Young Thug case: Witness in protective custody after document leak

Rapper denied bond again after hourslong hearing

At least one associate planning to testify against Atlanta rapper Young Thug is in protective custody after a document posted online showed his willingness to cooperate, state prosecutors said.

Fulton County prosecutor Don Geary on Thursday asked the judge presiding over the racketeering case to further restrict the disclosure of certain evidence ahead of next year’s trial, saying a page from discovery that was recently shared online jeopardizes the safety of the state’s witness.

“We found a lot of information concerning one of our witnesses on basically a (celebrity news) outlet,” Geary told Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville.

Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, is one of 28 people charged in a sweeping indictment alleging the chart-topping rapper is the leader of a criminal street gang. Rapper Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, is also charged in the racketeering and gang case. Both men have been in jail since their May arrests.

The musicians are accused of conspiring to violate Georgia’s criminal racketeering law, but the indictment outlines more serious crimes allegedly carried out by “Young Slime Life” associates ranging from drug possession to murder.

Defense attorneys contend that YSL, or Young Stoner Life, is simply the name of Young Thug’s record label, not a violent Atlanta street gang as prosecutors allege.

Thursday’s hearing wasn’t the first time prosecutors have raised concerns about the safety of state’s witnesses ahead of what is likely to be a high-profile trial. Glanville previously issued a temporary order instructing defense attorneys to withhold witness contact information from their clients.

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In a motion filed Monday, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis asked the judge to order attorneys to avoid sharing discovery material with anyone outside their defendants’ legal teams.

Willis said the state recently shared its discovery evidence with attorneys, including “the names of all lay witnesses (and) cooperating YSL associates that will be called to testify in this case.”

“Since the date of those filings, however, information from the state’s discovery material has appeared on public websites,” Willis wrote in her motion.

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The document includes the name of a YSL associate the state intends to call at trial, and part of that witness’ statement to investigators, she said.

“As a result, the state now has grave concerns about the safety of that named witness and other potential witnesses in this trial,” Willis said.

But Kristen Novay, one of the attorneys representing Kitchens, asked prosecutors to offer proof that potential witnesses are actually being threatened.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

“We want to know what specific threats there are,” Novay said. “There have been many allegations that there are threats to witnesses, and to date we have received no discovery, not a single shred of evidence from a witness who was actually threatened.”

In June, an 18-year-old relative of one of the defendants was arrested after allegedly threatening to kill the Fulton County sheriff and his wife unless Williams was released, authorities said.

Of the 28 people charged in what is now a 65-count indictment, three people remain at large, prosecutors told the judge Thursday. And of those in custody, at least eight still don’t have attorneys.

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So far, Glanville has not granted bond to any of the defendants, citing concerns about witness intimidation and the possibility additional felonies may be committed ahead of January’s trial. Williams’ attorneys have repeatedly asked that their client be fitted with an ankle monitor and allowed to wait for trial on house arrest.

Appearing via video chat from the Cobb County jail, Williams smiled and blew kisses at relatives gathered in the courtroom during breaks in Thursday’s daylong proceedings.

“Mr. Williams is an artist, a role model, a father and a son,” attorney Brian Steel told the judge, urging the rapper be released.

But his request for bond was denied again when Glanville sided with prosecutors and opted to keep the musician behind bars.

Defense attorneys for the popular rappers have denied the allegations outlined in the indictment, and their supporters have criticized Willis’ decision to use lyrics as evidence in the case, saying such a move could stifle creative expression within hip-hop.

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