
In 2016, Williams established Young Stoner Life Records. Several artists on its roster are friends and relatives who grew up on Atlanta’s southside. Many who know Young Thug and have worked alongside him over the years say the charges are overblown.
“People should definitely know that YSL is not a gang,” said Charles Baker, aka Fully Charged, an Atlanta-based photographer who has worked closely with artists signed to Young Thug’s label. “It’s definitely more of a music movement filled with love, filled with family and friends, filled with hope and motivation for aspiring artists and creatives and all-around hip-hop heads.”
Williams released a new album last month from the Cobb County Jail. Titled “Business is Business,” it features prominent fellow rappers Drake, Future, 21 Savage and Travis Scott, among others. Fellow defendant Yak Gotti, whose real name is Deamonte Kendrick, is also featured on one of the tracks.
Building a case
Prosecutors say they’ve linked the group to drug and weapons charges, numerous shootings and two homicides. Those who have taken plea deals in the case, including fellow rapper Gunna, have said under oath that YSL is, in fact, a gang.
Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, accepted an Alford plea in the case last December. In such circumstances, defendants do not admit to being guilty of the crime but instead acknowledge it’s in their best interests to enter a plea.
“YSL is a music label and a gang, and you have personal knowledge that members or associates of YSL have committed crimes in furtherance of the gang,” prosecutor Adriane Love asked Gunna to acknowledge during his plea deal.
“Yes, ma’am,” Gunna replied from the stand.
Young Thug’s brother, Quantavious Grier, was also charged in the case. He took a plea deal last December but was arrested again in May after police found a gun in his SUV at a Cleveland Avenue gas station. The rapper, who performs under the name Unfoonk, was sentenced by Chief Judge Ural Glanville to more than nine years in prison for violating his probation.
Young Thug’s charges include violating the state’s RICO act, participating in criminal street gang activity and possession of a machine gun. Prosecutors have accused Williams of renting an Infiniti sedan that was used in a 2015 drive-by shooting that killed a rival gang member.
“The leader, the top dog, the most dangerous man here is Jeffery Williams,” former Fulton County prosecutor Don Geary alleged at a hearing last year before leaving the DA’s office. “He doesn’t have to get his hands dirty. He has others do his business.”
District Attorney Fani Willis has painted the indictment against Young Thug and others as a step toward reducing violent crime in Atlanta.
“It does not matter what your notoriety is, what your fame is,” Willis said at a press conference last year. “If you come to Fulton County, Georgia, and you commit crimes ... you are going to become a target and a focus of this district attorney’s office.”
The indictment cites numerous rap lyrics by Williams and others as “an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy,” but it remains to be seen how heavily prosecutors may rely on such evidence during the trial. Willis has defended her use of the lyrics, saying, “If you decide to admit your crimes over a beat, I’m going to use it.”
Her decision to use lyrics has been met with criticism from industry musicians and producers, some of whom have declared that “hip-hop is on trial.”
“I think it’s pandering to the white community to be quite honest, to people who don’t understand rap music and don’t understand rap lyrics and associate rap music with violence,” said Michael Collins, senior director for government affairs with Color of Change, a civil rights nonprofit. “At the end of the day, (Willis’) hope is to get rappers and these rap lyrics in front of a jury of white people who don’t understand the music, who don’t understand often individuals are exaggerating or playing characters.”
A spokesman for the DA’s office said it “is committed to ensuring that juries in all cases reflect the diversity of Fulton County,” and that the judge conducts the jury selection process to ensure a fair trail.
Zaytoven, the Atlanta producer who has worked with artists such as Usher, Migos and Gucci Mane, thinks rappers may need to be more careful with their lyrics now that prosecutors are targeting them.
“You gotta be careful (about) what you say and what you do because people are really watching,” he said.
Oral arguments are still months away as jury selection continues to drag on. A series of delays, ranging from contraband being brought into court to jurors getting in trouble, have further delayed the process.
One defense attorney was arrested, another had his laptop seized and a courtroom deputy was recently jailed, accused of having an inappropriate romantic relationship with one of the defendants. There have also been multiple instances of drugs being brought into court, law enforcement officers scuffling with defendants and potential jurors being held in contempt.
Several defense attorneys petitioned the Georgia Public Defender Council for more money after it became apparent the $7,500 they initially agreed to take the case for would not be enough for what amounted to more than a year’s work.
“It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting for everybody,” said attorney Suri Chadha Jimenez, who represents Cordarius Dorsey. “You can see the change in the demeanor of the court staff, the people who work there. It’s affecting everyone: Deputies, clients, attorneys and court staff.”