Technical difficulties at the Fulton County courthouse delayed Thursday’s motions hearing for hours ahead of next month’s trial involving the alleged gang YSL. Once proceedings finally began, someone on Zoom barged in with some full frontal commentary.
A pornographic video of a completely nude man was shown on screens throughout the courtroom along with the message “Free Young Thug.” Deputies scrambled to turn off the screens as the judge insisted on decorum in the courtroom.
The county’s IT staff set up a new Zoom link for the attorneys watching remotely. Officials later determined someone on the Zoom call shared their screen showing the nude images.
Thursday’s pre-trial hearing was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. in Judge Ural Glanville’s eighth-floor courtroom, but got delayed for several hours due to technical issues.
The hearing was moved to a bigger courtroom on the first floor. Only media, the defendants and their attorneys were allowed inside the room, which was swarmed by more than two dozen deputies and Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat.
Once the hearing finally began about 1:45 p.m., Judge Ural Glanville apologized for the technical difficulties. As prosecutors and Young Thug’s attorney Brian Steel argued motions to suppress evidence collected from the rapper’s Sandy Springs home during a 2015 arrest, the court’s Zoom feed turned X-rated.
The hearing marked the first time Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, has appeared in court in person since his May arrest on gang and RICO charges. It also came just a day after his friend and colleague Gunna was released from jail in exchange for a guilty plea in the sweeping case.
A total of 19 co-defendants, including Williams, were brought into the courtroom, but only he, Miles Farley and Shannon Stillwell were allowed to change out of jail-issued jumpsuits and into business suits.
The hearing was similar to others in recent months in which most of the focus was on Williams’ motions while other defendants and their attorneys waited hours to present their cases.
In the end, Steel and Williams got a major victory when Glanville ruled that cellphones and other evidence collected from the rapper’s home without a search warrant in 2015 could not be used as evidence in the upcoming trial.
“You didn’t have the right to keep that,” Glanville said told prosecutors. “You didn’t have the right to keep that particular evidence.”
Prosecutor Adriane Love told the judge his ruling affected the evidence the state planned to introduce against Williams.
Williams was among 28 co-defendants charged in a sweeping gang indictment against YSL. Prosecutors argued that YSL is a gang and Williams is one of its leaders and founders. Defense attorneys say it’s just a record label.
Less than a month before the trial is set to begin, at least three defendants told the judge they still don’t have attorneys. The case was initially indicted in May, and the state’s discovery evidence includes more than three terabytes of data. At least two other attorneys said they were recently appointed or retained. Jury selection is set to start Jan. 4.
Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, entered a negotiated guilty plea Wednesday. In a statement, Kitchens said he entered an Alford Plea, which allows defendants to plead guilty but maintain their innocence on the charge.
The plea agreement requires Kitchens to complete 500 hours of community service and spend at least 350 of those hours speaking to young men and women about the dangers of gangs. He is not allowed to have contact with any co-defendants or possess guns, and if called by any party during the trial, he reserves the right to assert his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, his attorney Steve Sadow said.
Kitchens was sentenced to five years, with one year commuted to time served and the rest of the four years of his sentenced suspended and subject to special conditions. Once he completes his community service, the sentence will be terminated by consent order.
Sadow said on Instagram that his client had not testified against any of the other defendants.
“Gunna did not snitch to get out of jail. He has said nothing and is not cooperating,” Sadow said in the post. “His plea statement cannot be used in court against any other defendants. So please stop spreading lies!”
During his plea agreement hearing Wednesday, Kitchens swore that he had personal knowledge that members of associates of YSL have committed crimes in furtherance of the gang, Channel 2 Action News reported.
On Tuesday, alleged YSL co-founder Walter Murphy also entered a negotiated guilty plea on a single count of conspiracy to violate the racketeer influenced and corruption organizations (RICO) act. According to court documents, Murphy was sentenced to 10 years, with one year commuted to time served and nine years of probation, as part of the negotiated plea.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC